Demand for Christmas season increases pressure on low COVID-19 test supplies in the UK and Australia

A lack of lateral flow tests in England – known as rapid antigen tests in Australia – is causing widespread anxiety among those who need it, not only for New Year celebrations, but also for simply being able to work.

The lack of home sets has led to long queues for PCR tests.

Pharmacies across the UK have suffered the bulk of customer frustrations, with reports of increased aggression targeting staff who are unable to fulfill orders due to lack of supplies.

The UK has expanded its booster program this month as stadiums and cathedrals reopen as inoculation centers.

This decision came after research showed that two doses of the vaccine were not enough to protect against the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

People queuing up to be tested for COVID in the UK
Nearly 58 per cent of people over the age of 12 have been given a booster dose across the UK.(AP: Alberto Pezzali)

The chairman of England’s Pharmacy Board, Thorrun Govind, said the problem was driven by a system that did not support a match between demand and supply, where people could collect lateral flow tests using an online-generated code.

The huge increase in infections in the UK has only exacerbated concerns, with the country’s latest figures showing 183,037 confirmed new COVID-19 cases, a 32 per cent increase from the day before.

Those who have to perform lateral flow tests to make the work feel safe feel an extra pressure because the party period has disrupted the supply chains and demand only rises up until New Year’s Eve.

A scene all too familiar on land

Following Omicron’s rapid global spread, Australia has not been spared testing problems either.

The increase in cases across the country has given additional travel rules to stem the spread ahead of the festive season.

Earlier this month, most states required travelers to return a negative result on a pre-entry PCR test, which can only be obtained at approved test sites.

Pathology companies felt the strain as Australians found themselves in unusually long waiting times of up to nine hours just to be tested.

Amid staff shortages, test sites were flooded with recurrent COVID-positive patients, people with symptoms and those in need of testing for travel purposes.

Delays and inaccuracies in test results have also caused people unnecessary mental and financial stress.

However, some states have now switched to at-home rapid antigen testing (RATs) instead of certain PCR tests.

Tasmania has joined South Australia and Queensland in dropping PCR tests as part of their interstate travel test regime.

The federal government has also announced the use of RATs for asymptomatic close contacts.

It has warned suppliers against pricing as demand continues to exceed supply while some Australians have struggled to get their fingers in RAT sets.


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