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Obtaining a COVID-19 PCR test in New South Wales (NSW) or Victoria has been a strenuous task of late, with snaking queues lasting hours and results taking more than three days to come back. This testing meltdown was triggered by decreased capacity over the holidays, as well as a spike in demand from interstate travel and Omicron.

To alleviate pressure on the system, premiers in NSW and Victoria announced that from 31 December 2021, international arrivals could take a self-administered COVID-19 ART (more commonly known as a RAT in Australia) on arrival, instead of a PCR test.

However, Melbourne travellers will still need to take a Day 5 to 7 test (albeit with a self-administered ART as well), while travellers to Sydney are exempt.

Melbourne CBD (Photo Credit: Melbourne Convention Bureau)

Self-Administered ARTs will replace on arrival PCRs

From 12.01 a.m on Friday, 31 December 2021, fully vaccinated international passengers arriving in Victoria must comply with the following:

“If fully vaccinated, or if aged under 12 and 2 months:Immediately quarantine at home upon arrival in Victoria.
Get a PCR test or a Rapid Antigen Test within 24 hours of arriving and continue to quarantine until you receive a negative result.
Get a PCR test or a Rapid Antigen Test between day 5 and 7 after arriving. You don’t have to quarantine while awaiting the result of this test. 
There are restrictions on entering sensitive settings (including education)
Note: The above applies to people aged under 12 and 2 months if they are travelling solo or travelling with a parent/guardian who is either fully vaccinated or medically exempt.”

To summarise, travellers must take an ART within 24 hours of arrival, and once a negative result is received, are free to cease self-isolation. You can see the stark comparison, where you are no longer required to wait for up to 72 hours for the PCR result that was previously required, which was almost equivalent to a 3-day quarantine!

I think these instructions were written with the assumption you don’t have a self-test ART kit on hand at the airport, or else you could just do it at the terminal and be free to move about 15 minutes later. 

For avoidance of doubt, there’s no need to do a professionally-administered ART; self-test kits are acceptable. 

There is no need to report the results of either test, but as a precaution, time-stamped photos are encouraged for the results for verification. That’s what Dickson will be doing for his upcoming trip to Melbourne.

“For 14 days after your arrival in Australia you need to carry the results of COVID-19 tests, proof of ID, your international passenger arrival permit and evidence that you are fully vaccinated or exempt, and present it on request to authorities if asked.”

What kind of ART kits can I use?

ART kits in Australia are overseen by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The TGA has a list of approved home test kits, as well as a copy of the manufacturer’s instructions for each test.

Two of the kits sold in Singapore pharmacies are accepted in Australia, namely:

  • Abbott Panbio COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test
  • SD Biosensor SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Self Test Nasal

I would recommend the Abbott Panbio COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test. These are readily available at Watsons and Guardian.

Kits start from S$4.90 each at pharmacies in Singapore, and we strongly advise to bring them over with you. ART kits are in low supply in Australia. 

Revised requirements for travel to Australia

With the latest changes, here’s a snapshot of the revised requirements for travel from Singapore to Australia. 

✈️ Summary: Australia  VTL

To Australia 🇦🇺
Eligibility: Australian citizens, permanent residents and immediate family, Japanese, Korean,Singapore citizens
No restrictions on 14-day travel history
Fully vaccinated with a TGA approved vaccine
Singapore citizens: Apply for ETA via Australian ETA app (Apple | Android)
Complete Australia Travel Declaration 72h before flight
Melbourne: Apply for Arrival Permit and download Service Victoria app
Take pre-departure PCR test 72h before flight
Take non-stop flight to Australia (Melbourne or Sydney only)
Take test on arrival and isolate until negative result received.
Melbourne: ART within 24h of arrival; further ART between Day 5 and 7
Sydney: ART within 24h of arrival

Conclusion

It’s great to see Australia lowering obstacles and adopting a sensible approach towards COVID-19 testing, a welcome move that seemed distant when Australia imposed a 72-hour quarantine just weeks ago.

In essence, you could be off the plane and free to move about within 15 minutes, which means practically no more self-isolation upon arrival. 

Do remember to pack your own ART kits when travelling over to Australia, however, as the shortages there could exacerbate further. 

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