They’ve been in high demand ever since the Omicron wave hit Australia late last year — and some people are going to extreme lengths to keep their supply up.
Sidling up to a friend in a restaurant recently, I immediately lowered my voice.
“Hey, keep this between us but if you need a little … you know, something something, I want you to know I’m holding,” I whispered.
She stared at me blankly for a moment so I tapped my nostril for good measure.
“I said I’m holding,” I repeated. “But if you want in, you can’t tell anyone.”
She followed me home like a naughty teenager just under an hour later and left my company giddy with happiness.
I know I sound like a shady drug dealer (believe me, some days I feel like one), but what I’ve got in my hot little mitts is far more valuable than mountains of Colombia’s finest.
Nope, I’ve got a cupboard full of rapid antigen tests and how I sourced them is probably the shadiest part of this whole story.
It all began with a post-Christmas booking to go interstate, a trip that promised long days by the pool, even longer days at the beach and some time out after a particularly tough year.
Yet, when the state announced mandatory testing for all visitors, all hell broke loose.
Days were spent trying to source rapid antigen tests from pharmacies, convenience stores and community groups.
In desperation, I purchased five individual tests at a cost of $15 each just so we’d be able to get across the border, but when I started assessing my children’s symptoms with, “Yes, but do you feel like you’ve definitely got Covid? If not, I really don’t think we should waste one of these tests,” I knew it was time to think global.
In the UK, the tests are free with citizens able to pick up two boxes containing seven kits each from community centres such as libraries, or by ordering a pack of seven tests each day online to be delivered to your home.
In Singapore, free kits have been sent to households, more than RAT vending machines have been deployed where individuals can access a kit which contains three rapid antigen tests (again, free of charge) and should they wish to purchase more, they can do so at the pharmacy where an average test costs around $5-6.
Canada, the United States, Germany and Portugal too, are offering their citizens free RATs, but here at home we’re not only dealing with serious price gouging (I’ve seen individual tests being sold for $30) and limited supply, we have a Prime Minister who believes they should not be made free for the public.
Suffice to say, we put the call out to family and friends in England – loved ones who quickly became so incensed at what we’re having to pay over here (or indeed, that we have to pay at all) that they were galvanised into action.
By my estimation, we only needed a couple of kits of seven but within days, boxes of kits began arriving from England, each delivery notice sending me into a state of anxiety.
What if someone steals the package from our porch? What if our postman recognises the value of what he’s carrying and none of the boxes make it to our home? What if our neighbours find out we’re holding but assume we’ve purchased them in bulk locally and we develop a reputation as rapid antigen test hoarders? My most pressing question? Why do I even have to have RATs sent over from England anyway?
I’m not the only one who’s turned to somewhat craftier methods to get their hands on RATs.
One friend who has to travel regularly for work now lives and dies by her neighbourhood community posts on Facebook, ever ready to put on her running shoes and bolt whenever someone posts about ‘Rapid antigens available now at our local Priceline!’
“Deadlines, meetings, engagements with friends – they all get dropped at a moment’s notice if I see tests are available close by,” she admits.
“Your best bet is to sign up to as many groups as possible – the one for your street (if you have one), any mother’s groups or hobby groups, as well as the group for your suburb. That way you’ve got a better strike rate whenever someone posts about the tests.”
Another friend began her own stockpile by first purchasing a box here and there whenever she came across one, and then by asking her suppliers (she runs a cafe and needs the tests for staffing reasons) to purchase the odd box when they’re out and about also.
She’s keen for me to mention she doesn’t buy in bulk and that her collection has built up over time before the shortages began.
Of course, what nobody tells you about having a cupboard full of RATs are the emotions that come with it.
For the past month, I’ve been behaving as though I’ve got a priceless Picasso casually hanging above the TV and when my cleaners come over, I not only lock up all of my jewellery, I now also lock up my rapid antigens as well lest they prove too tempting (side note: when I polled those who have bulk kits at home, every single one admitted to doing the same thing).
There’s a sense of guilt of course (one I manage to overcome by sharing my tests with friends, family and colleagues) but for the most part, there’s a feeling of security I didn’t have before.
I have young children, a job which requires me to travel (and thus, have a steady supply of rapid antigen tests at the ready), elderly parents and a sibling with a serious health issue whom I worry about endlessly.
Having these RATs means I can test them like an Olympics doping official and I feel just that little bit less anxious when I go to sleep at night.
My only wish (aside from the pandemic ending and all that)?
That rapid antigen tests would be made free and readily available here in Australia.
Obviously I want every Australian to have the same peace of mind without having to pay a small fortune for it, but jeez, it’d be nice to stop acting like a lunatic for a little while.
This article originally appeared on Escape and was reproduced with permission