Opinion: Getting a rapid antigen test on the Kapiti Coast - an exercise in the absurd

7:24 am on 8 March 2022

By Penny Mackay*

Opinion - If you woke up on Saturday morning with Covid-19 symptoms and you lived on the Kapiti Coast, you wouldn't have been able to get a RAT. You wouldn't have got a free one. You wouldn't have been able to buy one.

Covid-19 antigen tests underway with the buffer solution being dripped into the test area of the results strip

Covid-19 rapid antigen test. Photo: 123RF

I woke up with a slight headache, slightly runny nose, slightly watery eyes, slight sinus, slight light-headedness. Nothing major. It's probably hay fever, but the times being what they are, I decide to get tested. That's what the government urges, isn't it?

I order my rapid antigen test (RAT) online - there's a line I never thought I'd write. And I'm given a number.

Next, I click on 'community collection sites'. The local one is closed. So is the next nearest, and the one after that, and the one after that. Closed, closed, closed, closed. And closed. The closest one open is a 45-minute drive away and since I'm now very light-headed, and unsure of how much of a hazard I'd be on the roads, I don't fancy the drive.

I call the Ministry of Health RAT-line. I leave my number, and only 15 minutes later, very nice 'Duncan' calls me back. He goes through the same sad litany of closed collection stations. "Oh, there's one open in Miramar," he says. "And at SKY stadium," he adds hopefully. Duncan lives in Auckland.

"Oh, such-and-such a GP service in Paraparaumu are doing tests," he adds - information that's finally helpful.

I call such-and-such GP service in Paraparaumu. "No, we don't do testing any more or give out RATs," says the very nice woman at the end of the line. "Our staff got so abused by non-symptomatic people demanding them, that we decided for our mental wellbeing, we had to stop that service. I commiserate but I'm losing the will to live.

"Oh, but there's going to be a pop-up RAT collection point," she adds brightly, "at Kapiti Landing between 10.30am this morning and 2pm this afternoon.

I decide to risk a short light-headed drive south, and join a short queue of cars at Kapiti Landing. I wait to collect my RAT order. We all wait. And we wait. And we wait. There's no sign of anything that might be a RAT collection pop-up site. One of us calls such-and-such a GP service to check we have the place and time right.

"Oh," says the woman who directed us all here, "that's just what the Ministry of Health told us. We don't know, ourselves, anything about it."

On this piece of joyful news, the queue of cars starts to thin out, the slightly symptomatic giving up and going home to isolate - possibly for no reason at all. Who would know?

A friend texts: such-and-such a local pharmacy looks like it might do testing. Apparently, the message on the pharmacy's website is a bit confusing, but. No, really? When everything else is so well-organised and the communication so robust?

I ring such-and-such local pharmacy. No, they don't do testing. Yes, they sell RATs. "But," the pharmacist urges breathlessly, "Only if you're well."

"So if I think I might have Covid," I reply, incredulous, "I can't buy a test? I have to be well to buy a test that I don't need? But if I need a test, I can't. Yeah, just trying to get my head around that."

"That's right" says the pharmacist, relief in his voice that I've understood this important distinction, and utterly missing the irony. "We can't have sick people in here."

So, I'm sending my non-symptomatic and, as far as we know, Covid-free daughter into such-and-such a local pharmacy to buy a box of RATs. But if you don't happen to have $45-odd to buy a box of RATs, you'll just have to sit tight, isolate, maybe get more sick, or maybe it wasn't anything and you'll be fine. You won't know for sure until a nearby collection point opens. Or maybe it won't open. Or maybe it will. Sorry, we just don't know.

Catch-22 author Joseph Heller would be laughing like a drain.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs