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Rush for rationed COVID tests crashes Taiwan's health insurance system

59,000 rapid antigen test kits were sold at 2,323 locations from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

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People lined up to purchase government-rationed rapid antigen test kits outside pharmacy in Taipei's Shilin District on April 28. 

People lined up to purchase government-rationed rapid antigen test kits outside pharmacy in Taipei's Shilin District on April 28.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A rush to stock up on home COVID test kits on the first day of a new rationing scheme crashed Taiwan's National Health Insurance (NHI) system on Thursday (April 28).

Taiwan's new rationing system for home rapid antigen test kits went into effect that morning. Under the new program, any resident who holds an NHI card or Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) can receive a test kit, which contains five rapid tests for a price NT$500 (US$17).

Similar to the mask rationing system that was launched in 2020, those whose NHI cards or ARCs end with odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) are restricted to purchasing test kits on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Those whose cards end with even numbers (0, 2, 4, 6, 8) are limited to buying test packets on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, with both allowed to make purchases on Sundays.

Over 50 million test kits are to be made available at 4,909 pharmacies through the rationing program. However, because each pharmacy has presently only been allowed 78 test kits, long lines formed outside pharmacies early on Thursday morning as sales began at 7 a.m.

Apparently due to the large influx of people flooding the system all at once, the NHI experienced a major crash at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning, reported CNA. Due to the crash, many pharmacies were forced to suspend sales and wait for the system to return to normal.

The NHI stated that after emergency repairs were carried out, the system reportedly returned to normal by 8:45 a.m. According to the NHI, 59,000 rapid antigen test kits were sold at 2,323 locations from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

In anticipation of an influx of people seeking to buy test kits under the new program, CECC head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said "When lining up, the limit is still one card per person. You can use another person's card, but one person cannot use multiple cards."