As Australia braved an unprecedented Omicron wave and COVID testing clinics began turning masses away, rapid antigen tests became the hottest commodity of the summer.
Supermarkets and pharmacies began selling out in most states.
By January, several companies that supply rapid tests to retailers and other businesses said shipments had been delayed due to forced government requisitions, leaving workers around the country in the lurch.
Now, two of those businesses – Werko Australia and HiCraft – have walked back these claims and informed their customers about the situation.
Werko Australia chief operating officer Malki Hochhauser told The New Daily on Friday that the email sent to customers advising them its shipments had been “pulled from under our nose” were wrong.
“I guess I didn’t realise that they would hone in on an email that I sent,” Ms Hochhauser said.
“We’ve gone from micro to macro and in a matter of minutes – and I didn’t realise that email would reach over 100,000 customers.”
She later added: “We didn’t realise we’d cause a sh-t storm.”
However, many other suppliers have not commented on their similar unsubstantiated claims about the federal government forcefully diverting shipments that were destined for Australian business.
“The malicious and obviously false claims are collapsing as many are being investigated by journalists,” federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told TND.
These claims are now being investigated by the ACCC, while the Australian Federal Police is also investigating price gouging allegations.
Mr Hunt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison were adamant all week that the government did not “requisition”, “commandeer” or “steal” any shipments of rapid antigen tests destined for Australian retailers and other businesses.
“There are people in the market that will make statements and promises and not be able to deliver. What we are seeing is that, whether it is Commonwealth, state or territories, or community or private sector, that some suppliers have overcommitted and not been able to deliver,” Mr Hunt said on Thursday.
One organisation that has been left without more than 30,000 rapid tests is Queensland Rail, after two shipments destined for essential rail workers were never delivered.
The state’s Transport Minister Mark Bailey had vocally criticised the government after being told the same claims by various suppliers about government requisitioning them.
“I stand by my previous statements on the national RAT debacle and the [Queensland Rail] matter,” Mr Bailey told TND after the news broke on Friday.
“I’m confident the truth will be exposed in coming days, and we will finally find out where the missing RAT kits have gone, because they certainly aren’t in the hands of Australian doctors, chemists, essential workers or everyday Australians whose tests were cancelled.”
Mr Bailey went as far as to thank suppliers and called on the federal government to make rapid antigen tests free.
However, Mr Hunt dismissed this criticism.
“Do they believe these are legitimate firms?” he said.
“Other states, such as Victoria, have already received seven million high-quality RATs and the Commonwealth has already distributed over 6.1 million RATs.”
Not your ordinary delivery from the postie.
4.5 million more RATs have landed in Victoria this week – and we’re ordering 166 million more. pic.twitter.com/NSreDuMO3t
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) January 20, 2022
The national president of the Pharmacy Guild, Professor Trent Twomey, blamed the federal government for outbidding retailers and other businesses with orders too big for these suppliers to refuse.
In the meantime, suppliers say they’re dealing with the fallout from their missing shipments, their own misguided emails, and from being used as a political football.
At Werko Australia, Ms Hochhauser said the company had chartered four flights with fresh supplies in order to fulfil the mass of outstanding orders.
“If you go to our Google reviews, we’re being called out as a scam,” she told TND.
“It has brought our reputation down.”
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