Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at a press conference following a National Cabinet meeting. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP IMAGES

PM’s claim on rapid antigen tests shows up negative

AAP FactCheck January 11, 2022
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

Only two countries provide free rapid COVID-19 tests for their citizens.

OUR VERDICT

Mostly False. At least six countries offer universal free rapid tests, although most of them require on-site testing at pharmacies or testing centres.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has claimed that only two countries provide free rapid antigen COVID-19 tests to citizens.

The prime minister’s claim is mostly false. At least six countries currently offer universal or near-universal access to free rapid antigen tests (RATs) at a national level.

However, AAP FactCheck has only identified one country, the UK, that was offering universal RATs for home use at the time of writing, while two others, Singapore and the Netherlands, have previously done so. Some regional and city governments also offer free RATs to residents. 

Speaking to journalists in Canberra on January 5, Mr Morrison was asked if he had ruled out making RATs free for all Australians “like they are in other countries”. The prime minister replied: “Well, that is only true in two countries that I’m aware of.”

After a journalist suggested there were “three as well as New Zealand”, Mr Morrison went on to say: “There’s the United Kingdom, and they are having very significant problems in the supply of those tests ÔǪ Singapore is a much smaller country than Australia, as is New Zealand.”

The prime minister’s office did not respond to a request from AAP FactCheck for clarification about which two countries Mr Morrison was referring to in his initial answer.

As of 11 January, United Kingdom residents could order a free pack of seven RATs online for home delivery. Each household was entitled to order one pack per day or, alternatively, anybody in the UK could pick up a maximum of two boxes of seven tests per day from pharmacies and community hubs such as libraries.

In November 2021, the UK government said the free test scheme would end “at a later stage” but has reportedly since decided to continue providing universal free RATs due to the sharp rise in Omicron cases.

Singapore has previously sent all households a small supply of free RATs, delivering six tests to each household in mid-2021 before sending out another 10 tests between October and December 2021. Likewise, in August last year, the Netherlands offered two free RATs to all households. These could be ordered online for home delivery. 

The United States is set to follow the UK, Singapore and the Netherlands in providing home-delivered tests, announcing plans to send out as many as 500 million free tests across the country from January.

AAP FactCheck is not aware of any other countries providing universal free RATs for home use at a national level at the time of writing. However, at least five countries currently offer free rapid tests administered on-site at pharmacies or testing centres.

Some research has suggested rapid testing to be considerably more accurate when done by trained health workers and lab scientists compared to self-trained members of the public.

In Austria, residents have access to free RATs at around 900 pharmacies throughout the country. Austrians additionally have access to free PCR “gargle” mouthwash tests, which can be collected from testing centres for home use but need to be dropped off at a collection point for processing.

In Germany and Denmark, RATs are offered for free at drop-in test centres while Portugal offers free on-site testing at pharmacies and test labs, limited to a maximum of four tests per month. In Switzerland, residents can take free rapid tests at pharmacies, testing centres, medical centres and hospitals.

Some other nations provide free RATs but only for specific groups of individuals. France, for example, provides free on-site rapid tests to fully-vaccinated close contacts of infected individuals, home carers and care workers. New Zealand only offers free RATs to asymptomatic domestic travellers who have not been vaccinated. Denmark and the Netherlands are offering free home test kits to school students and teachers.

In Thailand, where limited RATs have already been provided for free to at-risk groups, the government has launched a campaign to randomly test public transport passengers before they embark on their journey. 

In some other countries, RATs are being provided to residents by regional or city governments.

In Canada, for example, provinces including Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan provide universal free rapid antigen tests for home use, while Prince Edward Island offers free self-testing kits to residents in areas with limited access to testing clinics and households with children too young to be vaccinated. The Canadian government additionally offers free rapid tests to companies with 200 or more employees.

Other cities or regional governments providing residents with free RATs in various settings include Tokyo, Madrid and the Estonian capital of Tallinn. Some US states already supplied free RATs for at-home use before the country’s national distribution program.

On January 5, Mr Morrison announced that Australian concession card-holders would be provided with up to 10 tests each over a three-month period via pharmacies. PCR tests will continue to be provided for free.

The Verdict

Contrary to Mr Morrison’s claim that only two countries were providing free, universal rapid tests, AAP FactCheck identified at least six countries operating similar schemes.

While only one country, the United Kingdom, was offering free nationwide tests for home use, other countries previously distributed tests to households and the United States has plans to provide widespread free at-home tests. At least five countries currently offer free on-site rapid tests to residents at various locations, while some city and regional governments also have free rapid test programs.

Mostly False ÔÇô The claim is mostly inaccurate but includes minor elements of truth.

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