Finance Consumer End of the RAT race? Greg Hunt says test supplies are ‘normalising’
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End of the RAT race? Greg Hunt says test supplies are ‘normalising’

Rapid test
Pathology Technology Australia CEO said rapid flu tests could help decide what treatments patients need faster. Photo: Getty
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The days of trawling social media and driving to shops all over town for rapid antigen tests (RATs) could be coming to an end, with new reports suggesting stocks are stabilising across Australia.

Health Minister Greg Hunt claimed on Thursday the supply of test kits is “normalising” after several months of crushing shortages.

But the Pharmacy Guild of Australia says it’s still too soon to celebrate, with retailers indicating RAT stocks still aren’t “steady” or “certain”.

Shortages of RATs caused havoc across the country as Omicron cases surged during the holiday period, leading to price gouging from big retailers as Australians turned to online community groups to track down scarce supplies.

Rapid test stocks improving

Mr Hunt has now declared the so-called ‘RAT race’ is over, claiming on Thursday the Pharmacy Guild of Australia has confirmed “widespread reports of availability” of testing kits.

But Pharmacy Guild of Australia Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone poured cold water on those suggestions, saying that while there are positive signs there is still work to be done.

“From feedback by our members, the stock situation has shown signs of improving this week with wholesalers and suppliers expecting a stronger stock position over the next fortnight,” Mr Tassone told The New Daily.

“It is probably a little too early to say that the status of stock is steady, ongoing and certain, but [it] is starting to head in the right direction.”

Supplies seem to be improving for supermarket giant Woolworths, too.

Woolworths commercial director for everyday needs James Hepworth said daily RAT shipments are being sent to stores after some big orders arrived at distribution centres.

“We currently have three times as much stock as 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 kits – said RAT stocks have “definitely stabilised”, with more than 508 locations across Australia selling testing kits.

For context, this number was below 100 nationwide when the website was launched in January and at zero in Victoria.

“Whilst there is definitely still a need for the site … there is definitely a lot more availability out there, and the number of reports, and site traffic dropping to around 100,000 a day, reflects that,” Mr Hayward said.

Cost of free RATs a concern for pharmacies

Despite improved stocks, Mr Tassone said pharmacies are still worried about funding for free tests given to concession card holders.

The Morrison government said last month federal taxpayers would fund RAT kits for concession card holders after reports emerged of many people stretching their budgets to afford tests.

But Mr Tassone said Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s subsidiary GuildLink and the Pharmacy Programs Administrator are still negotiating how the pharmacies handing out these tests will be remunerated by taxpayers.

“Pharmacies have expressed concern over cash-flow considerations in terms of possibly having to pay for part of or all of the purchase price upfront for the rapid antigen tests, and [are] awaiting payment under the CRTCA program by the end of February,” Mr Tassone said.

Mr Hunt said “850,000 concession cardholders, pensioners and others” have come forward to take part in the free RAT program, and 3.5 million RATs have been given out in 10 days.