Queensland COVID-19 test confusion leaves the public missing out

The fog of confusion over COVID-19 tests has ended right back where we started: Domestic travellers won't have to pay for PCR tests if required under a public health order.

But why, more than 20 months into the pandemic, it took days to confirm that nothing had changed, only raises more questions.

Instead of being nipped in the bud at the earliest opportunity, concerns over incoming travellers having to fork out up to $150 for a PCR test festered in the news cycle — and swelled — until a breakthrough on Tuesday afternoon.

Both the Queensland and federal governments criticised each other for delays in clarifying the funding arrangement, with Deputy Premier Steven Miles even hitting out at the media reporting on the issue.

However, in an ongoing health crisis — with an often time-poor and weary public — clear communication is crucial from both sides.

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During Question Time in state parliament last Thursday, Deputy Opposition Leader David Janetzki put to the Premier that Queenslanders stuck over the border were now "being forced to pay $150 each for a COVID test" to enter the state.

"Why won't the government cover the cost for these Queenslanders who have been failed by the exemptions unit and who just want to come home?" he asked.

Rising to her feet, Ms Palaszczuk replied that some of these requirements were the same for other states and the government wanted to continue to keep Queenslanders safe.

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However, she didn't query — or refute — the premise that people coming from interstate would have to pay for the tests.

Asked yesterday if she could have been more direct in her answer that day, her response was again, anything but direct: "In terms of the federal government, we just need to continue to work cooperatively, I don't think this has helped anyone".

The issue only gained more oxygen in the following days.

Quizzed about it on Friday at a press conference alongside the Acting Chief Health Officer, the Deputy Premier urged the Commonwealth to consider that these "tests are part of our wider health response so should be eligible for a Medicare rebate".

At a press conference on Monday, the Premier was asked how long travellers could expect to pay $150 for a PCR test.

She replied, "Until we get to the 90 per cent double-dose", adding the "figures are really encouraging".

COVID-19 PCR tests will come at no cost to holiday-makers entering Queensland from interstate.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)

The next day, questioned if the PCR test was effectively a "$150 toll on the border", the Premier said federal Health Minister Greg Hunt could "quite easily make it a Medicare rebate … with the stroke of a pen".

It turned out, though, the Commonwealth and states already jointly funded tests for people who require one under a public health order, such as a domestic travel requirement, in a deal agreed upon over a year ago.

The federal government's confirmation about the 50–50 arrangement to reporters on Tuesday afternoon — well into the saga — was welcomed by Queensland.

Queensland COVID-19 snapshot

In the past 24 hours:

  • Locally acquired cases: 0
  • Other sources: 1
  • Tests: 10,478

Queensland's vaccine rollout (percentage of those aged 16+):

  • First dose: 85.3 per cent
  • Second dose: 74.5 per cent

Latest case information from Queensland Health.

However, Mr Miles also said, "We just wish it had [been] a bit sooner" and accused federal government politicians  of an "orchestrated campaign to confuse people".

Part of the issue appears to be confusion over whether an "official certificate" for the negative result was required, rather than the standard text message system that's been in operation during the pandemic.

The federal government says a pathology test would only be charged for a patient requiring an official certificate.

However, Queensland Police Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski had already cleared this point up during an interview on ABC Radio last week, when he confirmed the border pass system would accept a screenshot of the text message.

During a brief doorstop yesterday, the Premier doubled down, calling for the "politics to stop", while also saying the "federal election means Queensland gets singled out".

"This is about the federal election. Why did the federal government want Queenslanders to get COVID for Christmas?" she said.

Ms Palaszczuk said she was unaware until Tuesday that people coming to Queensland would not have to pay for a COVID-19 test to enter the state.

On Twitter, Queensland Greens MP Michael Berkman wrote: "[The] whole $150 PCR test issue was a result of the major parties' election brain and refusal to communicate like adults."

"It'd almost be funny, if my office hadn't spent the past week taking calls from distressed Queenslanders [who were] wondering what was going on and how they'd afford it".

While the state and federal government are playing politics and blaming each other over delays, in the end it's the public who lose out.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

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