A run of rapid antigen testing in chemists and supermarkets across Australia has prompted governments to fight for supplies while trying to change the way people are tested for Covid.
Rapid antigen testing (RATs) have been available in the US, Europe and parts of Asia since March this year, but the Australian testing regime has relied on the more expensive PCR tests as the cornerstone of the program.
Now that the number of cases is rising and the system is coming under increasing pressure, state and federal governments have tried to promote RATs as an intermediate step before people line up to be tested.
In response, RATs have flown off the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies, prompting concern about a lack of supply.
Jini Maxwell, a gaming journalist from Melbourne, said that although they had easily been able to find tests a week and a half ago, they had struggled to find anyone since Christmas “anywhere”.
“There are two chemists near me that I have checked every day who have been sold out in the last three or four days,” they said.
Maxwell said when they finally found a chemist who had them on Thursday, the shelves were bare when they arrived and they were told to come back in an hour while the store filled up.
“I think it represents yet another massive failure by the federal government to provide enough for the Australian people during a two-year pandemic,” they said.
The Vice President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr. Chris Moy, said the lack of availability constituted a “market failure”.
“You can not get them. And people really do not have a reasonable idea when to use them,” he said. private system so that there is no market failure when we really need it. “
National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia Trent Twomey said that although “tens of millions” of tests are on their way to Australia, they are unlikely to be available until late January.
“This transition [from a focus on PCR tests to RATs] will take weeks, not days. We want regional outcomes, ”Twomey said. “There will be millions in the pipeline, there will be tens of thousands of millions. The question is what will happen in the next fourteen days.
“We air freight what we can from abroad and they will come into play over the next few days and weeks. But the large shipments, those that are orders placed with manufacturers, will take several weeks.”
Although it is unclear how governments will distribute the supplies they buy, Twomey said in late January that RATs should be widely available.
“They want to be everywhere,” he said. “The supplies coming in late January will be available through supermarkets and pharmacies, and the supplies available in the next few days will be available through local pharmacies.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison tried to reassure Australians on Wednesday. He said RATs were different from vaccines as there were many more manufacturers around the world and governments had worked to secure supplies.
These include the additional 34 million tests announced by the Victorian state government and the 30 million additional tests commissioned by New South Wales.
Since these bulk orders will take time to fill, the prime minister said the private sector would fill the gap, describing the tests as a “precious commodity” to deal with the spread of Covid-19.
“When you start delivering tests through other methods, then you need to be very aware of where and who so they can assess how many stocks I need in my pharmacy or supermarket,” Morrison said.
However, the tests will not be available in Western Australia, where RATs remain banned despite calls from the State Department of the Pharmacy Guild to overturn this ban.
Only state health chief Andy Robertson can overturn the ban, which could lead to fines of up to $ 20,000 and companies of up to $ 100,000 to administer them.
Coles and Woolworths confirmed in separate statements that they saw an increase in demand, with Woolworths limiting customers to 10 sets per. buy, but both said the stocks were large enough to cope.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) maintains a list of approved rapid antigen tests for use in Australia.
Most approved RATs come from manufacturers in China, the US and Germany and must be repackaged into TGA-approved packaging before they can be distributed in Australia. This is to ensure that the packaging language is in English and that the instructions are clearly explained in a way that ensures that they can be used at home.
Twomey said the industry does not “play favorites” when it comes to delivering to various states and territories, but can only respond quickly to changes where governments cooperate with the industry on policy changes in advance.
“Those you do not hear from, you can not work with,” he said.