Retailers under fire for RAT price gouging as supplies dwindle

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has vowed to come down hard on retailers inflating the price of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests (RATs), as many Aussies struggle to buy the tests due to supply constraints.

Some retailers have come under fire for greatly inflating the price of the tests, and the nation’s consumer watchdog says it is monitoring the situation closely.

As we enter year three of the COVID pandemic, daily case numbers sit at levels previously unthought of across much of Australia. The sheer volume of cases of the new Omicron variant has overwhelmed testing sites and pathology labs.

As a result, the need for fast and easy COVID-19 tests that can be used at home has become pressing. Thousands of Aussies have struggled to locate the tests at pharmacies, with any stock selling out within minutes.

Read: Expert guide to taking a rapid antigen test

But retailers have told the ACCC the higher prices are simply due to issues of supply and do not amount to price gouging.

“We are seeking information from suppliers about their costs and the current pricing of rapid antigen tests,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said in a statement.

“We are also contacting major retailers and pharmacies seeking similar information and reminding them that they need to be able to substantiate any claims they make to consumers about the reason for higher prices.”

“We won’t be shy to name and shame suppliers and retailers we consider to be doing the wrong thing,” he said.

Read: I’ve tested positive to COVID. What should I do now?

It hasn’t been just retailers under the microscope either, with the federal government receiving criticism for refusing to make RATs free and widely accessible to everyone and the PM saying he wouldn’t “undercut” businesses making a profit from the tests.

The pressure has led to at least a partial backflip, with national cabinet agreeing to expand the availability of free tests to concession card holders. This includes the pension concession card, Commonwealth seniors healthcare, Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) gold, white or orange card; healthcare card and low income card.

Although this is estimated to cover a further 6.6 million Australians, it will still leave the majority of the population without access to affordable COVID testing.

The reality for many Australians is that if they can’t find or afford a COVID test – and can’t spend hours waiting in line for a PCR test – then their COVID symptoms may go undiagnosed.

Read: Why Aussie rapid COVID tests are heading overseas

Epidemiologists are already warning that actual case numbers could be as much as 10 times higher than reported numbers.

While the Omicron variant is more infectious than previous COVID strains, so far it has shown to produce a less severe illness in most patients.

But experts still caution older Australians against treating Omicron as just a normal flu.

“In the older age group, it’s still a nasty disease, even if it’s less [nasty] than the Delta variant,” pulmonologist Dr Pamela Davis says.

“You don’t get off scot-free just because you happen to be infected in the time of Omicron.”

Should RATs be free for all Australians? Are you worried about contracting COVID now that case numbers are so high? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer

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