Pharmacies warn RAT stock won’t increase until February as unions threaten strike action

Ellen RansleyNCA NewsWire
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Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

Rapid antigen tests will begin to become more available from next week, but the “real jump” in stock and price stability will not come until after Omicron case numbers are expected to peak.

The tests are currently in short supply across the country.

Australians have used social media and new websites to share the location of pharmacies and supermarkets where they are able to find a kit.

Some tests are also being sold at a premium, with the national consumer watchdog receiving reports of some – which wholesale from $3.95 to $11.45 – going for up to $500.

Australia’s biggest pharmacy distributor Sigma Healthcare, which delivers to Amcal and Guardian among others, told The Australian that from next Monday, several million tests will be delivered weekly.

Distribution is expected to jump to tens of millions of kits by mid-February but prices are tipped to remain volatile until stock stabilises.

Pharmacy Guild national president Trent Twomey told Sky News on Tuesday there were currently 200 million rapid antigen tests on order.

“You can’t go from zero to 200 million on order and expect them to be equally accessible by everybody,” Professor Twomey said.

Camera IconMany chemists around the country have been putting up signs to state the unavailability of rapid antigen tests. NCA NewsWire / Flavio Brancaleone Credit: News Corp Australia

He said governments should have had the foresight to recognise there would have been an increase in demand for the rapid tests when restrictions eased, and given pharmacies and supermarkets “at least three weeks” notice.

“We should have foreseen that we were going to have to relax restrictions and everyone in Australia was going to get Covid,” he said.

“If everyone in Australia was going to get Covid, then everyone in Australia is going to want to get tested not just once, but multiple times.

“If we had just been given at least three weeks notice ahead … We could have got enough.

“We are seeing supplies start to ramp up after Australia Day, but they’re not going to normalise until around Valentine’s Day.”

Pharmacies are now concerned they won’t have enough stock to meet demand when concession holders become eligible for limited free rapid tests from next Monday.

Camera IconStock of rapid tests will not stabilise until mid-February, pharmacists warn. NCA NewsWire / Nikki Short Credit: News Corp Australia

Unions have threatened strike action if workers aren’t provided with free rapid tests immediately.

After a crisis meeting on Monday, Australian Council of Trade Union Secretary Sally McManus said the government’s failure to procure enough rapid antigen tests was costing the entire community.

“For workplaces where working from home is not an option, the provision of free RATs by employers to all workers will be necessary once supply is resolved,” Ms McManus said.

“Union members will take whatever steps are necessary in their workplaces to ensure they are as safe as possible. Where employers do not fulfil their obligations, the union movement determines to do everything within its power to ensure the safety of workers and the community.

“This may include ceasing work.

“Free RATs are needed for the whole community … The failure of the Federal Government to act and provide free and accessible RATs puts us all in harm’s way.”

Originally published as Pharmacies warn RAT stock won’t increase until February as unions threaten strike action

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