Unless the state and federal governments make rapid antigen tests (RAT) freely and widely available, Queensland businesses could pay around $45 million a week to provide them to staff as a “first line of defence” against COVID-19, according to the state’s industry peak body.
In the month since Queensland opened its borders, the Omicron strain of the novel coronavirus has seen widespread staff shortages, supply chain disruptions, and impact on the ability of many businesses to maintain operating hours and services.
Around 50 percent of businesses in the state said they experienced major or critical staff shortages in the transport, postage and storage, accommodation and hospitality, construction, administration and support services, and arts and recreation industries.
While 40 percent of construction, electricity, gas, water and waste services, wholesale trade, healthcare and social assistance, and retail trade said they had major or critical supply chain disruptions.
In the same period, around 85 percent of businesses could not maintain regular operating hours or meet service requirements.
Without subsidised RATs, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) has said that around 120,000 businesses in the state will fork out around $45 million every week to protect more than 1.5 million employees.
“CCIQ and chambers across Queensland have for months recommended businesses needed clarity and certainty around access to Rapid Antigen Testing to confidently plan the future of their business and workforce,” said Amanda Rohan, policy and advocacy general manager at CCIQ, in a release.
“Now, more than a month after Queensland borders re-opened and the economic impact of the Omicron strain first emerge in the state, RATs are almost impossible to find, afford, or secure.
“The state’s small businesses are at the frontline of managing COVID in the workplace and have been for close to two years. What they need now is for RATs to be freely and widely available to them, so they are able to continue getting back to business.
“A lack of availability of RATs is hindering that.
“We know the business in other countries have access to free or subsidised RATs, and it’s time for Queensland businesses to be afforded the same certainty,” Rohan said.
Staff shortages have seen the state government provide exemptions to allow asymptomatic COVID-19 positive health care workers and food and grocery supply chain workers to return to work. Supermarket giant Woolworths welcomed the decision last week.
Rohan has called for the isolation requirements of COVID-positive and close contact staff to be consistently reviewed and for essential industries to be recognised.
“Employees need to get back to work as soon as practicable to allow the economy to get back to business,” Rohan said.
“Where it’s safe, staff need to be getting back into the workforce, especially to limit any further supply chains and logistics disruptions.”