Australians have expressed anger at facing Covid test shortages and price-gouging as the nation battles its most widespread infections yet.
Last month Australia lifted most of its strict domestic restrictions after reaching a 90% vaccination target.
But the Omicron variant has fuelled a surge in cases now totalling over 25,000 a day.
That’s put intense pressure on testing and hospital systems, causing anxiety around the country.
PCR tests have always been widely available in Australia, but last week the government began limiting who is eligible to receive them for free.
It followed tens of thousands of people spending hours queuing outside testing clinics around Christmas. Isolation times blew out and test results were delayed.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new rules aimed to alleviate pressure on the system.
But it has increased reliance on lateral flow tests known locally as rapid antigen tests (RATs) which people have to pay for.
Mr Morrison’s government has been heavily criticised for a supply shortage, and many instances of price-gouging have been reported.
The government has rejected calls from medical bodies and political opponents to make the tests freely available, as they are in many nations.
Mr Morrison has argued that pharmacies require certainty that there will be a private market for the tests.
Critics say the new guidelines further disadvantage those on lower incomes, leaving them more exposed as the virus spreads.
About one in five people presenting at public testing clinics in Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) – the two most populous states – are now testing positive.
Many hospitals are struggling to cope as admissions rise, according to local media.
Intensive care unit admissions and death rates remain relatively low. Australia has reported about 2,200 deaths in the pandemic.
Due to the nation’s delayed vaccination rollout, many people remain ineligible to get a booster shot.