Australia regulator to review price hike in COVID-19 antigen tests

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Jan 4 (Reuters) - Australia's antitrust regulator said on Tuesday it has contacted suppliers of COVID-19 rapid antigen test kits to examine pricing pressures in the market, as calls grow louder for the government to make the tests free amid a severe shortage of the kits.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said it will review information received from suppliers, retailers and the public to determine any potential misconduct.

Australia approved more than a dozen rapid antigen test kits and a majority of them are from China.

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Hangzhou Biotest Biotech (688767.SS), whose rapid antigen test was approved in Australia in October, said orders for its product from the country increased significantly in December and the trend continued in early January.

"The increased demand has put some pressure on the company's production, but we still can cope with it," a Hangzhou Biotest representative told Reuters.

Healthcare workers administer tests at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing clinic as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in Sydney, Australia, December 30, 2021. REUTERS/Nikki Short

Last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison sought to relieve pressure on overrun COVID-19 testing facilities and encouraged greater use of antigen tests as the spread of the Omicron variant caused a surge in cases in Australia's two most populous states.

As of Tuesday, New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria reported 37,151 new cases between them, just shy of the national one-day high of 37,212 hit a day earlier. Hospitalisations in NSW, home to Sydney, more than doubled in a week to 1,344, surpassing the record numbers hit during the Delta outbreak.

However, Morrison has said the government will not cover the cost for people to test themselves, which he put at A$15 ($10.80).

The ACCC also cautioned businesses to not collude about pricing and make any misleading claims to consumers about it.

($1 = 1.3889 Australian dollars)

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Reporting by Anushka Trivedi in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Roxanne Liu in Beijing; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Shounak Dasgupta

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