Free RATs to be provided and PCR testing to end as South Australia nears peak of COVID-19 surge

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Half a million COVID-19 rapid antigen tests (RATs) will be distributed in South Australia over the next five weeks, ahead of drive-through PCR test sites closing in January.

Exactly 9,000 new cases were reported over the past week in the state, but Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier would not say today that the peak of infections had been reached in the latest COVID-19 wave.

This week’s cases are up from last week’s 8,346, but the week-to-week increase is much smaller than it was early this month.

Professor Spurrier said the rise in cases was “really leveling off now” and “getting towards the top”.

But she said she wouldn’t say the peak had been reached until the number of cases began to decline.

“We were very much hoping that we would be down on the other side of the wave well before Christmas to mean we can all enjoy a healthy Christmas,” she said.

“But it’s still important at the moment with the higher cases to think about wearing a mask when you’re indoors in crowded places.”

Eight people with COVID-19 died in South Australia this week, ranging in age from their 40s to their 90s.

A pedestrian center with shoppers
Shoppers in Rundle Mall today for Black Friday sales.(ABC News)

The free RATs will be available from community centres, emergency services and people living and working in supported housing for people with a disability between now and the end of the year.

The packs of five will be available to everyone, not just concessionaires as before.

Drive-through test locations will close on January 8.

“Most of us will be perfectly fine with rapid antigen testing,” Professor Spurrier said.

“The PCR test will be much more focused on those who are more vulnerable to serious illness, and that includes people over 70 and people with chronic health problems because they are the people who can access oral antivirals.

“So really transitioning to rapid antigen testing for most people and making PCR still eligible for those who really need it is what we’re looking to have achieved by early January.”

From January 9, PCR tests will only be available through SA Pathology and private pathologists.

They will only be free with a referral from the doctor.

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