From the start of next year, you won’t be able to get a Medicare-funded PCR test unless you get a referral from a doctor or a medical or nurse practitioner. The news was contained in the National Covid-19 Health Management Plan for 2023, which was released today by the federal health minister, Mark Butler, to guide Australia’s medical system as it continues to deal with Covid-19.

The 16-page document includes a number of changes, including outlining that Medicare-funded PCR tests will now be reserved for those most at risk, such as older Australians, First Nations people and people with a disability, rather than as a surveillance tool. It’ll also be used to target eligible patients to get faster access to antiviral treatments. Access to antivirals will be available for people who record a positive test via a RAT or PCR.

“Over 2023, Australia will transition to managing Covid-19 in a similar way to other respiratory viruses, moving away from Covid exceptionalism and bespoke arrangements,” the plan says. It adds, “There is no public health requirement or recommendation for low-risk individuals to seek PCR testing.”

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The chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, provided advice in the document, saying the pandemic continues to throw up challenges, and that we’re likely to see the emergence of new variants and new waves “for at least the next two years”.

“The Australian Government will continue to respond to these waves as they occur – with a particular focus on protecting those most at risk in our community. The severity of future waves may be milder, placing less pressure on the health system. This, combined with improved immunity and hybrid immunity from repeat infections and targeted vaccinations, would reduce the clinical impact and result in fewer Australians suffering severe illness and death.”

The plan also says the government will continue to provide vaccines until December 2023 and will release a long-Covid strategy in the future.

In a separate report, the government has also announced it is slashing subsidised visits to psychologists by half. Patients will only be able to claim Medicare rebates for 10 visits to a psychologist, instead of 20, as of January 1. This is a rolling back of the Better Access program, which was increased from 10 to 20 in August 2020 in response to the pandemic.