Korea limits purchases of self-test kits to five, denies shortage
Korea limited the buying of Covid-19 self-test kits to five per purchase and banned online sales as the kits fly off the shelves due to the spike in new infections.
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announced that for the next three weeks it will implementing measures to stabilize the supply of self-testing kits, effective from Sunday until March 5.
Under the new measures, the selling of self-test kits online is banned; however, kits that were already in online inventory can be sold on the internet until Wednesday.
During the three-week period, self-test kits will only be available in person at local pharmacies and convenience stores CU and GS25. The availability at convenience stores is expected to vary depending on each branch.
At pharmacies and convenience stores, buyers of testing kits will be restricted to five units per person — reminiscent of the buying limit on face masks in Korea in 2020, enforced by the government due to mask hoarding.
However, individuals will not be prevented from purchasing more test kits at a later time or at a different place, as the government believes the supply of the kits is still adequate despite many hopeful buyers leaving shops empty-handed.
“We believe that the current situation is not an absolute shortage of supplies, such as when masks were regulated, but a situation where the distribution needs to be stabilized,” an official from the Food and Drug Ministry said, adding they have not put a limit on an individual's number of purchases.
The demand for testing kits started to surge in Korea two weeks ago.
On Jan. 26, the government began reserving the free and highly accurate polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for high risk groups in four areas that have seen particularly rapid rises in Omicron cases — Gwangju, South Jeolla, and Gyeonggi's Pyeongtaek and Anseong — making all others to take the rapid antigen tests using self-testing kits.
According to convenience store industry sources, sales of test kits skyrocketed after Jan. 26. Sales at CU, GS25 and E-mart24 from Jan. 26 to Feb. 2 rose twelvefold compared to the same period a month ago. At 7-Eleven, sales rose ninefold.
The limit on PCR testing was expanded to other parts of the country on Feb. 3, prompting more to rush for test kits.
With chaos continuing, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety on Thursday came up with a contingency plan for stabilizing the supply, saying it will distribute rapid antigen kits for free at facilities more prone to virus infections such as day care centers and nursing homes for the elderly.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said at a Covid-19 response meeting on Friday that the government is also considering adopting a price ceiling for self-test kits, or a mandated maximum amount a seller is allowed to charge amid a strong inflation.
The Ministry of Education also announced it is discussing with district education offices plans to distribute rapid antigen test kits for free to kindergarteners and elementary school students, with the aim of providing each student with two test kits per week for five weeks.
The Food and Drug Safety Ministry said Sunday that it plans to supply 30 million self-test kits to pharmacies and convenience stores nationwide from Monday to Feb. 28.
During the same period, it will provide an additional 24 million kits for the public sector, to be used at Covid-19 screening centers and on the vulnerable groups.
Next month, it plans to supply 190 million self-test kits, more than twice this month's supply, to the public and private sectors.
The Ministry reassured that there is no need to hoard the kits, and that the public can get rapid antigen tests with the kits for free at Covid-19 screening centers at public health centers, like district or gu offices.
If someone tests positive on the rapid antigen test, they can then get a free PCR test at the public health center.
A negative result from a rapid antigen test is available from the public health center on paper or by phone text message, which can be used as an alternative to a vaccine pass. It is valid until midnight of the day after it was issued.
Korea on Sunday reached another daily high of Covid-19 cases with 56,431 new infections, staying in the 50,000s for four days in a row.
The number of Covid-19 patients being treated at home exceeded 200,000 for the first time, reaching 214,869 as of Saturday midnight.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]