More than 400,000 tests were sent out to close contacts and symptomatic under-40s in the last week alone, while retailers admit they are having to work “exceptionally hard” to maintain stock.
Supermarkets and chemists that had been selling the Genrui test kit have now had to source new suppliers after the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) said it was investigating complaints about false positives from the brand’s product.
Teaching unions have also warned the supply of antigen tests to colleges will be “severely delayed” in the absence of a central procurement process.
Use of antigen tests – previously dubbed “snake oil” by Professor Philip Nolan of Nphet – has now exceeded PCR testing capacity.
A HSE spokesperson said it currently had 5.8 million antigen tests available to deliver and had ordered 15 million more for January and February. Kits containing five tests are being sent out to close contacts and symptomatic people who request them.
It comes as retailers say they are working to increase supply after a huge rise in sales in recent weeks. SuperValu said it was “experiencing significant demand” and had sold out across a number of its stores.
“We will be receiving further deliveries to supply in the coming days,” a spokesperson said.
Lidl had previously been selling the Genrui kit but changed suppliers just before Christmas. The German supermarket chain started selling FlowFlex kits this week and also has Boson tests available.
“There is huge demand for the kits but our team is working exceptionally hard to maintain supply,” Lidl said.
Circle K garages were having “no issue” with supply at the moment, a spokesperson confirmed.
Prices for the kits in supermarkets and pharmacies currently range between €2 and €6 each.
With shops struggling to cope with demand and deliveries of free HSE tests taking two to three business working days, some have started sourcing kits elsewhere.
Indeed, hundreds of people are selling test kits on resale websites such as Done Deal and Adverts.ie.
Multipacks of 10 were being sold for up to €60, while some sellers were advertising individual kits for €20.
With the HSE distributing hundreds of thousands of tests, the true number of people undertaking antigen tests is likely to be much higher.
By comparison, just over 280,000 PCR tests were carried out in the last week.
The weekly HSE antigen test distribution capacity is now 1.75 million, with plans to increase this to 2.5 million tests per week.
The daily average tests supplied in the last seven days for close contacts, early-year and primary school pods, and symptomatic four- to 39-year-olds is 62,466.
As of January 3, those aged between four and 39 are required to get a positive antigen test before seeking a PCR test. That has led to demand for the test kits soaring. The change was brought about in an effort to combat the Omicron surge, which during which daily case numbers are exceeding 20,000.
Gerald Barry, assistant professor of virology at University College Dublin, said the HSE should be supplying “the whole country with antigen tests”. He added: “The idea that our public health system has been relying on Lidl, Aldi and SuperValu to provide medical grade equipment seems a bit crazy.”
Meanwhile, Dublin City University (DCU) announced it would be providing students with two free antigen tests a week when they returned for in-person lectures on Monday.
However, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland said there were concerns about the availability of tests for colleges. It said that while the €9m fund announced by Higher Education Minister Simon Harris to buy tests for the sector was welcome, there were concerns about delays with deliveries due to the lack of a procurement process.