Pharmacists are reporting that while more rapid antigen tests (RATs) will be coming next week, the “real jump” in supply is not expected until February after COVID-19 hospitalisations are estimated to have already reached their highest level.
Australia’s biggest pharmacy distributor, Sigma Healthcare Sigma told The Epoch Times on Jan. 17 it was currently transporting rapid tests, which can detect COVID-19 within 20 minutes, to its stores as demand for RATs soared.
“Sigma is progressively accessing supply of RATs to distribute to its pharmacy customers and expects supply to accelerate over the coming weeks to help meet public demand for tests,” a company spokesman said.
“While Sigma expects supply to increase from next week, the real jump in RATs supply will come in early February.”
The news of the arrivals comes as RAT supply shortage continues to strangle Australia’s testing regime, leading to retailers often charging between $20-30 per test and sometimes over $70 per test at smaller outlets, despite wholesale costs ranging between $3.95 and $11.45 per test.
Rod Sims, chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), said on Monday the consumer watchdog had received over 1,800 reports of price gouging, a practice considered illegal by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
“We have also had reports that look as if people have bought the goods … and then on-sold them at more than 20% markup, and that is illegal under the government’s recent announcement, and we are referring anything that looks of that nature to the Australian federal police,” Sims told The Guardian.
“If we found large stores and chains engaging in this sort of behaviour, we won’t hesitate to take action, and the penalties will be very large.”
Meanwhile, state and federal governments and large corporates were reportedly procuring kits in massive numbers, leaving online retailers and pharmacies short of stock.
Pharmacy Guild national president Trent Twomey told Sky News on Tuesday while 200 million rapid antigen tests were currently on order, people should not “expect them to be equally accessible by everybody.”
He also said it was more attractive for suppliers to prioritise big orders from governments that were worth millions, while some retailers were struggling to secure stock despite having paid for it in full and having confirmed delivery dates, The Guardian reported.
“What’s happening is that it’s much easier for suppliers to deal with one customer who wants 100,000 tests than 1,000. So what we are seeing is manufacturers [and suppliers] preferencing larger clients over smaller clients,” Twomey added.
His comment came after the NSW government announced 100 million RATs, which would be used in healthcare, education, vulnerable communities and social housing, with authorities already distributing the at-home tests to remote communities.
The commonwealth last week also said it had ordered $62 million worth of the tests due to “extreme urgency or events unforeseen.”
Health Minister Greg Hunton Monday rejected the claim that the federal government was requisitioning supplies of RATs, calling it “a plain lie.”
“I have written to suppliers to say that was not the Australian government’s position,” Hunt said of the allegations.