Following calls to intervene rather than leave pricing of at-home COVID testing kits to market forces, the Australian National Cabinet has announced crucial changes to the distribution of rapid antigen tests (RATs). However, the tests will still not be free for all in Australia.
“Universal free access to tests was not agreed by any of the states and territories today, or the Commonwealth,” Prime Minister Morrison told reporters. “Make that very clear. Universal free access was not considered the right policy response by all of the states and territories in attendance today, and the Commonwealth.”
Instead, a maximum of 10 tests will be provided on a concessional basis through pharmacies, enabling low-income earners, pensioners, and other vulnerable Australians to purchase RATs. They are expected to be available within the next two weeks.
An additional 200 million rapid antigen tests are also expected to arrive within the next month. This aims to ease price surges on the RATs across the country, with numerous Australians having spent anywhere between $15 to $40 for a single test.
The Biosecurity Act has been invoked to prevent such price gouging.
“If you are selling a rapid antigen test for more than 120% markup on what you have paid for it to supply it, then you will be in breach of that regulation. And that carries a penalty of $66,000 and up to five years in jail,” the Prime Minister stated.
Anti-hoarding provisions will also be implemented in the retail sector.
The National Cabinet announcement comes on the heels of dwindling RAT supplies across the country. People turned to resources like Find A Rat, a testing kit locator website created by Melbourne-based software developer, Matt Hayward.
Here’s how other countries have handled the situation.
Just before Christmas, President Joe Biden announced that the government would procure 500 million rapid antigen tests, setting up a website for people to request tests that would be shipped to their homes for free. Until then, the tests are available at pharmacies for around USD $9 – $15 but are in short supply.
The country currently provides rapid antigen tests under supervision at pharmacies for asymptomatic unvaccinated travellers. (The government has announced plans to allow the tests to be purchased by the general public in coming months.) RATs, directly sourced from authorised suppliers, are available to businesses to be used for surveillance testing.
In some provinces like Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, free RATs are available through local distribution centres, while Ontario has had pop-up sites in libraries, malls, markets, and transit hubs. Tests are also directly available to businesses with 10 – 200 employees, with a small handling fee of up to $14 charged by pharmacies.
Rapid tests have been made available to people in the UK through the National Health System (NHS), free of charge. They can be picked up at collection points or pharmacies with a collect code or mailed to people’s homes through a national delivery service.
The Singapore government distributed ten free kits to each household to support regular testing at home between October and December. The tests are also available for free to employers to provide to workers. There are more than 120 vending machines across the island where people who receive an SMS from the government can collect up to six kits by scanning their identity cards or purchase additional tests for around AUD $6 if needed.
READ MORE: COVID testing delays cause damage to businesses