Lack of rapid antigen tests could thwart summer holiday plans, chemists warnDecember 27, 2021
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Australians’ interstate travel plans could be dealt a fresh blow by a shortage of rapid antigen tests, with pharmacists warning states and territories to urgently secure supplies and foot the bill for the kits amid unprecedented demand.
South Australia scrapped its PCR testing requirement for inbound travellers on Sunday and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed on Monday her state’s plan to move to rapid antigen testing for interstate travellers from January 1 as queues at COVID-19 testing sites and result turnaround times blew out.
Retailers and pharmacies have experienced a boom in demand for rapid antigen tests.Credit:Bloomberg
Pharmacy Guild president Professor Trent Twomey said a week ago, pharmacies around the country had ample supply of the self-testing kits, but demand exploded ahead of Christmas. As more states drop PCR testing requirements for travel, demand will continue to grow.
“Right now we’re down to dozens and we might have none today,” Professor Twomey said on Monday. “I cannot guarantee that we will be able to meet the demand, which means I cannot guarantee that people will be able to travel.”
Pharmacies were under the most pressure in areas with outbreaks, including Greater Sydney and Melbourne, he said.
Supermarket giant Woolworths’ digital health and wellness business HealthyLife.com.au had posted more than 100,000 rapid antigen tests across the eastern states since November, HealthyLife’s general manager of commercial and partnerships Martine Cooper said.
“Demand for rapid antigen tests more than doubled in the lead-up to Christmas, as customers prepared for festive functions and businesses prepare for employees returning to workplaces in the new year,” she said.
Woolworths and Coles sell the tests at their customer service desks, with Coles limiting customers to two packs each and Woolworths restricting shoppers to 10 tests apiece. Both supermarkets have experienced increased demand for the kits across their stores.
“We are doing everything we can to keep up with the unprecedented demand,” a Woolworths spokeswoman said.
Professor Twomey said it was sensible for state and territory governments to allow the use of rapid antigen tests rather than PCR tests for travel. But those jurisdictions should provide the tests.
“Those state governments have a responsibility to secure this supply before they make the decision. They can’t just say to Australians, ‘If you want to travel, you need to go and buy this product from your pharmacy’,” he said.
“If the state governments who were responsible for these travel restrictions don’t secure supply before they make these decisions, we will have people who aren’t allowed to travel because they can’t get a test.”
People hoping to travel interstate have faced hours-long COVID-19 testing queues and been forced to wait days for results as states grapple with the largest coronavirus outbreaks experienced in the country to date, leaving Christmas plans in turmoil for many.
Opposition health spokesman Mark Butler said he had heard many stories of people not being able to access rapid tests at their local pharmacy because the shelves were empty, and said the federal government should have done more to ensure there was enough supply.
“These testing arrangements are clearly the Commonwealth government’s responsibility and they should have predicted that over the course of the summer we would need a very big increase in supply of rapid tests. I’ve not heard from the government yet a guarantee, a commitment, that that supply will be available,” he said.
“We need a federal government to put in place a rapid testing regime that ensures that working families and small businesses, in particular, have affordable easy access to this testing option.”
Both Coles and Woolworths said they had good supplies of the testing kits for coming weeks.
“We continue to see growing customer demand for the Hough COVID-19 Home test and maintain good availability in our stores,” the Coles spokeswoman said.
The Woolworths spokeswoman said there was more stock on the way, and both Woolworths and HealthyLife said they were working with their suppliers to meet demand.
The federal Health Minister’s office was contacted for comment but did not respond by publication.
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