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2 March 2022

Big price differences on rapid antigen tests

How much is too much for rapid antigen tests?

Rapid antigen tests (RATs) are now available to buy from many retailers including pharmacies and supermarkets. Test results take just 15-20 minutes instead of waiting days for a PCR result.

They are expected to be priced for around $10 for a single test but Consumer NZ has found them ranging in price from $6.40 per test up to $18.99.

As we enter phase 3 of our Omicron response, RATs will become the main testing method, to keep up with increasing demand and relieve pressure on the PCR testing system. More RATs are expected to hit the shelves next week.

However, the price won’t be the same wherever you shop. There is no set price for RATs, leaving it up to individual retailers to decide.

In Australia, some retailers were selling RATs for more than $70 each, which prompted the government to step in.

The Australian Government made it illegal for RATs to be sold with more than a 20% mark up after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission received more than 1800 reports of price gouging. The most extreme examples included a set of two tests costing up to $500, despite wholesale costs ranging between $3.95 and $11.45 per test.

The Australian Government’s measures included a fine of up to $66,000 and up to five years’ imprisonment for people found to be price gouging or unlawfully exploiting RAT kits.

We’ve already seen steep prices for N95 masks in New Zealand due to a lack of supply and sharp increase in demand. Will RAT kits be next?

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment runs Price Watch to keep an eye on prices. The Fair Trading Act also prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct, meaning a business needs to give a reason for a price increase otherwise it could be breaching the law.

Anyone with concerns about the pricing of RATs should notify MBIE’s Price Watch website.

Should you buy RATs?

It’s important to remember that RATs are free through your local testing station and participating GPs for anyone with Covid symptoms, as well as positive Covid cases.

However, if you have no symptoms but are a close contact worried about possible exposure, or just want the added peace of mind from a negative result before visiting high risk family or friends, it will pay to have a few RATs on hand.

The current situation

Prices for RATs currently vary across the country, with some retailers charging $6.40 a test and others selling for more than double that. In some cases, retailers are only selling them in bulk packs of 20 for $200.

Foodstuffs NZ corporate affairs manager Emma Wooster said they are moving quickly to make RATs available for customers.

“Rapid antigen tests will be sold at cost price at PAK’nSAVE, New World and Four Square stores and could be available in stores as early as next week.”

Foodstuffs will sell the Orient Gene Rapid COVID-19 Self Test 5-pack ($32.99 per pack, $6.60 per test) and the Ecotest COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Nasal Pen 2-pack ($19.99 per pack, $10 per test).

We contacted Woolworths (the owner of Countdown) about their stock prices but they did not respond before this article was published.

Warehouse Stationery has made pre-orders available at the lowest price we've seen: $31.99 for a pack of 5, making it $6.40 per test.

Chemist Warehouse has been popular too, selling 5-packs of RATS for $44.99 on their website, which works out as $8.99 per test.

A pharmacy in Lower Hutt was advertising the same 5-pack, on pre-order, for $99.99 down to $74.99 on ‘sale’. The full price would mean $19.99 per test.

We contacted them about their pricing but received no response. They’ve since removed the full price and mention of ‘sale’ from the website.

Queenstown Pharmacy said they will not be stocking RATs, as they cannot access them for a good price or in a fast enough timeframe.

Danika Boulay, pharmacist at Queenstown Pharmacy, said “there is no way we would be able to compete with big chain stores or even match the price that the Ministry of Health is advising the media we will be able to sell them for. We do not want to look like we are ripping off the public so we have decided it’s just not worth it for us.”

Other pharmacies around the country are still waiting for their orders to arrive. Frankton Pharmacy in Hamilton currently has no RATs available despite having back orders with a number of companies.

One member of the public, who managed to get their hands on a RAT, was left scratching their head after realising the only instructions in the box were written in Italian, a complaint echoed by several others reporting instructions not being in English.

There’s frustration for some who have reported lining up for hours to get RATs for sick children, only to be told they cannot get tests for symptomatic family or household contacts unless they are in the car with them at the same time.

How to use a RAT

How to take the test will vary depending on the brand of RAT, though most are similar. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

You can find instructions here:

Understanding your results

If you get a positive test result, you must self-isolate immediately. Your test result does not need to be confirmed with a PCR, unless advised.

If you get a negative test result and do not have symptoms, you are likely to be negative for Covid-19. If you have symptoms, stay at home and carry out another RAT the following day. If your symptoms are getting worse, contact a health professional for support. 

If a result is failed or indeterminate, you must take the test again.

How to report your results

You can report the results of your RAT through My Covid Record or by calling the helpline - call 0800 222 478 and press option 3.

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