It’s early days for Rapid antigen tests (RATs) in the community, but they are being snapped up by businesses in large numbers, and already suppliers can’t keep up with demand.
The country is now in the second phase of the government’s Omicron strategy, which includes the increased use of RATs. They return results faster than a PCR test – in about 20 minutes. Government hopes that RATs will be used by the wider population, while PCR testing focuses on healthcare providers and border workers.
For this reason the Ministry of Health is advising that people only need only get a PCR test if feeling unwell or they are a close contact.
Meanwhile, the government is stockpiling RATs to support “priority populations” and critical workers.
Businesses considered non critical can also use RATs to manage the health of their workers, but need to pay for their own private supply.
Antony Wentworth, pharmacist and owner of Life Pharmacy Ōrewa says RATs are in high demand from businesses that want to ensure their workers are tested before they come to work.
Life Pharmacy Ōrewa has supplied around 700-800 over the past 6-7 weeks.
They had hundreds pre-ordered, when, about a month ago, the government jumped in and seconded all the stock for the national stockpile.
Antony says they managed to secure an alternative supply of approved testing kits from China, all of which have been pre-sold to businesses.
Pharmacists are also essential health workers, and Antony says the pharmacy has a stock kept aside to test his 42-strong team.
The RATs available are not the saliva version, but a nasal swab (less intrusive and much quicker than the PCR test, Antony says) that you can use to test yourself.
At this stage the only members of the public that can access antigen testing are unvaccinated people who need to provide a negative test before they travel.
Antony says the current situation, while difficult, is the calm before the storm.
“The sheer number of RAT tests that will be required in the next few weeks and months will make keeping up with demand a challenge,” he says. “Especially if businesses have to test all staff, every day – there are simply not enough to go around at this stage. There has been a distinct lack of forethought and planning, in my view.