There is not yet the level of community transmission of COVID-19 in Canberra that would make rapid antigen testing worthwhile, and it would be an ineffective tool to screen hospital patients, the ACT chief health officer says.
Dr Kerryn Coleman said rapid antigen tests were less sensitive to COVID-19 and could only be used when health authorities could accept letting a handful of cases slip through a screening process.
"There certainly will be circumstances and certain cohorts in which it will be useful into the future. I'm not sure that hospital patients is one of them, but I do think there are some potential settings and cohorts and we're having those strong discussions both nationally as well as locally," Dr Coleman said.
Dr Coleman's comments came after a patient tested positive for COVID-19 after spending a week in a general surgery ward at Canberra Hospital, where a patient in a shared room also contracted the coronavirus.
Ward 10A at Canberra Hospital was on Saturday declared a "red zone", but no additional cases were reported on Sunday.
There were also no further cases reported on Sunday following an outbreak at the Calvary Haydon residential aged care facility, where three staff members and nine residents had tested positive for COVID-19.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said around 30 staff were directly affected by the outbreak at Canberra Hospital.
"In this particular case, I think it's also important to remember that this is not the only COVID-positive patient that has been identified within Canberra Hospital or across our public hospital and health system," Ms Stephen-Smith said.
"This is a situation that's been consistently managed by Canberra Health Services, and indeed by Calvary [Hospital] on a regular basis."
Some experts have touted rapid antigen testing as a means to quickly test people in an effort to prevent asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 entering essential workplaces or other high-risk settings.
Dr Coleman said there was still work to be done to ensure the use of rapid tests was useful, and they needed to be considered as part of other public health measures.
"There are some restrictions on where you can do the testing, so at the moment they're not registered to be done at home; they have to be done supervised. There's still a lot of issues to work through about ensuring the testing is done in the most complete way so we have confidence [in the] reliability of the results," she said.
Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT would need to very quickly consider where and how the rapid tests would be used.
"Now that we do have community transmission and we are moving into a circumstance where we are going to see more and more community transmission, as we open up, despite our highly vaccinated population, then this is where the rapid antigen testing really comes into its own," she said.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has said the tests would be needed to combat the growing number of vaccinated people in the ACT with asymptomatic COVID-19 infections unknowingly spreading the virus in the community.
Mr Barr said procurement of the tests would mainly be a responsibility of the Commonwealth government.
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