Rapid Antigen Tests Replace PCR in Australia’s Northern Territory

By Steve Milne
Steve Milne
Steve Milne
January 13, 2022 Updated: January 13, 2022

Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) have replaced PCR in the Nothern Territory to speed up testing and recording of positive cases.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner made the announcement on Thursday, highlighting that the last few weeks have shown that speed of testing provides an advantage over Omicron.

“Territorians don’t have to wait as long to get tested, they don’t have to wait as long for a result, and our health experts can get a quicker idea of the caseload we are dealing with on any given day,” he said.

This comes after daily case numbers rose ten-fold over the Christmas and New Year period, and, like in other parts of the country, PCR test queues and result wait times in the NT blew out to become unsustainable.

Gunner said while PCR will still be used where clinically appropriate, from Thursday on, residents will no longer need to get a PCR test to confirm a positive RAT, nor will they need to take a final PCR test to exit their isolation period, provided they are asymptomatic.

In addition, a RAT will be the only necessary test for close contacts in their first three days of isolation.

“Over the past week, we have been incorporating rapid antigen tests into our daily reporting and decision making, but we are now confident they can do the job we need them to do on a larger scale,” Gunner said.

He said that although RATs are not as accurate as PCR, they’re still “pretty accurate,” and they are generally more sensitive the more symptomatic a person is.

“Back in the early days of outbreaks, when one or two cases was the difference between staying open or locking down, being 100 percent sure about case numbers was super, super important,” he said.

“Now we are beyond that, and it’s more important that tests be as quick as possible.”

Meanwhile, the Territory Government has also made it mandatory as of Thursday to report a positive RAT through the COVID-19 website.

Failure to do so will be a breach of the health direction and incur a $5,000 fine, $4,000 more than the same breach in NSW.

While in NSW, Digital Minister Nick Dominelli admitted that the RAT reporting mandate would be near impossible to enforce, indicating the $1,000 fine was more of a signal to show they’re serious about it, Northern Territory Deputy Police Commissioner Michael Murphy explained how it will be policed there.

“If through investigation and contact tracing, we identify people who are positive and having a risk on the community, haven’t declared it or uploaded the correct information, they’ll be subject to a $5,024 fine,” he said.

Steve Milne