Australia regulator flags 'significant concerns' of price hike in COVID-19 antigen tests

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SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's competition regulator on Monday said it had "significant concerns" about reports of price gouging of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests and sought information from suppliers, retailers and pharmacy chains about rising costs.

Australia is facing a shortage of at-home rapid antigen test kits after authorities urged asymptomatic close contacts to bypass government-funded testing hubs, where high volumes delayed results, and take their own tests.

"In the middle of a significant outbreak of COVID-19 in a pandemic, the excessive pricing of rapid antigen tests required to diagnose the illness and protect other members of the public, is of significant concern," the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chair Rod Sims said.

Sims said there were reports of kits costing even up to A$500 ($361) at online retailers and A$70 per test at stores when they were available for around A$10 at pharmacies weeks ago.

"This is clearly outrageous," Sims said in a statement.

After successfully containing the virus earlier in the pandemic, Australia has reported nearly 1.3 million cases over the last two weeks, overwhelming hospitals and testing clinics amid reports of stockpiling of at-home testing kits.

($1 = 1.3860 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Nick Zieminski)