The days of trawling social media and driving to shops across town for rapid antigen tests (RATs) may be coming to an end, with new reports suggesting stocks are stabilizing across Australia.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Thursday that the supply of test kits was “normalizing” after several months of crushing shortages.
But the Pharmacy Guild of Australia says it’s still too early to celebrate, with retailers saying RAT stocks are still not “stable” or “certain”.
RAT shortages wreaked havoc across the country as cases of Omicron spiked over the festive period, driving prices up from major retailers as Australians turned to online community groups for find rare stocks.
Improved rapid test stocks
Mr Hunt has now declared the so-called ‘RAT race’ over, saying on Thursday the Pharmacy Guild of Australia had confirmed ‘widespread reports of the availability’ of test kits.
But the president of the Victorian branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Anthony Tassone, poured cold water on those suggestions, saying that while there are positive signs there is still work to be done.
“Based on feedback from our members, the inventory situation has shown signs of improvement this week, with wholesalers and suppliers expecting a stronger inventory position over the next fortnight,” said Mr. Tassone. The new daily.
“It is probably a little too early to say that the stock status is stable, continuous and certain, but [it] starts to go in the right direction.
Supply also appears to be improving for supermarket giant Woolworths.
Woolworths commercial director for daily needs, James Hepworth, said daily shipments of RATs are being sent to stores after large orders arrive at distribution centres.
“We currently have three times as much stock as we had during the recent peak in demand and will double that volume again by next week,” he said.
Matthew Hayward, creator of test kit locator findarat.com.au – a website where shoppers report whey they have found from kits – said RAT stocks have “definitely stabilised”, with more than 508 sites across Australia selling test kits.
For context, that number was below 100 nationally when the website launched in January and zero in Victoria.
“While there is still a need for the site … there is certainly a lot more uptime, and the number of reports and site traffic falling to around 100,000 per day reflects that,” Mr Hayward said. .
The cost of free RATs is a concern for pharmacies
Despite improving inventory, Tassone said pharmacies were still concerned about funding for free tests given to concession cardholders.
The Morrison government said last month that federal taxpayers would fund RAT kits for concession card holders after reports emerged of many people stretching their budgets to afford testing.
But Mr Tassone said Pharmacy Guild’s Australian subsidiary GuildLink and the pharmacy programs administrator are still negotiating how pharmacies distributing these tests will be compensated by taxpayers.
“Pharmacies have expressed concern about cash flow considerations in terms of possibly having to pay some or all of the purchase price up front for rapid antigen tests, and [are] pending payment under the CRTCA program by the end of February,” Mr. Tassone said.
Mr Hunt said “850,000 concession cardholders, retirees and others” have come forward to take part in the free RAT scheme, and 3.5 million RATs have been given out in 10 days.