The desperate hunt for rapid antigen tests as shops sell out

The desperate hunt for rapid antigen tests as shops sell out

11/17/2021

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Supermarkets and pharmacies are struggling to keep up with demand for rapid antigen tests, with many stores selling out of the popular kits.

The at-home coronavirus tests, which hit supermarket shelves earlier this month, are unavailable at Coles and some pharmacies have introduced waiting lists for customers.

Gerard Alferez visited four pharmacies and two supermarkets before finding a store that had rapid antigen tests in stock.Credit:Eddie Jim

“We are continuing to get regular deliveries of rapid antigen tests so we can meet customer demand,” a Coles spokeswoman said. “We apologise to customers if they are temporarily unavailable.”

While those with symptoms of coronavirus are advised to get a PCR or polymerase chain reaction test at a testing centre, rapid antigen tests are considered a useful tool for those who are asymptomatic.

Retail worker Gerard Alferez visited Coles, Woolworths and four local pharmacies this weekend in the hope of buying the at-home tests. They had all sold out. One pharmacy put the 26-year-old on a waiting list.

He eventually secured three tests which cost him $40, after visiting a pharmacy in Mentone, 25 kilometres from his home.

Mr Alferez is fully vaccinated and bought the kits because he wanted to ensure he didn’t inadvertently pass on the virus to his parents and sister, who all work in healthcare.

“I will do one every week at work,” he said.

“It is a good tool against COVID,” he said. “Once they are readily available we can have more peace of mind going out into the city and getting dinner with friends. I am still a little on edge.”

Chemist Warehouse director Mario Tascone said there had been huge appetite for the kits in Melbourne, where sales of rapid antigen tests were six times greater than those in NSW. He believes this is because Victoria is experiencing higher daily coronavirus case numbers and Melburnians have lived through the trauma of more lockdowns.

“While most stores get deliveries every day, they sell out very quickly, he said. “We are selling many thousand every day.”

The pharmacy chain has introduced a limit of four kits per customer.

Simone Robinson, head of Australian operations for Hough Pharma, an approved supplier of rapid antigen tests, said her colleagues were working 24/7 to meet the demand.

“The large retailers are selling out very quickly,” she said. “They say ‘we have run out’, we replenish them and they then immediately sell out.”

Since the start of the month, the supplier, which makes its tests in China, has sold more than 750,000 rapid antigen tests in Australia.

“We think it will be a good add on tool for some time to help us live with COVID-19,” Ms Robinson said.

”If you have an immuno-compromised family member in an aged care facilities, you can have a level of comfort by using it before you see them. It’s useful for employers, schools and other educational institutions.“

Woolworths has been selling the tests behind customer service desks in select stores and online through the company’s digital health and wellness business, HealthyLife. It has imposed a limit of 10 self-test kits per customer.

The tests are in short supply.Credit:Eddie Jim

The supermarket chain’s commercial director of everyday needs, James Hepworth, said he expected supply to improve in the near future.

“As self-test kits are new to Australia, we will see short supply available in store initially,” he said.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved 13 rapid antigen self-tests for use in Australia.

The tests may involve self-performing a nasal swab with a small cotton bud that is immersed in a chemical solution. A few drops of this solution is then dropped onto a test cassette. Others detect the presence of COVID-19 using a sample of saliva.

Some tests require an ultraviolet torch to read the results, while others can be read with the naked eye. The results, which are less accurate than PCR tests, take around 15 minutes.

The TGA recommends that those who test positive using a home test immediately follow up with a PCR test to confirm that they have COVID-19.

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