A sorry display of cardboard boxes full of rapid antigen tests (RATs) outside a Bunnings in Western Australia highlights the grim reality of the state's feverish purchasing of the tests during the Covid pandemic, with millions of dollars wasted in the process.
The tests played a crucial role in national detection of the virus and helped inform health authorities on how best to manage public health and safely, but the once precious commodities are now being handed out at Bunnings free of charge with many set to expire.
The sighting in Bunbury, situated south of Perth, coincides with audit results released on Wednesday which slams the WA governments "excessive" purchasing of the tests during the height of COVID-19. The state's alarming spending figure was higher than every other state and territory in Australia.
What did the audit tell us about WA's spending on RATs?
The report was carried out by Auditor-General Caroline Spencer who criticised the state's "unnecessary escalation" of spending, with a whopping $580 million spent on acquiring RATs, calling the amount "baffling".
WA bought 110.7 million tests which equated to the state having enough for 40 tests per resident, highlighting a wide disparity compared to other places in Australia — with the more populated NSW having 18 tests per person and Queensland being the lowest number of tests per resident at seven, ABC reports.
It is now believed that 40 per cent of the total number of tests purchased by WA have gone unused, with many set to be void as expiry dates loom.
"I acknowledge the uncertainty that the pandemic created … however I have never before witnessed such escalation in the cost of a program over such a short time frame," Ms Spencer said, pointing at the initial $3 million spend on RATs quickly exceeding $440 million.
She continued by saying there was no evidence of "clear, considered and coordinated planning" when it came to the state purchasing the tests, comparing the total figure "around twice the cost of the Bunbury Hospital redevelopment".
Why did public perception of RATs shift drastically?
Despite Covid cases still being reported across the country, the once highly sought after tests are now left in stockpiles, with an expert believing this reality is connected to the shift in the public's perception toward RATs.
"Now people are over Covid, most of us have had covid and got our vaccines and boosters," Professor of International Health Jaya Dantas told Yahoo News Australia. "And the fact is, no one is short of tests now. We have some in our home ... People will only buy more if their own expire."
"To me the problem is, if there were so many available RATs, why were they not distributed for free earlier? Pharmacies were charging for them and people weren't buying them."
She shares Ms Spencer's frustration toward the state's poor handling of the situation and is eager to understand who gave authority and why such a vast quantity of tests were purchased.
"It's very well to say in hindsight we learn these things but there should be proper processes in place so we're not stockpiling in this manner," Professor Dantas said.
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