Australia to accept RATs from inbound travellers in major overhaul

Australia will significantly ease its COVID-19 testing requirements for inbound travellers in a major overhaul of how the country manages international travel during the pandemic.

The Federal Department of Health is finalising substantial changes to give returning travellers the option of completing a rapid antigen test (RAT) within 24 hours before their flight, rather than having to take an expensive PCR test within three days as is currently required.

The Federal Government is set to significantly ease international travel requirements. Credit:Bloomberg

Travellers who catch COVID-19 overseas will, meanwhile, have the wait time slashed from 14 days before they can fly home to seven days, according to multiple well-placed sources who were not authorised to speak publicly about the changes before their official announcement.

The Department of Health, in conjunction with Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, have recommended the overhaul including accepting RATs but Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is yet to make a final decision. Mr Hunt is expected to make an announcement on Friday night ahead of implementation on Sunday morning.

Qantas also confirmed on Friday it was working to lift its requirement that passengers submit medical documents seven days before their scheduled flights, which for some stranded customers meant a wait of 21 days before they could fly home after catching the virus.

“We are looking at removing the requirement for people flying into Australia to submit their medical clearance seven days before travel and instead have their documents verified at the airport before their flight,” a Qantas spokesman said. “We hope to have this in place next week.”

The changes come after The Age and Sydney Morning Herald this week highlighted several cases of Australians who had contracted COVID-19 abroad and had long delays returning home due to government and airline rules.

Accepting RAT tests for inbound travel rather than PCR tests will significantly cut the cost of travelling overseas, with PCR tests from private clinics costing from $150 to $300 per person, while RAT tests can cost as little as $10.

Currently, the Australian government requires vaccinated travellers who have caught COVID-19 overseas to wait 14 days before they fly home. Those who experience “viral shedding” – meaning they continue to test positive after 14 days while being asymptomatic and no longer contagious – need a medical certificate to fly home.

Qantas’ seven-day processing time frame for this certificate meant some customers had to wait 21 days after they first tested positive to return home.

At a federal level, “shedding” travellers will be able to use local testing guidelines to determine whether a RAT or PCR test is required.

More to come

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