Change Mandates to Negative Test Results Instead of Vaccination Status for WA's Future
Change Mandates to Negative Test Results Instead of Vaccination Status for WA's Future
Why this petition matters
In a time when global uncertainty is at its peak, it is paramount to ensure that the policies set down today remain consistent and relevant in the face of an unpredictable future.
Western Australia (WA) is one of the few places in the world that has remained largely unscathed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that we’re on the cusp of reopening borders after achieving an amazing double vaccination rate of more than 90% for those over 12 years old, it would be a shame if we lost all that we have achieved because the mandates we have in place were not robust enough to address the root cause of spreading the virus.
This petition asks Premier Mark McGowan to mandate negative COVID-19 test results as the main requirement for access to venues & employment instead of relying on vaccination status.
While vaccines are still an incredibly important measure for managing the COVID-19 pandemic, since Omicron, we are seeing a sharp increase in demand for and the implementation of regular rapid testing & reporting mandates globally. Both the unvaccinated and vaccinated are becoming the weak links for Omicron to break-through. With over 90% of the 12+ population in WA double vaccinated, mandating & restricting access based on vaccination status and complicated public health & safety measures (PHSMs) will only become more confusing, less relevant and ineffective. It is time to shift the focus on to a more effective method that tackles the root cause of spread through early detection, isolation and treatment by mandating frequent rapid testing and reporting.
Managing the spread of COVID-19 plays an important role in curbing the crisis, particularly so with the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Mandating negative test results as a requirement for venue access & employment instead of vaccination status has multiple benefits with the most crucial one being that it minimises the spread of COVID-19 for everyone. Some of the other immensely vital flow-on benefits are that it reduces strain on our healthcare system and that it simply makes economic sense. Changing the mandate focus to frequent testing also protects our population from future emerging variants and waning immunity over time. When we rely on negative test results, this will drive behaviour change since it incentivises taking preventative measures before you attend an event or enter a venue. Furthermore, simplifying our PHSMs to fewer strategies will be less confusing thus encouraging more adherence and public trust. You can read more about the benefits of mandating rapid testing under the ‘Further Reading’ section below.
WA is currently in dire shortage of rapid antigen tests (RATs), however since we have delayed reopening our borders, it is imperative that we take advantage of this borrowed time to better prepare ourselves to avoid the mistakes that other states and nations are now scrambling to rectify. All the attention and resources that we’ve been putting into vaccinations now need to be redirected towards establishing reliable, accurate and affordable RAT supplies for WA.
Premier Mark McGowan, we have done our part with achieving 90+% double vaccination rates, staying behind closed borders, isolating from loved ones, contact tracing & mask wearing. We now deserve to have our future safety protected by the most effective safety measure - mandating negative test results instead of vaccination status.
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Further Reading - Benefits
- Reduce strain on hospitals - Due to the RAT shortage in WA, the only other way we can test for COVID-19 is with PCR tests which are only available for free at hospitals (if you meet certain criteria) and costs about $150 at private clinics. Early detection and treatment of positive cases using RATs will prevent our healthcare system from getting overwhelmed when Omicron reaches its peak in WA.
- Cheaper than lockdowns - providing free or subsidised rapid tests across the state at high capacity public venues and workplaces will cost less to our government and economy compared to implementing lockdowns, mandates and restrictions. The time consuming process of contact tracing will become redundant since everyone will need to get tested at some point unless they are already self isolating. Businesses and schools won’t need to close down for one positive case, while close contacts won’t need to stay away from work for weeks as long as they continue to test negative. Flinders University professors have developed a model that demonstrates how cost-effective a policy of government-funded rapid antigen tests for all Australians would be.
- Securing locally manufactured RATs - There is an excellent opportunity for WA to be a world leader in the development and manufacturing of highly accurate, affordable and environmentally responsible rapid testing kits. Current available rapid tests are already achieving high accuracy and all Australian approved tests kits are at least 80% accurate if not mostly higher. However there is no incentive to develop a kit that is also less impactful on the environment. If rapid testing is to be adopted on a large scale as is proposed here, this factor will need to be prioritised. Each test is single use only and would very quickly become an environmental problem if not addressed. By providing the right incentives with clear quality standards/requirements to be met, our government can leave it to natural market forces to develop/produce a kit that addresses these issues better than what is currently available.
- Help improve the labour shortage crisis in WA - Preventing skilled staff and professionals from working because they are unvaccinated contributes to the labour shortage crisis which is affecting our economy, especially now that we have extended our hard border controls. If one employee catches COVID, the whole business is required to shut down and isolate for weeks. Recruiting and finding new staff is also a taxing process on businesses, particularly when WA has already been struggling with a labour shortage for the past 2 years. By relying on frequent rapid testing, businesses do not need to shut down while unvaccinated skilled labour/professionals and close contacts will be able to return to their jobs as long as they continue to test negative.
- Behaviour change - We have seen how regular drug testing in the mining industry has been very effective at driving behaviour change. Particularly when combined with heavy penalties and risk of dismissal if employees are caught breaching protocols. Mandating negative test results places more incentive on behaving in ways that minimise the risk of catching the virus before attending an important event, start work or enter a public venue.
- Less division, more cohesion - In the past 2 years of this pandemic, we have seen the impact that COVID-19 has had on global mental health. Our mandates do not need to be an additional stress factor. Changing the mandate focus to negative test results will lead to less division and conflict because the focus will simply be about staying healthy. Not about how we achieve that. Some methods will be more effective than others and only the test results will be the judge of that.
- Less opportunity for discrimination/perverse outcomes - Vaccine passports discriminate against people who have very legitimate reasons for being unvaccinated and other ethical dilemmas. There are also concerns that vaccine passports may lead to perverse incentives (i.e. to contract the virus on purpose to gain natural immunity for employment). Shifting the focus to negative test results will instead place everyone on a more level playing field.
- Choose the most reliable indicator of health - We can not predict what the future will look like, especially when we already know that vaccine protection and natural immunity wanes over time. However, by relying on COVID-19 test results regardless of vaccination status, we are using the most robust and adaptable indicator to help prevent spread in a rapidly changing future.
- Secure future supplies and solutions NOW - we MUST prioritise securing reliable access to accurate and affordable rapid testing kits today. Doing so will ensure that we are ahead of the curve compared to other states and countries with regards to dealing with the unpredictable future of the pandemic while protecting our citizens in the most fair and equitable way possible.
Real World Examples
- Although somewhat different from this proposal, France is using a ‘Health Pass’ (Pass Sanitaire) instead of vaccine passports for their PHSM where negative test results (either RAT or PCR) are acceptable proof of health as a condition for entry to public venues.
- VIC, SA, QLD and NSW have all mandated rapid testing reporting as a means to manage the Omicron outbreak.
- Here is how the UK, Italy, Israel and Canada have relied on RATs to reduce strain on their hospitals dealing with Omicron.
- Article on how Singapore, Thailand & Philipines are managing the demand for RATs.