Rapid antigen testing kits in supermarkets from Monday, trials to begin at schools to reduce isolation time

A normal PCR test being administered

From Monday, rapid antigen test kits will be available from supermarkets and pharmacies for at-home testing.

The Federal Government’s regulatory agency, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), have approved and oversee the conditions of supply for rapid antigen test kits. The Federal Government is incorporating rapid testing into the national plan to address COVID-19 in the future, and NSW supports the TGA’s efforts to guide appropriate community use.

Home use rapid antigen tests are not as accurate as the laboratory PCR tests, but they are very helpful because they provide results within 10 to 15 minutes. They can also pick up the COVID-19 virus very early in the infection, sometimes just before symptoms appear.

If a rapid antigen test provides a positive result, NSW Health advises a diagnostic PCR test must be undertaken as soon as possible to confirm the person’s COVID-19 status.

NSW Health collects and reports positive PCR test results. There is no requirement to formally report the result of a rapid antigen screening test for the general community.

How rapid antigen testing can be most effectively incorporated into the pandemic response is part of ongoing planning. NSW Health is currently working with the Department of Education on the role rapid antigen testing can play in supporting children who may have been exposed to COVID-19 to safely return to school following a short period of isolation and also its role in surveillance as part of a local outbreak response.

At the same time, the NSW Government is trialling Rapid Antigen Home Testing (RAHT) kits to reduce disruption at schools and halve the time close contacts need to isolate.

Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell said a pilot program of the test kits would begin in Albury next week.

“I want to see disruption to our students’ education from COVID reduce, while still keeping schools safe places to learn. This requires us to deploy every tool available to balance the risk,” Ms Mitchell said.

“We will be trialling the tests in two ways: a broad surveillance approach,  along with close contact testing to reduce initial positive cases on school sites and reduce the amount of time close contact students need to spend away from school.”

The surveillance method will see the kits distributed by schools for use at home by staff and students who are asked to do a test twice a week as part of community surveillance.

“People with a positive result would need to follow up with a regular (PCR) test at a NSW Health testing centre and those who test negative will go on with their normal day-to-day routines assured that they are not infected or at risk of spreading the virus,” Ms Mitchell said.

Unvaccinated students who are close contacts of a positive case will also be able to reduce their isolation time by using the kits on a daily basis.

More information on rapid antigen testing is available on the TGA website