Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says panic buying and hoarding is leading to shortages of COVID-19 rapid antigen test (RAT) kits as Australians struggle to find the kits. Joyce said 200 million tests were on their way, and that Australians should only buy what they needed. He said: “Unfortunately, people are taking vastly more home than they need” and that people should not “take more than what you require because that means someone else misses out”1.
Coming from the gormless gob of Barnaby Joyce, it almost goes without saying that this is a lie. This lie is designed to try to foist responsibility for the shortage of rapid antigen test (RAT) kits from the government onto those shifty people in the populace who want to know if they have Covid-19. This is how the Morrison government operates. They avoid responsibility for everything because they believe that when responsibility is avoided, then no blame can be laid at their feet.
On the television show ‘The Project’, Anne Ruston repeatedly stated that there is a worldwide shortage of RAT kits2, but this is also a lie. Scott Morrison has claimed that only two countries provided free RATs to citizens. This was fact checked by AAP FactCheck and shown to be false (i.e. a lie). When queried about this by AAP FactCheck, the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond. Several countries offer them for free. UK residents can 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. Singapore 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 beginning this month. In Austria, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland and France, free RATs are offered at medical centres, pharmacies, hospitals and other facilities3.
The US Food and Drug Administration approved the first over-the-counter RAT kits over a year ago, in December 2020, and those test kits were made by a Brisbane company, Ellume4. Ellume manufactures more than 100,000 test kits at its Brisbane factory and all are currently exported to the US. As a consequence, Ellume will be unable to respond to Australia’s domestic shortage of RATs until the middle of 2022. At the end of December, 2021, Ellume still had not lodged a request for approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which it must have before it can supply the Australian market5. Currently there are 22 RATs approved by the TGA and most are manufactured in China, with a few made in the US, Korea, Singapore or Germany and one (not Ellume) from Australia. This is where we get our RATs; they are mostly imported6.
The Australian Medical Association warned the federal health department of the need to develop a national strategy for procuring RATs in September 2021. However, the AMA’s vice-president, Chris Moy, said that he was told in the meeting that the government did not want to intervene in the private market. He also said: “I asked the question of them because I knew what was happening in other countries, and we needed to transition, so what was the plan? We needed to get a lot of them [RATs], and we needed a really clear strategy to transition, it was so bloody obvious. They have been caught short because of Omicron and the number of cases”7.
In September, 2021, The Transport Workers Union wrote to Morrison (as chair of the National Cabinet) asking that RATs be made freely available at suitable transport hubs, with the implication that not doing so would cripple the transport industry, thereby leading to significant supply chain problems8, which is what we are now seeing, with one third of Australia’s truck drivers off work9.
Now, this week, the federal government has put out five urgent tenders totalling $62 million for RATs10. As with most requirements in dealing with this pandemic, the federal government has shown up a day late and a dollar short; only doing something when the crisis point is reached, and then buggering it up from there, as Nikki Savva has so clearly stated11.
In this case, showing up a day late has cost lives and allowed the Omicron variant to achieve a rapid and enormous spread. On a per capita basis, in this recent Omicron outbreak, Australia is worse off than the UK, one of the worst affected countries in Europe and worse off than the US, which was arguably the worst affected nation on the planet12.
Last week, we attempted to get some RAT kits for our son whose child’s daycare centre has had a positive Covid-19 case. We went to six pharmacies and two supermarkets to try to obtain some, but all were sold out and had no idea when they would be getting some more. While it is only an anecdote and does not constitute evidence per se, it does make you wonder.
Joyce, Morrison and Ruston were, of course, all lying as they constantly do. While this is not news to most people who actually understand current Australian politics, it is the barefaced nature of the lies in modern politics which has surprised me. What also surprises me is the inability of many in the media to pull the politicians up on these lies. They seem to assume that when a politician says something, that it is a true statement. However, given the current state of Australian politics where so many politicians’ statements have been shown to be lies, a better rule of thumb would be to assume it is a lie and check it for veracity (if any). If you are a journalist and you cannot be bothered to check politicians’ statements, then why are you a journalist?