Australians will finally be able to get hold of a rapid antigen test by the end of the week at Chemist Warehouse, as a supply shortage grips the country.
Chemist Warehouse chief operating officer Mario Tascone told Sunrise that relief was finally in sight, predicting ‘by week’s end and early next week we’ll have lots of good supplies’.
‘There are planes arriving each day, we’ve got stock due to our Sydney stores this afternoon, and we hope to replenish our Victorian, Queensland, Tasmanian and South Australian stores later tomorrow,’ he said.
Chemist Warehouse boss Mario Tascone says the federal government should cut GST on rapid antigen tests to help make the kits more affordable to sick Australians
Mr Tascone said part of the reason for the delay was ‘back-to-back public holidays’.
‘It is a challenging one, how much to order with these rapid antigen tests, because it’s not as if there is a magic warehouse setting with stockpiles of this,’ he said.
‘From order to supply is usually a three-week lag, which is the issue we got here.
‘When everyone realises this is going out of control, everyone’s got the orders in but they have to be manufactured first, so by the time they get to Australia there is a delay.
‘But there is no use looking backwards, it’s about going forward and getting the stock into everyone’s hands.’
On Monday Mr Tascone urged Scott Morrison to cut VAT on rapid tests to reduce the price by 10 per cent.
‘I’m sure they can get on Zoom and run an emergency session of parliament because the thought the government is making 10 per cent off millions and millions of packets off sales of rapid antigen tests really doesn’t sit right,’ he told 2GB.
The demand for tests around Australia has seen single kits sell for as much as $100 – with many chemists unable to re-order stock
There have been reports of rapid tests costing as much as $100 per unit as Covid cases skyrocket throughout Australia due to the emergence of the highly-infectious Omicron variant.
A BP station in Edgecliff, eastern Sydney was caught selling one test – which normally costs $10 – for $30.
On Monday NSW recorded 20,794 new Covid cases and four deaths, Victoria’s tally hit 8,577 infections and Queensland saw 4,249 as the strain rips through the east coast.
Mr Tascone said the federal government needs to ensure sick Australians have easy and affordable access to rapid tests.
‘They really need to be as affordable as possible,’ he told 2GB.
The Chemist Warehouse director said the demand for RATs was ‘unprecedented’, similar to that of the toilet paper hoarding at the start of the pandemic, and said dropping GST would see immediate results.
‘They’ll be 10 per cent cheaper overnight we’ll drop the price, its not much but that $50 pack of five becomes $45 overnight,’ he said.
‘So that’s one thing they can do immediately, apparently it needs parliament sitting.
Mr Tascone said the federal government need to be doing significantly more to ensure sick Australians have easy and affordable access to rapid tests
The UK Government has mailed free rapid tests to people’s homes since April but the PM has refused to adopt a similar model in Australia over cost fears
Chemist Warehouse customers can only buy two rapid antigen test packs at one time to ensure they were available for everyone.
‘When you’ve got 25 million people who want a rapid antigen test within the space of a week, that’s impossible,’ he said.
The UK Government has mailed free rapid tests to people’s homes since April but the PM has refused to adopt a similar model in Australia over cost fears.
Instead, rapid tests are free at testing centres but cost at least $10 per swab at pharmacies and supermarkets, which are low on stock due to a lack of supply.
Members of the public queue in their cars for a COVID-19 PCR test at the Mascot Laverty Pathology Drive-through Clinic in Sydney on Monday
Several medical experts called for rapid tests to be free for everyone, including University of Sydney infectious disease specialist Robert Booy who said free tests ‘could make a real difference to controlling disease’.
But in an interview on Sunrise on Monday morning, the prime minister said this was a bad idea.
‘We’re at another stage of this pandemic now where we just can’t go round and make everything free. We have to live with this virus. This isn’t a medicine, it’s a test. And so there’s a difference between those two things,’ he said.
Australia’s gross debt is expected to reach a record $1.2 trillion by 2024-25 after huge pandemic spending including $100 billion on the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme.
The prime minister is keen to avoid further cost blowouts, saying on Monday he wants to ‘take that pressure off the budget’.
But Mr Morrison said he was working with states and territories to reduce the price for vulnerable groups with ‘concessional access to pensioners and others’.
The cost of subsidising the tests will be shared 50/50 with states and territories.
Mr Morrison also said he would not make tests free because he didn’t want to deter private companies from ordering them so they could make money.
A Brisbane resident lines up for a test on Sunday
‘The private market, whether it’s in the big warehouse pharmacies or the other pharmacies or the supermarkets, they can now go and stock their shelves with confidence that they won’t be undercut by the government,’ he told the Today show.
Groups representing manufacturers and suppliers of rapid antigen tests said the industry supported tests being free for everyone.
‘The industry doesn’t have a position because we sell to the government for market price and we don’t care if they are free or not,’ Dean Whiting, the chief executive of Pathology Technology Australia told Guardian Australia.
Woolworths has denied lobbying against free tests while Coles declined to comment.
University of NSW Professor of epidemiology Mary-Louise McLaws warned in a series of tweets that rapid tests are becoming reserved for the ‘privileged and wealthy’, saying governments need to rethink their current stance.
‘To reduce cost, test hubs could use PCR on those with symptoms & rapid antigen test (RATs) on all others. Cheaper but still effective,’ Professor McLaws tweeted on Sunday.
‘Without providing free RATs to households, only privileged & wealthy will be able to protect themselves & reduce wider risk of spread.
Mr Morrison’s comments also sparked outrage from political opponents who demanded free tests.
Independent Senator Rex Patrick wrote on Twitter: ‘The case for widespread free RATs is clear, but Scott Morrison says ”you can’t just make everything free”. He didn’t say that to big business as they took $billions in JobKeeper money they didn’t need.’
The boss of Australia’s biggest trade union, Sally McManus, also slammed the PM, writing: ‘What’s the price of people’s health?’
Aussies are still lining up to get tests in large numbers. Pictured: A testing queue at Mascot near the centre of Sydney