'Importers Realized They Have a Gold Mine': Suppliers in Israel Jack Up COVID Test Prices

Antigen tests are selling like hot cakes, and prices are shooting up ■ Israel is approving the sale of at-home test kits across almost all places that sell food and beverages

Hadar Kane
Hadar Kane
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An antigen test.
An antigen test.Credit: Emil Salman
Hadar Kane
Hadar Kane

“You should buy quickly. Even if it’s a package of 20 antigen tests, because if you come in an hour there won’t be any left,” the cashier at a branch of the discount drugstore chain Good Pharm in Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood told a customer Sunday. The Super Pharm 200 meters away ran out of test kits Thursday. The cashier said new supplies were promised during the day, but she didn’t know exactly when.

Since the Health Ministry announced last week that testing negative on a home COVID-19 test will suffice for vaccinated individuals who had been exposed to a confirmed coronavirus carrier to prove they were not infected, drugstores carrying the kits have been mobbed. On Sunday there were shortages of the antigen tests at various chains, at least one of which reported combined daily sales of hundreds of thousands of kits.

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In light of the immense demand, home tests can now be sold by supermarket chains. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announced Sunday that following consultation with agency professionals, Health Ministry Director General Prof. Nachman Ash will approve the sale of antigen tests at retail chains with valid licenses to sell food and drinks, except for butcher shops, until April 15.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz.

The provision stipulates that the tests must be sold in their original packaging and stored separately from goods that might affect their quality, such as bulk foods, fresh produce and cleaning products.

“We are opening the market,” Horowitz said. “This will make the tests accessible and significantly reduce the price to the public. We’ll do all that’s needed so that nobody exploits the situation to make a fat profit off the public.”

Rami Levy, the owner of the eponymous supermarket chain, had already prepared for the possibility of being able to sell the kits in his stores. “There is currently a shortage of tests in the entire market, but on Tuesday we’re supposed to receive an entire planeload of tests from China,” he said. “After Tuesday, supply will go up and prices will drop.”

The drugstore chains report massive demand for the test kits and brisk sales. Some chains complained of exploitation by their suppliers, who have raised wholesale prices by tens of percentage points.

Price gaps

There are significant variations in prices of the tests between chains, manufacturers and the size of the packages. The lowest unit price we found was a package of 20 tests at Good Pharm for 189 shekels (9.45 shekels per test.) On Sunday, single tests were unavailable at the chain’s branches.

At Super-Pharm a single test cost 34.9 shekels. A buy one, get the second at half price offer reduced the unit price to 26 shekels. A four-pack cost 79.9 shekels (19.9 shekels per test) and a family-sized 20-pack further reduces the per-test price. But according to the chain’s website, there is a shortage of these packages.

A Super Pharm branch.

At the Be By Shufersal drugstore chain, a single test cost 22.9 shekels, a five-pack 79.9 shekels (15.9 shekels per unit) and a package of 25 tests sold for 480 shekels (19.2 shekels per test.)

According to Ohad Sandler, one of the owners of Good Pharm, “There’s complete madness. Any amount we bring – customers buy it. The suppliers exploit that and raise prices for no reason. We’re fighting tooth-and-nail to maintain a decent price of under 10 shekels per test in a 20-pack, and it’s getting harder by the day.”

He added that “A few months ago the suppliers brought over a load of antigen tests and then found out that the state is offering them for free, so they had surpluses. Now the guidelines have changed, an antigen test is valid for release from quarantine, and everyone wants a test, and more than one. The importers realized that they have a gold mine – and they’re raising prices.

An executive at a different large drugstore chain said: “There is record demand. We’re shipping merchandise to the branches every day, and meanwhile we’re managing to keep up. But the suppliers are raising the prices on us. They’ve raised them by 40 percent already.”

At another chain they explained: “The state has shifter the weight from PCR tests to antigen tests, and because it happened immediately, it caused high demand, and the suppliers are requiring very high prices from us. It makes it hard for us to sell at reasonable prices.”

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