Omicron: Government planned to have COVID-19 rapid antigen tests for sale weeks ago

Newshub can reveal the Government planned to have rapid antigen tests for sale weeks ago using pharmacies to teach the public how to use them. 

But now businesses are scrambling to get their hands on supplies after the Government swooped in and grabbed all incoming stock - and it'll be weeks before the public can pick them up from their local pharmacy. 

Wallis Keiller's Invitrocue rapid antigen test is banned in New Zealand - it doesn't have Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield's blessing, and very few do. It's a saliva rapid antigen test that links up to an app for a result. While approved by Germany's tough medical regulator, it's not approved here. 

"This Government has not allowed the private sector to solve problems and the private sector can solve them quicker," he told Newshub. 

The problem is the application process - a maze of extra tough hoops to jump through - before the Director-General gets the final say. Some have had applications in for months, to no avail. 

"We should all have access. If it's 'test-to-work', we should all have access," says Keiller. 

And we should've had access more than a month ago.

The Government planned to have rapid antigen tests for sale by now. 

A December 3 Ministry of Health memo obtained under the Official Information Act says "the original intention was to have off the shelf retail sales of rapid antigen tests on December 15".

The memo sought approval for retail sales of the tests for the purpose of home testing in mid-January, saying the later start date would allow time to 'socialise' rapid antigen tests and their method of use with the public.

But here we are at the end of January facing an Omicron outbreak and there are no tests for sale, no demos at pharmacies, and no advice on how to use them. 

The Government is snaffling all incoming tests but denies it has commandeered any already in the country. 

"If you are implying we have taken the supply of others, absolutely not," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. 

There's a global shortage and in New Zealand very few are approved.

"There's a huge variation. There are some real lemons out there. Some rapid antigen tests have accuracy as low as 30 percent," Ardern said. 

Keiller says his tests have a 97 percent accuracy and as soon as he gets signoff he can get loads here quickly.

"We can get a million a fortnight into the country."

Construction company Naylor Love has 150 construction projects on the go and has been using rapid antigen tests for surveillance. CEO Rick Herd had orders for more in but the Government grab means he doesn't get them any more. 

"It's disheartening. Our suppliers were confident they could keep up with our demand and now we're being told otherwise," he told Newshub. 

Ardern said she wants to "make sure that every New Zealander who needs a test can access a test for free".

"I've taken lessons from what I've seen overseas and in some places those who can pay are the ones who access tests. We don't want that in New Zealand."