Tasmania is changing how it tests for COVID. Here’s how it works


As the number of COVID cases in Tasmania continues to rise, the state's testing clinics have been swamped by an increase in demand. 

Part of Tasmania's border reopening plan required travellers to have a negative PCR test in the 72 hours before they travelled into the state, but from January 1 rapid antigen tests will be accepted.

But as we start to live with COVID, testing goalposts in Tasmania have shifted — here's what you need to know.

When should I go to a testing clinic?

Under the changes the state government announced yesterday, PCR tests are now being prioritised for those who are symptomatic or have a positive rapid antigen test (RAT).

This is to ease the pressure on Tasmania's PCR testing systems, especially in the south, which has seen large numbers of asymptomatic people present for testing.

"Over the last three days we have had between two-thirds and three-quarters of those booking referrals coming from asymptomatic people," state health secretary Kathrine Morgan-Wicks said yesterday.

Only those who have COVID symptoms, a positive RAT test, or are close contacts with symptoms are eligible to have a PCR test at one of the state's testing clinics.

UPDATES: Read our round-up of the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemicWhat test do I need?

It depends on your situation, and whether you're experiencing any symptoms. 

If you do have symptoms of COVID-19, you can call the Public Health hotline who will arrange a time for you to receive a PCR test at one of the state clinics.

You can also call the hotline and arrange for a PCR test if you are a close contact of a positive case and have symptoms.

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But the state government says anyone who isn't experiencing symptoms, including close contacts, doesn't need to be getting a PCR test in the first instance — instead, you can take a RAT test.

If that test is positive, you can then call the Public Health hotline and say your RAT test has returned a positive result, and you will then be booked in to have a PCR test.

Premier Peter Gutwein said this approach "is aligned with other jurisdictions both around the world and here in Australia".

If your PCR test comes back positive, you will then be directed to isolate in line with the state's COVID management guidelines.

View the latest list of exposure sites on the coronavirus.tas.gov.au websiteWhere do I get a rapid test?

Rapid tests are available for purchase at pharmacies, supermarkets and even selected petrol stations.

Recent surges in demand for the tests have seen limited stock, however, retailers say stock is arriving regularly.

Prices for the tests vary amongst retailers, but cost around $10-20 for a single test, and are often sold in packs of two, five or 10.

Some retailers have been selling packs of five tests for around $50, however, that price can fluctuate between tests and whether they require nasal or saliva swabs.

Rapid antigen tests such as this are available for purchase off the shelf in pharmacies.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

To help manage demand for the rapid tests, the state government is also providing them for free to travellers at its sea and air ports, as well as those who are close contacts of a COVID case but aren't experiencing symptoms.

In the state's south, where the most acute testing pressures are being felt, two RAT test collection sites are being established at Rokeby on Hobart's eastern shore, and Glenorchy in Hobart's northern suburbs.

These distribution sites are being run by the Department of Health, and aren't yet being extended outside southern Tasmania.

"This RAT initiative will only occur at the moment in the south, as PCR testing is operating normally in our north and north-west sites," Ms Morgan-Wicks said.

Currently, Tasmania has 500,000 RAT tests in its stockpile to accommodate this, and has ordered an additional 2 million kits that will arrive in the coming month.

Long queues have been forming at testing clinics across Tasmania as more COVID cases are recorded.(ABC News: Scott Ross)What's a 'close contact' now?

Tasmania has signed up to the national definition of a close contact, which was agreed to by all states and territories at a National Cabinet meeting yesterday.

This means that a close contact is someone who has spent four or more hours with a positive COVID case in a household, or a household-like setting.

Mr Gutwein said this decision was to ensure "national consistency" and avoid "undue pressure being put on people to quarantine when the risk of them being infectious in reality is very low".

"The public health evidence shows that those living in the same household are in similar circumstances such as accommodation or care facility settings, as [COVID] cases have the highest chances of becoming positive, so the focus will be targeting those types of locations," Mr Gutwein said.

The change in defining close contacts also means public health authorities will manage potential close contacts at a site or venue on a case-by-case basis.

Close contacts at large events, such as the Taste of Summer in Hobart, will be managed on a case-by-case basis.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)This Tasmanian managed his COVID-19 at home. Here's how it went

Most Tasmanians who catch COVID-19 will manage it from their own homes. Simon Boot was one of the first to test out the government's COVID@home "virtual ward" program.

Read moreI'm a close contact. How long do I need to isolate for?

If you have been identified as a close contact of a positive case in Tasmania, you will be required to isolate for seven days, regardless of your vaccination status.

However, you will also have to take a RAT test on days one and six of your isolation, which will be provided to you by the state government. 

Previously, those who were vaccinated against COVID had to isolate for seven days, while those unvaccinated had to spend 14 days in quarantine.

I'm heading to the mainland for a holiday, do I need to test when I get back?

Lucky you! Under these changes you will only need to do a RAT test before heading home to Tasmania, and make sure you declare your negative result on your Tas e-Travel application.

You will also be provided with a RAT test upon your arrival at the Spirit of Tasmania ferry terminal, or one of the state's airports, and will be asked to use it if you develop any symptoms.

But if you've been away for less than seven days, you will be required to take a RAT test when you arrive — and that will be provided to you when you touch down on home soil.

Along with their baggage, these passengers will also be collecting a RAT test at Tasmanian airports from January 1.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)I'm coming to Tasmania for a holiday, what do I need to do?

Before you pay the island state a visit, you will be required to take a RAT test and declare your negative result on your Tas e-Travel application.

You won't have to bring your proof of a negative test with you — your declaration in registering your travel is enough from January 1 — but you will still have to have proof of vaccination to enter.

You will also be given a RAT test when you arrive and will be asked to take it should you have any symptoms while you're here, and if it has a positive result, you can arrange to have a PCR test.

Want more Tasmanian news?

Set the ABC News website or the app to 'Tasmania Top Stories' from either the homepage or the settings menu in the app to continue getting the same national news but with a sprinkle of more relevant state stories.

Here's a taste of the latest stories from Tasmania:

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 1 minute 54 seconds1m 54s How accurate are rapid antigen tests?What you need to know about coronavirus:

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




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