A sign at a local convenience store says "self-test kits for COVID-19 available" (Yonhap)
Starting Tuesday, government-distributed self-test kits for COVID-19 have been made available at convenience stores and pharmacies across the country at a fixed price of 6,000 won ($5) a piece.
Each individual can buy up to five kits at a time. The government’s price control will stay in effect through March 5, with the possibility of changes in the unit price depending on supply conditions.
All online sales will be banned from Wednesday through March 5.
These are part of the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety’s measures to stabilize the supply of at-home test kits, as the country battles an omicron surge, with COVID-19 cases rising to a new high of 57,177 on Tuesday.
After the country switched from “free PCR (polymer chain reaction) tests for all” to “rapid test first, PCR later,” the demand for the at-home swap kits spiked, leading to shortages and price hikes.
In response, the government has earlier mandated the manufacturers to produce only the 20-unit packages for the time being in order to prop up supply. The price control applies to sales of individual units from this 20-unit package.
The smaller packages of 1, 2 and five test kits already in selves are excluded from the price regulations.
Selling fixed-price test kits at a higher price is a violation of the special bill enacted last year for manufacturing and distribution of medical supplies in a public health care crisis.
A recent surge in COVID-19 cases has caused a rush to buy self-test kits on- and offline, with the price jumping as much as five- or sixfold.
There was even a report of voice phishing scam on multiple pharmacies in Jonno-gu, central Seoul, claiming to sell self-test kits to pharmacies at half price on order of the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org