As the number of Covid-19 cases in Australia rise, the pressure on the country's PCR testing facilities also climbs. In fact, several have had to be closed down recently.
The governments – both Federal and State – are now encouraging people to use rapid antigen tests (aka RATs) at home to initially check if they have the coronavirus, but the resulting demand for testing kits has escalated so rapidly that they've become extremely elusive, much like the PS5 and the Xbox One X video game consoles.
It's getting extremely hard to find RATs on shelves – both in store and online – but stock is being refreshed frequently... or as frequently as the transport companies are able to get them to retailers. So there's often stock somewhere; the trick is knowing how to find it and purchase it quickly.
To that end, we've put together this comprehensive guide on how you can find and buy RATs in Australia.
What is a Covid-19 rapid antigen test?
Put simply, a rapid antigen test (or RAT) is a self-testing kit that you can use at home to detect the coronavirus. They won't be able to tell you which variant you might have, and they're not 100% accurate either, but they are a quick and convenient method for detecting the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
There are two types of RATs – nasal and oral swabs, and both take about 10-20 minutes to produce a result. It's important to note that they can sometimes give a false positive or false negative result so, if you're unsure, it's wise to continue isolating and then test again if you continue to display symptoms. If a user's viral load is high, though, the RAT should generally give a positive result.
While it's recommended that you get a PCR test if you're presenting with symptoms or have been a close contact of an infectious person, the lines and wait times for getting these more reliable tests is proving frustrating. Moreover, the results are also being sent out after significant delays due to the high numbers of tests conducted each day. A rapid antigen test can thus prove handy in helping you decide if you ought to get tested further.
To help relieve the pressure on the PCR testing facilities, and in a bid to curb the spread of the virus while waiting in line, the Federal Government as announced (as on January 5, 2022) that people positive RATs need no longer get a PCR test done, but should isolate immediately. If you are still planning on getting a PCR test, most centres require you to carry the positive RAT with you.
It's important to keep in mind that the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved only 18 rapid antigen tests for use in Australia. A complete list is available on the TGA website (opens in new tab), so be sure to check that before buying a RAT.
Whether it's a nasal swab or an oral test, each will have specific instructions on how to use them; you can also find a detailed guide for the nasal swabs on the TGA website (opens in new tab) in PDF format.
Where to buy a rapid antigen test
When in stock, rapid antigen tests can be purchased at variety of retailers in Australia, including:
- Supermarkets such as Woolworths, Coles and select IGA outlets (both in store and online)
- Pharmacies and chemists (in store and online)
- Major online health product retailers such as Healthy Life (opens in new tab)
- Grocery delivery apps such as Milk Run (opens in new tab) and Send (opens in new tab) (available in some suburbs in select cities only)
While the Federal Government has been talking about making RATs free for everyone, that's yet to happen. However, concession card holders are now eligible to receive up to 10 RATs over three months for free.
So expect to shell out upwards of AU$15 per test. Packs of two and five are available, costing about AU$30 and AU$50 respectively. Bigger packs are also available to purchase for businesses.
How to find stock of rapid antigen tests
Finding a RAT is hard, but we've seen retailers frequently restocking over the past couple of weeks, although it often sells out incredibly quickly. So nabbing some is usually a matter of both pre-preparation and speed. We've put together a few simple tips you can follow so you can get yourself a pack or two.
1. Get the intel from locals
Local community Facebook groups are alerting members when online stores have stock, as well as nearby brick and mortar stores. Some groups even have members offering to share their test supplies if they have enough to go around. Search for your suburb in Facebook groups.
2. Create accounts ahead of time
For the online stores you want to buy from when stock is replenished, create an account ahead of time. Enter as much information as possible to speed up the checkout process; shipping address, billing info and contact details. Check what payment methods they take and be ready to use the one that's fastest for you to provide at checkout. Once your account is created, stay logged in so you don't have to log in again when you're checking out
3. Sign up for restock notifications
A lot of online stores are offering restock email notifications. Sign up for as many as you think is sensible, and do so for each testing product they sell (so for two packs, five packs, different brands etc) as some products may restock faster than others.
4. Be ready to move quick
Online stores don't operate like Ticketek; they won't reserve stock for you just because it's in your cart. Be ready to move like lightning. Don't get distracted by upsells. If you have the option, click on 'buy now' instead 'add to cart'. Have payment details and/or your PayPal password ready.
5. Find a RAT website
Find a RAT (opens in new tab) is a new website that pulls crowdsourced information to list retailers around Australia with stocks of rapid antigen tests. The site categorises them into 'in stock', 'low stock' and 'no stock', all three colour coded for easy identification.
6. Try grocery delivery apps
Online companies like Milk Run, Send, Aircart (opens in new tab) and Voly (opens in new tab) are essentially deliver groceries to your doorstep – some from their own warehouses – if they operate in your area. Some have been reported to stock RATs, so give them a try too. RAT kits are also available to buy through Uber Eats, but beware of price gouging by participating stockists.