Govt 'commandeered' 100k RAT order - company

A Covid-19 rapid antigen test kit for self-testing shows a positive result. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
A Covid-19 rapid antigen test kit for self-testing shows a positive result. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Rapid antigen tests have not been commandeered, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says, but suppliers have been asked to prioritise the Government's order.

The Government has tens of millions of rapid antigen tests on order and expects onshore stocks will reach 20 million by the end of February, but a health product business is crying foul, saying the Government's bulk order is crushing private supplies.

Health Works Group works between multinational pharmaceutical company Roche and private businesses in New Zealand wanting rapid antigen tests.

Director Clair Connor said as of yesterday, Health Works had 100,000 rapid antigen tests on the way; ordered, confirmed and paid for.

"The company has simply phoned up and said the Government have commandeered all the stock.

"So unfortunately, we won't be receiving any of our back orders and there's no indication as to when we will get more stock for our company."

Connor said the change in circumstance had gutted Health Works' supply chain just as demand for rapid antigen tests was ramping up in the private sector.

"We fielded hundreds of emails and calls today but sadly we can't supply stock and now have closed our website for orders because we can't make any promises.

"We're got existing customers so we need to support them first."

Connor believed the Government should receive the stock it needed to supply the country but private companies should also be able to secure tests too.

However, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield - speaking at this afternoon's announcement of the three-phase plan to tackle Omicron - said the Government was not commandeering the stocks of rapid antigen tests from private businesses.

"We have discussed with our three main suppliers - which are Abbott, Roche and Siemens - that forward orders of tests that haven't yet arrived in the country, that those be consolidated into the Government's stock, so that is there for the whole country including private businesses.

"We already have processes in place to supply businesses with tests if they are using them at the moment and that will continue - and in particular to support private businesses and the public sector to maintain critical workforce ... also to make sure that our rapid antigen tests are used where they are needed.

"As you know there is extremely high demand on rapid antigen tests globally."

He said he had however told Abbott they should prioritise the all-of-Government order over those of businesses.

"If indeed all our orders can be fulfilled, as we continue to work with those businesses and we have confirmation of that, then of course we will be able to go back to the companies and say 'if you can release the orders please do'.

"We have already and we will continue to support businesses to access the rapid antigen tests they need."

Former Otago student and now Cabinet minister Ayesha Verrall gave the 2021 University of Otago...
Ayesha Verrall. Photo: ODT files
Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said it was not clear that those businesses placing small orders of 5000 to 10,000 would have their orders filled anyway, considering the global market.

"It is the global supply situation that has led to the situation in which everyone's orders are difficult to confirm and the action that we have taken has made sure that more New Zealanders will get tests and more businesses will be able to access them."

Bloomfield said the Government has had orders in for weeks and months, as had other countries.

"What we are wanting to head off is the situation we have seen in other countries, including in Australia, where rapid antigen tests end up in the wrong place and are not there to support the overall societal response."

Many businesses already had tests onshore, and those were not being requisitioned, he said.

"In the meantime we will ensure that we are getting confirmation of those orders and getting them onshore on behalf of all New Zealanders, including businesses."

The National Party has accused the Government of taking rapid antigen tests away from the private sector to hide its own incompetence.

Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said he had been approached by organisations whose orders were being redirected to the Government.

"That the Government has now resorted to requisitioning rapid antigen tests from the private sector is a stunning indictment of the Government's incompetence over rapid antigen testing."

ACT Party leader David Seymour said the cancellation of private orders of rapid antigen tests was another example the Government distrusting businesses through a 'we know best' approach.

"The Government should back itself to secure its own supply. There is a global supply crunch on, but stopping other New Zealanders bringing them into the country will not help the New Zealand Government acquire more, it will mean New Zealanders overall get less."


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