Business groups urge government to fund rapid antigen tests for SMEs as Melbourne retail reopens


Source: Unsplash/Kentaro Toma.

Small business groups are calling on the government to fund rapid antigen testing for businesses, as thousands of Melbourne retailers prepare for their first evening of in-store trading.

An alliance of 10 peak bodies and unions including the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) have banded together, urging state and federal governments to fund a program for SMEs to buy rapid antigen tests for their staff.

Alexi Boyd, chief executive of COSBOA, says arming SMEs with rapid testing capability would boost certainty and help businesses protect their staff and customers.

“Rapid antigen testing can become very expensive, so we’re calling on the government to support small businesses by keeping those costs down,” Boyd tells SmartCompany.

The tests, which will be available to buy at major supermarkets from next week, are a quick way people can test for COVID-19 without sending their swab to a laboratory.

Rapid antigen tests can be self-administered or carried out under supervision using a nasal swab that is placed into a chemical solution before showing the results 15 minutes later.

While the tests are not as effective as regular PCR tests, they have been approved by Australia’s drug regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), for widespread use.

According to Pathology Technology Australia, the cost of supervised rapid antigen testing is between $18 and $49 per test, while unsupervised testing costs about $20 per test.

Among the groups urging the government to support small businesses in covering the cost of these tests are Australian Council of Trade Unions, Pathology Technology Australia, Transport Workers Union, Road Freight NSW and Victorian Transport Association.

Boyd says COSBOA has united with unions on this issue because small businesses recognise they have an obligation to keep their workers safe.

“Small businesses are struggling to find workers, so maintaining relationships with staff by giving them clear messages about whether they can or can’t come into work is crucial,” she says.

Melbourne retailers open amid vaccine confusion

COSBOA’s calls for governments to help small businesses have better access to COVID-19 tests comes as thousands of Melbourne retailers open their stores to customers for the first time in months.

From 6pm tonight, retailers will open to all Victorians as the state reaches the 80% vaccination milestone. 

But confusing advice over whether customers should be fully vaccinated has forced the state government to clarify its advice earlier this week.

According to Victoria’s COVID-19 testing commander Jeroen Weimer, unvaccinated customers will be allowed in nonessential retail until November 24, when the state reaches the 90% vaccination milestone. From that date, all customers entering non-essential retail premises must be double vaccinated.

“We’ve given a bit more time and space for retailers to get back and moving again,” Weimer told reporters on Wednesday.

“We are sending out a very clear signal that says if you’re going to be active in these retail environments post 90%, you’re going to need to get yourself vaccinated.”

Hospitality, hairdressing and beauty and gyms, however, are required to check the vaccination status of customers in order to open at maximum capacity.

These varying vaccine rules have prompted the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) to offer guidance to SMEs who are required navigate the complex rules.

The VCCI has published tips for businesses to follow, including to only request vaccination status where necessary, keep data secure and develop a process.

“Be proactive and open and advise staff and customers why you are collecting the information, how you will use the information and the process you have implemented to collect, store and secure COVID-19 vaccine certificates,” VCCI’s guidance states.


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