Like vaccines, rapid antigen tests have become part of the coronavirus pandemic hunger games that have resulted from delays in planning a coordinated national response to secure supplies. While Australia’s vaccination rates are among the highest in the world, it has lagged behind other countries, including Britain, in endorsing the use of rapid antigen tests as part of the response. of public health.
Business Sydney executive director Paul Nicolaou says while some big companies are providing testing for staff in the workplace, “small and medium-sized businesses are scrambling”.
“They literally force people to drive around town just to find kits for their workers,” he says.
“They have to put their people to work or their businesses won’t survive the next two weeks.”
Nicolaou says some companies are spending up to $15,000 to provide on-site testing to workers.
“Some large companies have managed to store a relatively large number of RATs earlier (in the thousands),” he says. “They still have to ration them very carefully (only for key staff), and therefore report that staffing is still a huge challenge in their business.
“What helped the most was the relaxation of requirements for close and casual contact.”
Allied Express Transport chief executive Michelle McDowell has made a big financial investment by providing free rapid antigen tests on site to help keep the business afloat.
The company employs 1,000 drivers and 450 people in its offices and depots to transport goods, including pharmaceuticals, electronics, auto parts and online retail purchases.
“It was crucial for us to keep these supply chains open,” she says.
An external rapid antigen test provider is supplying the tests to Ms McDowell’s employees at Chullora. The results are recorded and communicated to the staff by SMS.
“They have fantastic software in place that logs all the results. We use the software to manage the return to work of staff,” says McDowell. “In the last two weeks, we would have lost 40% of our staff.
“The rapid tests have really helped keep our business safe. While he picks up a lot of [positive] results now, it’s really protected us and kept us going.
Since September, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has called for RATs to be freely and widely available to small businesses and other industrial sectors.
“Large companies in high-risk sectors were generally better prepared when they decided to implement RAT programs late last year and had existing inventory to draw on,” the chief executive of ACCI, Andrew McKellar.
“Small businesses, on the other hand, don’t have the same access to suppliers or the internal resources to manage what is an administratively complex and costly program.
“Governments’ decision to expand critical worker categories to address significant supply and staffing shortages is a step in the right direction. As soon as the availability of the RAT makes this possible, the national cabinet should take action by extending the current close contact protocols of critical workers to all workers.
How big companies are working with RATs to fight the Omicron wave
- Westpac and Commonwealth Bank are among the major banks providing rapid antigen testing to employees, primarily staff at its branches.
- National Australia Bank is helping employees stock up on RATs when needed, and says it tries ‘not to impact the overall supply of testing to those in need in the community’.
- Telstra is providing testing to staff in its call centers and central operations center. He asked the rest of the staff to continue working from home.
- One of Australia’s biggest law firms, King & Wood Mallesons, is finalizing a rapid testing ‘monitoring programme’ to give staff who want to return to the office ‘peace of mind’.
- Microsoft says it encourages its Australian staff to work from home and does not require office workers to take a rapid antigen test before entering work.
- “However, starting next week, we will be providing some of our frontline workers with rapid antigen testing,” a spokeswoman said.
- Google Australia was not providing RATs to staff, with most still working from home.
- Ernst and Young is reviewing its policies and considering ordering RATs for “work situations where they may be needed,” a spokesperson said.
- KPMG Australia has recognized the need to prioritize RATs for staff who need them most.
- PwC has not introduced any requirements for staff to undergo a rapid test before coming to its offices or travelling. He says he will monitor the situation as testing becomes easier to access.
- Most Medibank office workers are still working from home, but home care staff are being issued RATS “in accordance with applicable government recommendations in the state or territory” where they are based, a spokesperson said.
- Coles has been supplying RATs to staff at its fulfillment centers for months and has a steady daily supply “to keep the business running”. It also offers tests for sale to customers in its supermarkets, but they are consistently unavailable. A spokeswoman for Coles said it was providing rapid antigen testing to staff on site.
- Woolworths supermarkets began supplying RATs to four Sydney fulfillment centers in August and now supplies them to all of its centers across the country except those in WA.
- “Since the beginning of the Delta outbreak last year, rapid antigen testing has played an important role in our fulfillment centers helping to protect our team members and grocery store supply chains,” said a spokeswoman for the Woolworths Group.
- Mining company Rio Tinto reinstated rapid antigen testing in mid-December as part of its COVID-19 screening process at Perth Airport for all departures to the Pilbara. The screening process includes a temperature test and a written questionnaire, which airline workers complete.
- Energy infrastructure company APA Group says it is working to “procure and deploy rapid antigen testing at APA sites across the country to support our staff and ensure their safety.”
- Essential APA workers who maintain critical infrastructure will be given priority while office staff have been advised, for now, to continue working from home.
The Business Briefing newsletter features top stories, exclusive coverage and expert opinion. Sign up to get it every weekday morning.