Covid test kit fever triggers price hikes, shortages

By Pham Chieu, Nguyen Hai, Nguyen Dong   February 23, 2022 | 12:05 am PT
Covid test kit fever triggers price hikes, shortages
A woman in Hanoi shows packs of Covid test kits she has bought for her family's use, February 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Mai Huong
The price of Covid-19 test kits across the country has significantly jumped compared to before Tet, causing local shortages amid an ongoing coronavirus surge.

On Tuesday, the largest drugstore on Vu Trong Phung Street in Hanoi’s Thanh Xuan District was packed with people, even though the store only allows sellers and representatives of other stores entry.

Dinh Van Ngoc, owner of a drugstore in Dong Da District, said buying test kits is easy as there are many variations to choose from. He bought a box of 25 kits for over VND1.3 million ($57).

"The price to buy a kit is around VND60,000, so selling them doesn't bring that much profit. But due to heightened demand in recent days, I still bought them," Ngoc said.

An employee from another drugstore on Vu Trong Phung said a box of 25 kits from South Korea is sold at VND1.6 million, and each individual kit costs VND80,000. In the past two weeks, this store has sold over 50 boxes a day, almost twice the amount sold before the Lunar New Year holiday.

Several people said the price of test kits has increased by 15-20 percent, but that each store determines its own price.

Ngoc Anh, who lives in Cau Giay District, said she bought a box of Standard Q quick test kits from South Korea at VND62,000 per kit, totaling over VND1.5 million. But the very same kit costs around VND70,000 each at another store she asked.

Cao Thu Trang, who lives in Nam Tu Liem District, said she bought five test kits at VND60,000 each on Feb. 20 after making contact with a coronavirus case. The next day, when she returned for more kits, the price already increased to VND80,000.

"The general mentality when entering a drugstore is to buy products as they are advertised, not lower," she said.

Nguyen Anh Tuan, owner of a drugstore in Chuong My District, said the price of test kits has increased due to heightened demans, while it now takes more time for more kits to be imported than before.

"I import the test kits through a company, but supply is low," he said.

Online, quick test kits of all kinds are on sale, coming from countries like China, South Korea, Turkey or Germany, with prices at around VND100,000 per kit.

Local shortages

In Da Nang, as students and kindergartners return to school, amid an ongoing Covid-19 surge which resulted in around 1,000 new cases a day, people have gone out to buy Covid-19 test kits themselves, leading to shortages and price hikes.

Lan, 34, who lives in Thanh Khe District, visited a drugstore on Ong Ich Khiem Street last Sunday for the usual test kits at VND60,000 each. But the cashier said the kits she asked for had been sold out, with the only one available priced at VND80,000.

"My 9-year-old daughter had a fever, so I wanted to test her just to make sure. If it’s positive, I would inform the school so she could study online," said Lan, adding that despite the price hike, she still bought dozens of kits to use for the next few days.

"For the past two weeks, my family of six has used up over 30 test kits," she said.

Hien, 30, who lives in Cam Le District, said she asked around for test kits Tuesday morning and saw prices had increased. For example, a BioCredit test kit price went up from VND60,000 to VND80,000 within days.

Hong, 38, on Tuesday went to a drugstore on Nguyen Dinh Tu Street of Lien Chieu District to buy a test kit that costs VND65,000 each, which is VND5,000 more than usual.

"The drugstore only sells up to two kits to each person due to a shortage and to make sure that many people could be tested," Hong said.

Pharmacies have stated demand for test kits have doubled from before, with owners worried supply would run out. Many shops said they didn't know when there would be more kits available.

In Nghe An in north central Vietnam, several people visited drugstores in province's capital town Vinh on Tuesday to ask for Covid test kits, but they have all been sold out.

Le Thi Tu, a local, said she had gone to five drugstores and found no kit left. She had to request help from an acquaintance to be able to secure two kits at VND80,000 each.

According to several drugstore owners, test kit shortages have occurred since the beginning of the week due to the lack of imports amid heightened demand.

Some pharmacies sell kits at VND60,000-80,000 each, with the requirement that no single person could buy more than five.

"There’s low supply so we try to limit sales to prevent hoarding or our products being sold somewhere else at higher prices," a drugstore employee explained.

Several medical stations in Vinh have also suffered from test kits shortages in the past week, forcing quick test services to be suspended. Free quick tests would only be available to Covid-19 patients after seven days of treatment. The rest would need to seek out test kits themselves.

A representative of the Vinh medical center confirmed the ongoing shortage, attributing it to low supply.

"There are people who test themselves every day. I don’t think that’s necessary," he said.

Several hospitals in the city have also observed hundreds of people coming every day for Covid-19 tests.

Nguyen Tu Hieu, deputy head of the Department of Medical Device and Construction under the Ministry of Health, said people should be careful when buying Covid tests online and that they should only buy those approved by the health ministry.

"When buying test kits at drugstores, people should ask whether they have been approved by the health ministry yet. If they buy tests online, they should only buy at reputable sources," he said.

By February, around 113 types of quick Covid test kits were approved by the health ministry. In accordance with existing regulations, the health ministry said the price for a quick Covid-19 test must not exceed VND78,000.

Vietnam has recorded increasingly higher daily Covid-19 cases over the past week, with 55,871 on Tuesday, the highest single-day tally ever.

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