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$540 million to continue and expand Australia’s COVID-19 response

The Australian Government has invested a further $540 million in response to the COVID 19 pandemic including significant funding to keep Australians safe, and for COVID-19 testing.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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The Australian Government has invested a further $540 million in response to the COVID 19 pandemic including significant funding to keep Australians safe, and for COVID-19 testing.

COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on Australians’ way of life and the emergence of the Omicron variant of concern highlights that while we have come a long way, we require robust health measures to continue to underpin our COVID-19 Health Response.

The Australian Government has committed more than $33 billion in additional health spending since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, to protect the health of all Australians.

Of this funding, $492 million will be invested into measures to continue support for all Australians, including:

  • The Aged Care Preparedness Support Measures Extension
  • The Victorian Aged Care Response Centre (VACRC)
  • Support for Aged Care Workers in COVID-19 Program (SACWIC)
  • COVID-19 Indigenous and Remote Response Measures
  • The National Incident Centre
  • MBS fee for COVID-19 pathology items
  • COVID-19 pathology testing in aged care
  • Aged Care: RAD Loan Scheme

In addition, $48 million will be invested into COVID-19 medical research to explore multiple aspects of COVID-19, including vaccination, treatment and modelling.  

Since March 2020, the Government has delivered funding to secure life-saving vaccines, support for our hospitals, aged care, and to provide access to primary health care, including telehealth.

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, said the significant investment in health has saved the lives of thousands of Australians who would have died of COVID-19.

“Over the past two years, health has been a focus of the entire Australian population, and the measures we have put in place have helped ensure Australia has one of the lowest mortality rates and highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world,” Minister Hunt said.

“Compared to the average of the OECD, our actions have helped save approximately 30,000 lives, compared to the United States and the United Kingdom, we have saved approximately 45,000 lives.”

“The availability of highly accurate polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing has been critical in identifying COVID-19 cases and genomic sequencing to understand variants of concern in Australia since the pandemic began, allowing health authorities to respond quickly to manage and curb the disease’s spread.

“COVID-19 testing remains an important part of the Australian Government’s strategy to contain the spread of COVID-19, particularly as Australia continues to open up in accordance with the National Plan to Transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response.

The new investment will extend Australian patient access to bulk-billed COVID-19 tests under the Medicare Benefits Scheme.”

Funding is also being extended for the National Incident Centre (NIC) within the Department of Health, which has been stood-up, without a break, since the Samoan measles outbreak in September 2019.

“The NIC is the epicentre of Australia’s COVID-19 public health response, and is central to advising Government and National Cabinet on COVID-19 in Australia and around the world,” Minister Hunt said.

“It also contributed to the Australian Government’s evidence-based public health response and underpinning the goals of the National Plan and the COVID-19 vaccination program.”

Five research projects around the nation will also share in $15 million in funding and $33 million in competitive grant opportunities will be provided to further support researchers as part of the Morrison Government’s ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response.

The $15 million will be provided for projects led by the University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales, University of Western Australia, Murdoch University, and Monash University.

These projects will support early research into the long-term health impacts of COVID-19, clinical trials to improve COVID-19 vaccination planning for Australians who are immunocompromised, and clinical trials focussing on the effectiveness of combining different COVID-19 vaccines.

In addition, $33 million in further funding support will be made available through five streams of research to investigate different aspects of COVID-19.

  • $4 million to evaluate safety, effectiveness, and feasibility of new treatments for COVID-19 in Australian clinical settings
  • $16 million to accelerate the development of antiviral candidates to prevent or treat SARS-CoV-2
  • $7 million to study COVID-19 immune response in children, adolescents, adults and vulnerable populations
  • $3 million to study SARS-CoV-2 airborne transmission to inform new and/or improved modelling, and
  • $3 million to create a national linked data platform bringing together health data sets to strengthen evidence-based public health and health system planning and management.

“Funding research projects through this grant opportunity will help protect Australians from COVID-19 by increasing the options available to clinicians to treat people who are infected and improve our ability to predict the spread of the virus and better target our response,” Minister Hunt said.

Minister for Regional Health, Dr David Gillespie, said support will be extended for the Remote Community Preparedness and Retrieval measure, which is keeping regional Australians safe and helping address COVID-19 outbreaks,

“Our Government will extend the Remote Community Preparedness and Retrieval measure has been in place since March 2020,” Minister Gillespie said.

“This will continue to assist in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine to rural and remote areas, utilising the resources and expertise of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

“The Government also recognises that COVID-19, including potential new variants present a risk to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, who experience a burden of disease more than double that of non-Indigenous Australians.

“To ensure potential outbreaks are caught early, the Remote Point of Care Testing (POCT) Program, which is operated through the Kirby Institute, will be extended as well.”

The POCT Program will help to detect and manage outbreaks of COVID-19 in rural or remote communities. Outbreaks in these communities have the potential to be very serious due to the risk of rapid spread, the burden of disease, and barriers to access to some health services.

These measures will continue to support the joint outbreak preparedness and response work the Australian Government undertakes with the Indigenous health sector and state and territory governments through the expert leadership of the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group on COVID-19.

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring our senior Australians are protected against COVID-19 which has had a disproportionately significant impact across the aged care sector, particularly in 2020.

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, said the Government is continuing to assist aged care service providers to manage the direct impacts of the pandemic.

“Our investment will continue funding the Aged Care Support Program Extension grant opportunity, which reimburses providers for eligible costs incurred as a direct result of managing COVID-19,” Minister Colbeck said.

“Ready to deploy surge workforce arrangements also remain in place to ensure the continuity of care for aged care residents even in the event of an outbreak within their residential facility.

“The spending on aged care preparedness will also continue intensive case management support available to aged care services experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak amongst residents and/or staff. This will ensure we remain ready to assist providers experiencing outbreaks.”

The Australian Government recognises the outstanding efforts of our aged care workforce in protecting the health and wellbeing senior Australians throughout the pandemic, and will provide additional funding to continue the Support for Aged Care Workers in COVID-19 (SACWIC) grant opportunity. This grant opportunity is being extended to 30 June 2022 to ensure support remains available as required.

At times where there is significant community transmission of COVID-19, the SACWIC grant enables aged care workers to adhere to single site restrictions without being financially disadvantaged. Single site restrictions are voluntarily enacted to mitigate the risk of workers unintentionally spreading COVID-19 between facilities.

As Australia transitions to living with COVID-19 the need for rapid response in our aged care sector, including access to diagnostic testing, will continue.

Minister Colbeck said the residents of Australia’s aged care facilities are a very highly vaccinated population and the same is true of the aged care workforce, but testing remains a critical tool to manage potential outbreaks.

“The Government will provide funding to extend the ‘in-reach’ COVID-19 pathology services for residential aged care facilities, as we work towards a future approach were rapid antigen testing becomes the standard for COVID-19 surveillance in aged care,” he said.

“We are also making funding available to continue the work of the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre (VACRC) to support preparedness activities and rapidly respond to COVID-19 outbreaks in that state.

“The VACRC has been critical in prioritising the quality of care and protection of residents, and ensuring a rapid and effective response for providers, and communicating with families.”

The existing Refundable Accommodation Deposit (RAD) Support Loan Program will be extended to continue to support the residential aged care sector, preventing the unnecessary insolvency of providers as a result of the pandemic.

Some residential aged care facilities have experienced declining occupancy rates during the pandemic, as senior Australians look to remain in their own homes or with family.

The RAD Support Loan Program has helped facilities manage the financial impact of declining resident numbers, which has minimised the flow-on cost to taxpayers.

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