A photo snapped outside Chemist Warehouse highlights how far we have come since those days of uncertainty and frantic hoarding during the Covid-19 pandemic —with the once sought after commodity being offered for free in certain circumstances.
A display of free rapid antigen tests (RATs) was seen outside a store in New Zealand on Tuesday, with a local remarking "we have come a long way", referring to the days where the tests were scarce and expensive. Packs of two tests were routinely being sold at chemists in Australia for $30. At the peak of the Covid-19 crisis in late 2021, tests were being resold for as much as $70 each.
"Look how far we've come since the early days when it was so difficult to get one. This is outside the shop door!" the local wrote online.
Why are there now so many RATs left over?
RATs played a crucial role in Australia and New Zealand's respective national plans to navigate the Covid pandemic, with the tests helping to detect the virus and inform authorities on how to best manage public health. With much emphasis put on the tests they quickly became in short supply.
However, as vaccination rates increased and Covid-19 cases declined, the public's perception shifted.
"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 in May. "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."
With stockpiles of RATs in Australian warehouses, retailers have occasionally offered them for free when needing to clear tests approaching expiry date.
Australian shoppers can buy a pack of two tests for $9.99 from Chemist Warehouse and concession card holders can access RATs for free at Australian chemists and government service centres.
Free test kits were also spotted outside a Bunnings store in Western Australia earlier in the year. The state was criticised for excessive spending on RAT tests with up to 40 per cent of the total number purchased believed to have gone unused.
New Covid variants deemed 'low risk'
There have been several new variants of COVID-19 across the world, notably variant EG.5 and BA.2.86. Variant EG.5 is currently the most prevalent in the US, however the World Health Organisation evaluated its risk to public health as "low at the global level".
Variant BA.2.86, or 'Pirola' as it has been nicknamed, has been detected on a smaller scale, however, scientists are keeping a close eye on this variant due to the number of mutations it carries, The New York Times reports.
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