From RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction), to antigen, and at-home rapid kits, these Covid-19 testers have become as rare as rubies, flying off shelves across the country as Filipinos rushed to get tested amid the Omicron-driven pandemic.
Fear of the highly-transmissible variant has forced the worried public to scour laboratory clinics and get themselves tested to confirm if their flu symptoms are manifestations of the dreaded coronavirus.
With the long queue in laboratory clinics, and the longer waiting time to schedule a home test service, Covid-19 test kits tripled in prices. From the regular P1,000 to P3,000, RT-PCR prices have soared to an unprecedented level of up to P 8,000. The same is true for antigen tests which you can usually avail for P750 per test to P1,500.
Across the country, reports of price gouging are pouring.
Even with the sudden price increase, the demand for testing has not slowed down. Indeed, the mass test shortage fed the illegal sale of at-home rapid kits, which used to be sold for only P350 per kit but is now offered at P1,500.
Adding to the high demand for at-home test kits is the rise in Covid-19 positivity rate in the National Capital Region that exceeded 50 percent since January. Translation: 50 percent of those wanting to be tested in laboratory clinics will test positive with the virus.
A practical Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez has forwarded a suggestion to recalibrate the Covid-19 testing protocol and encourage using these self-test kits to prevent transmission.
He formalized his recommendation to the Technical Working Group of Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) last 31 December.
He called on the IATF to allow Food and Drug Administration-approved antigen self-test kits to be made available in drugstores so that people can voluntarily screen themselves for Covid-19 at the comfort of their homes.
These measures, he said, should protect consumers by regulating the prices of test kits and flooding the market with sufficient supplies to prevent unscrupulous businessmen from taking advantage of the unprecedented demand and jack up prices.
It could also prevent the transmission of the disease since it would limit mobility and restrict the movement of the virus.
The already pandemic-weary Filipinos have been scouring underground suppliers for at-home test kits and testing laboratories for an antigen or RT-PCR test. A colleague of mine waited for four hours to have herself tested in a community test center, only to be told to return the next day after the test kit supply had run out.
I experienced the same thing twice because I reached the “cut off” period and had to wait another three hours to get a schedule for testing.
The price gouging of these crucial Covid-19 test kits is happening across the globe. The government must recognize that the increased demand for testing amid the exponential growth in the Covid-19 daily infection number profoundly impacts prices. We call on authorities and other concerned agencies to step in by regulating the prices of these test kits.
Komfie Manalo has over 30 years of experience writing for local and foreign publications. He prefers the work-from-anywhere setup.