While the widespread use of rapid antigen tests (RATs) will help ease the burden on PCR testing clinics, it seems the problem of long queues and blown-out wait times for results has been replaced by another: getting your hands on a test.
A positive result from a RAT will, from today (10 January), be accepted as confirmation of a COVID-19 infection by ACT Health, which means the demand for the tests is likely to increase.
It’s understood asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 are still better picked up with a PCR test, so if identified as a household or high-risk contact with no symptoms, you may be required to undertake multiple RATs before being sure of your infection status.
PCR testing clinics remain open and wait times can be found online.
So, how can you track down a test in Canberra?
The tests can be purchased from pharmacies, supermarkets, and other participating retail outlets, such as newsagents.
Pharmacies across Canberra are being inundated with calls about stock levels, with some imposing limits in response to the extreme demand.
Some customers have reported that pharmacies can no longer discuss stock levels over the phone, so calling might not be the best bet.
Rapid antigen tests can be ordered online from several stockists, but they are unlikely to arrive quickly.
This might be a good idea if you’re not in desperate need of one.
The findarat website was launched last Monday (3 January) to act as a testing kit locater.* The website uses crowdsourced data, so it only works well if people are willing to log whether or not their local shops have any supplies.
Similarly, many are taking to Facebook noticeboards to ask for help and advice about finding tests near them.
Unfortunately, this can act as a double-edged sword.
When someone posts information on social media about the availability of rapid antigen test supplies and stock, more often than not, they sell out by the time others arrive.
By then, people are often frustrated and can become angry or upset with staff at the location they’ve travelled to.
All of this impacts the pharmacies and pharmacists who are already bearing the brunt of a COVID-19-impacted workforce and the challenges of the booster dose rollout.
The best advice is just to keep turning up and checking. Pharmacists are struggling to control supply as so many tests are now on backorder. This makes it difficult for them to say with any certainty when more stock will arrive.
It’s hoped these supply issues will ease in the coming months as federal authorities reassure Australians more RATs are on the way – 100 million RATs are expected to arrive in the country across the next two months.
Currently, a five-pack of RATs should set you back around $60, although some people have reported individual tests going for upwards of $45.
Reports of price gouging are being investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, whose chair, Rod Sims, said last week they are “seeking information from suppliers about their costs and the current pricing of rapid antigen tests”.
“We won’t be shy to name and shame suppliers and retailers we consider to be doing the wrong thing,” Mr Sims said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also rejected calls to make rapid antigen tests free, although people who hold a government concession card can access a number of free tests.
That’s if there’s any to be found.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report indicated RATs were available in Macgregor. This information was incorrect.