Australian pharmacists and retailers are holding back rapid antigen test stock and selling tests individually to drive up prices, a major test distributor has claimed.
CEO of Sydney rapid antigen test and personal protective equipment distributor All Cast PPE, Scott Huntsman, has called on the Government to crack down on price gouging, claiming retailers are holding back on supplies to artificially inflate prices.
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“There is cartel-like behaviour, and this pushes prices up and increases demand. People get desperate and they’re playing on the emotions of people,” he told Yahoo Finance.
All Cast PPE provides wholesale supplies to large companies including Officeworks and Woolworths, while also retailing online. The rapid tests available online are currently on back order as All Cast meets its larger wholesale orders.
Huntsman said All Cast and other distributors have around 15 million tests currently available for sale.
“[Some] retailers are only purchasing small amounts to allow for quite high price hikes,” he said.
“People are desperate - they just want to get their hands on the tests … and they’re willing to pay anything to get their hands on the test. That retailer has a responsibility in terms of moral conduct, and they’re foregoing that to make a few dollars.”
Consumers have complained of pharmacists increasing prices for single tests from around $10 a test to as much as $25, while many retailers have also sold out.
“Having so many people involved in a supply chain also adds to the pricing as well, because everybody wants to make a cut and everybody is gouging the next person in line,” Huntsman said.
Warning about acts that damage test kits
Huntsman also warned shoppers to beware retailers breaking packs of kits up to sell individually, noting that the process of separating packs into individual kits may de-sterilise the testing instruments.
“Some of them come with a pack of swabs that are all in one together. If this person [who is retailing them individually] isn’t wearing adequate PPE and gloves, they could be de-sterilising these things and potentially contaminating them with other forms of bacteria,” he said.
Additionally, retailers need to ensure they’re storing the tests in a cool, dry area, and consumers should be cautious of buying packs that appear to have laid in the sun for a long time.
The tests should be stored between 2C and 30C, and should not be left in cupboards that get warm. For Australians in areas where temperatures are spiking above 30C, it’s worth keeping them in the fridge, he said.
Leaving tests in hot cars can damage the sensitivity, he added.
For example, people who buy rapid tests before attending a PCR test should be conscious of the temperature of the car, particularly if they’re in an hours-long queue.
“If they’re not controlling the temperature, it will damage the tests.”
Retailers in ACCC’s crosshairs
Huntsman’s warning comes as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) also takes aim at price gouging.
In a statement released on Tuesday, ACCC chair Rod Sims said the commission will examine retailers’ claims that the price of tests are due to supply constraints.
“We are seeking information from suppliers about their costs and the current pricing of rapid antigen tests. We are also asking them about their current stock levels, and the amounts on order, and about their expectations about when additional tests may become readily available to consumers,” he said.
The ACCC has received more than 100 reports from consumers around rapid antigen test pricing, and will review those reports.
While businesses are allowed to set their prices, they can’t make false claims about why those prices are high.
And in some instances, excessively high pricing of products deemed essential may be considered unconscionable.
“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,” Sims said.
“We won’t be shy to name and shame suppliers and retailers we consider to be doing the wrong thing.”
Australians have been urged to avoid PCR testing unless they have symptoms of COVID-19 or they are a close contact, as testing centres around the country are overwhelmed by long queues.