“Pulled from under our nose”: Suppliers say RAT orders snatched up by the government

a rapid antigen test and some masks RATs fbt

Unsplash/Guido Hofmann

Suppliers of rapid antigen tests (RATs) say the federal government is shorting the stock of the hard-to-find tests, while they scramble to fulfil up to 90,000 back-orders.

A message on Adelaide Direct Stationers website read “Our supplier has since informed us that our scheduled delivery will no longer be delivered to us due to government action to seize RAT supply at the point of import for public health reasons”.

Sydney supplier HiCraft also emailed customers that a recent recall of the Orawell Rapid Antigen Test was because of a “Government Emergency Requisition”.

The government is technically allowed to requisition the tests as per the Health Act, but on Monday an irate Health Minister Greg Hunt called the accusation a “plain lie”.

“I have written to suppliers to say that was not the Australian government’s position,” he told reporters.

However, the Commonwealth announced a mammoth $62 million order for the tests under the “extreme urgency and unforeseen circumstances” provision of purchasing rules last week — coinciding with the claims from suppliers that they had been undercut by the government.

The NSW government also confirmed had locked in an order for 50 million tests with another 15 million on the way this week (these tests are for workers at essential government services like schools, and critically ill patients).

For suppliers dealing with the incredible backlog of pre-orders, it can mean a hiring bonanza, longer hours for staff and no time off over the holidays.

In an apologetic email to customers seen by Smart Company, supplier Werko said “nothing prepared us for the 90k+ orders placed with us”, adding that it had tripled its warehouse staff, hired 20 more customer service representatives, and “turned their phones off” to new business to focus on fulfilment.

It rather tetchily continued that the issue was the federal government getting first dibs on the stock of the elusive tests further up the chain.

“The saliva tests were prioritised to the government’s national stockpile and were pulled from under our nose — without prior notice — causing major delays,” the email continued.

Others are thinking outside the box to get hold of the stock, with pharmacies banding together to charter flights from China to bring the tests in, according to the nation’s pharmacy guild.

“Some pharmacies are going to extreme lengths,” the guild’s Victorian president Anthony Tassone confirmed to the AFR.

“The guild has heard of some instances of chartering a flight, but this is not common because pharmacies are small businesses and don’t necessarily have the means to do this.”

The pharmacy guild announced they would be launching a website on Monday to help consumers find the RATs — the same day concession cardholders will become entitled to 10 free rapid tests.

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