Private retailers told rapid antigen testing orders have been delayed and diverted to meet federal government mandate

When Canberra retailer Gen Sparkle received an email this week informing her that her order for 450 rapid antigen tests (RATs) would be delayed due to a government mandate, she was frustrated and disappointed.

Ms Sparkle runs a health food store in the south of the city and said there was a huge demand for the tests among her customers.

She said she had already paid $4,000 for the tests and was now unsure about when they would arrive.

Australians are desperate for (RATs) but retail stocks are limited and unlikely to improve significantly in the coming weeks.

The tests have been recommended by state and federal health authorities as a preferred alternative to PCR COVID-19 testing, with testing centers and labs overwhelmed by the surge in Omicron cases.

Last week, the national cabinet also agreed to provide up to 10 free rapid antigen tests to concession card holders over the next three months, after concerns were raised about the cost of the test kits.

The announcements mean the federal government is in the process of acquiring a stockpile of the tests, which would then be allocated to states and territories for use in testing centers and other public clinics.

‘Our customers really scream for them’

Gen wears a floral mask and stands with an apron in her shop.
Gen Sparkle owns a health food store in Canberra. She was told that her order of RATs would be delayed and that the stock would be sent to the federal government instead.(Supplied)

The email her supplier sent to Ms Sparkle on Monday said there had been a delay in getting her order of RATs to Australia.

They said a flight of tests had been canceled, which was partly the cause of the problem, but said the federal government had also “placed a mandate order and will get supplies for their needs from this order arriving this week.”

The supplier added that a new shipment was expected at the end of January, and that Ms Sparkle’s order as part of that would be fulfilled with priority.

“I was quite disappointed,” said Ms. Sparkle.

“We ordered 450 tests and we did that because our customers are absolutely clamoring for it.

“People are trying to travel interstate and want to see their family and there are so many different personal situations and it’s really sad to hear them and not be able to help.”

Ms Sparkle said it was especially frustrating because companies like hers had already paid for the tests.

“We’ve been waiting for a while, I paid the money,” she said.

“The fact that we had ordered and paid was irrelevant.”

Ms. Sparkle faces the same demand as retailers across the country.

Manuel Xyrakis owns an independent supermarket in Canberra and said he had tried everything to keep his shelves stocked with RATs.

“As soon as people hear that we have the rapid antigen tests, they call and they go crazy,” he said.

“We’ve even offered to drive to Sydney if we need to, pick them up, but they say to us, ‘Look, we’ll let you know when we get them in.'”

Taking care of businesses without access to RATs

COVID-19 rapid antigen test (good generic)
Rapid antigen testing is in high demand in Australia as retailers struggle to stock the tests or keep them on the shelves.(ABC News: Zoe Hitch)

Like Ms Sparkle, Chris Burrell was told today that his order of RATs would be delayed due to a “government emergency”.

Mr. Burrell runs a stock exchange and asset management company and has been using the RATs for weeks to ensure that staff can continue to work safely.

He had started using RATs as soon as they became available in Australia.

“And so it was pretty clear there too that you couldn’t get a PCR test unless you’re really, really sick in the UK. And so this guy had an elderly mother…and he was going to take a RAT before he went to see her .

“So it was pretty clear to us… that this was going to be the next iteration of this process.”

He said his company had not ordered large numbers of tests, but enough to meet their own demand.

As a publicly traded company, his company was listed as an Essential Company and had used the rapid tests to make staff feel safer in the workplace.

He was now concerned for his staff and the company after hearing the news that they would not receive their order at the expected time.

The concern, he argued, was that businesses across the country would increasingly be unable to operate without access to RATs, and there was currently no alternative.

“They are concerned about, presumably, individuals ordering too many tests,” he said.

“And since we know that the retail pharmacies haven’t been tested, and they’re all aimed at individual consumers, but it’s much more important that the business gets tested so that business can keep business going.”

Burrell was given a number of options from the distributor, including waiting for another type of test to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and shipping later this month, or waiting for a chartered flight with another shipment arriving in February.

The federal government has been contacted for comment.

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