Eligibility for potentially life-saving COVID-19 antiviral treatments needs to be expanded.
Health Minister Mark Butler has said Australians over the age of 70 who test positive for the virus will be able to access antivirals under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from Monday.
Access will also be extended to people over 50 with at least two risk factors for serious illness, as well as Indigenous Australians over 30 with at least two risk factors.
Anyone 18 or older and immunocompromised may also be eligible.
But the health minister is resisting calls to restore pandemic leave payments, which ended on July 1, saying the pandemic has moved into a different phase.
‘We are beyond…lockdowns, warrants and emergency payments,’ he told ABC Insiders on Sunday.
“We are at the point where there needs to be as much information as possible available to the community so they can make informed decisions on their own.”
He said the government would listen to health authorities and remain open to changing their approach during the winter.
Opposition spokesman Simon Birmingham said the government needed to be transparent about advice from health experts.
“We shouldn’t be spending money that doesn’t need to be spent,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
“But if there are measures needed on public health and public hospitals, the government must be transparent about the advice it receives and how it acts in response to that advice.”
77 additional daily deaths
Australia’s COVID-19 death toll has passed 10,200 and health authorities are urging people to consider a fourth dose of the vaccine as cases are expected to rise.
More than 37,000 new infections and 77 deaths were reported across the country on Saturday, with Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants now the dominant strains of the virus.
The number of Australians in hospital with the virus exceeds 4,000, up by more than 1,000 in the past fortnight.
“COVID cases and the number of hospitalizations are increasing, especially with newer variants,” Butler said on Sunday.
“These oral antivirals significantly reduce the risk of serious illness, especially for older Australians, and will help keep people out of hospital.”
More than 73,000 Australians have already benefited from the drugs.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee recommended the changes in response to the latest evidence on drug efficacy and safety, current use, and changing epidemiology of COVID-19.
Antiviral treatments, taken as tablets or capsules, help prevent the infection from becoming serious, but should be started soon after a positive test.
Mr Butler said the former government purchased hundreds of thousands of doses of antivirals “which sat on the shelf instead of being used to help those at risk”.
Two antivirals are on the PBS. Normally costing over $1,000, they will be available from Monday for $6.80 for concession card holders and around $40 for everyone else.
Also from Monday, Australians over 30 will be able to get a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or a second booster.
LATEST 24-HOUR COVID-19 DATA:
- NSW: 8,760 cases, eight deaths, 1,945 in hospital including 60 in intensive care
- Victoria: 7,934 cases, two deaths, 671 in hospital including 32 in intensive care
- Tasmania: 1,355 cases, 93 in hospital including four in intensive care