Australia's COVID-19 economic recovery could be compromised by further waves of coronavirus without rapid testing, according to a pathology expert.
This week's federal budget saw the government commit $1.7 billion over two years towards vaccine development by the University of Queensland/CSL Limited and University of Oxford/AstraZeneca.
But Pathology Technology Australia boss Dean Whiting said the key to getting people back to work safely and resetting the economy was adding rapid COVID antigen testing to the country's regimen.
"The budget is pinning its hat on a vaccine and to me that is a warning sign, because when you listen to almost all the experts, a vaccine could be a long way away," Mr Whiting told AAP.
"So between now and the middle of next year, we're very vulnerable to second and third-wave infections and that would be devastating to the economy.
"A clear opportunity for spending would have been in a massive roll-out of rapid antigen testing across high-risk and essential businesses to keep workers safe and the economy running smoothly."
Mr Whiting, who heads the peak industry body representing manufacturers and suppliers of testing technology, said while the current 'PCR' tests should remain the "gold standard", they are expensive and can take up to 48 hours to deliver a result.
They should be used in combination with rapid tests, which can deliver a result with 95 per cent accuracy in just 15 minutes, at about a third of the price, he said
"The big advantage is that you get a result in real-time and you're able then to ask that person to isolate and to send a sample for PCR to validate that they are a positive," Mr Whiting said.
Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved six rapid antigen tests, which require a swab from the back of the nose or the throat.
Mr Whiting said the "most logical" places to immediately roll out these tests would be the aged care and health care sectors, as well as other essential and high-risk workplaces like hospitality and construction, where people could be tested daily on site.
He pointed to United States President Donald Trump's successful recovery from COVID-19 as a potential example of the strength of frequent antigen testing and rapid action.
The 74-year-old's infection was detected by a rapid test before he was treated with Remdesivir, an antiviral drug, as well as an eight-gram infusion of monoclonal antibodies.
He was also put on steroid dexamethasone, which has benefited COVID patients who are having breathing difficulties.
"Identifying the infection early and giving the anti-viral therapy probably makes a big difference in recovery from this virus - before it has the chance to multiply aggressively," Mr Whiting said.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee will consider the status of rapid antigen tests more broadly and prepare advice for the government on their use, a spokesman for federal health minister Greg Hunt told AAP on Friday.
Australian Associated Press
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