Pharmacies in border areas are regularly turning away people who have travelled from the Republic to request lateral flow tests (LFTs).
One pharmacy worker in a Newry outlet told the Belfast Telegraph that people from the south are visiting the pharmacy on a daily basis.
In the Republic, those looking to access LFTs have to pay between five and eight euro per test. Last month, the Irish government ruled out making the tests free, but did agree to subsidise part of the cost.
In Northern Ireland, however, LFTs are free, with each person receiving a box of around seven per visit, making it appealing to people in the south to travel over the border.
However, the staff member said those from across the border who are unable to provide Northern Ireland GP details are turned away.
“We ask for details and if they can’t provide them, then we don’t hand them out as obviously here they are on the NHS,” said the employee, who did not wish to be identified.
“They understand when they are told. They are happy to pay for them.”
A pharmacist in Fermanagh, located close to Donegal, said he would have roughly “two or three people” a day coming in from over the border seeking to access the at-home tests.
“We can’t give them out to them under the health service here,” he explained.
“I haven’t found it to be a problem when I explain to them what the situation is.”
Pharmacies in Northern Ireland have been reporting low supplies of LFTs amid surging demand due to the Omicron variant, with 30,423 new cases reported by the Department of Health (DoH) over the new year period. Peter Rice, community pharmacy leader at Mckenzies Pharmacy in Belfast and chair of Community Pharmacy NI, said the demand for lateral flow tests (LFTs) is outstripping supply, warning some people are needlessly stockpiling the tests.
The department, however, has sought to assure the public there is no shortage and it has explained that on Wednesday one million tests have been delivered in the past 48 hours, with the additional tests reinforcing supplies available to the public.
Speaking on Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme, Mr Rice said: “We would really ask people to be patient and only come forward if they need test kits and not to be hoarding them, to make sure there is enough to go around everybody.
“The supply will be there, it’s just if everybody takes two, three, four boxes, there won’t be enough to go round and people will be left without.”
He added: “I think, given the significant demand people probably are trying to make sure that they have sufficient amount in their house, particularly with the knowledge that they’re hard to come by at the minute.
“If everybody takes them when they need them, they will be there when they need them. It’s just that when everybody starts stocking up it will be more difficult to get them when people actually need them.”
A DoH spokesperson said: “Rapid Lateral Flow Tests are available from more than 580 sites across Northern Ireland, including over 500 community pharmacies.
“Community pharmacies are replenished regularly and additional deliveries are being made into Northern Ireland on a regular basis.” The department also explained that tests are also available to order online. Due to high demand, tests may be released in batches throughout the day on the online home delivery service.
Meanwhile, people here who get a positive lateral flow test now no longer need a PCR test to confirm that result. As of Wednesday, if a lateral flow is positive, people have been told to assume they have Covid-19 and that they are infectious.
The Department of Health has said people should therefore self-isolate immediately for the required period.
“If you have a positive Covid-19 test, the earliest you can end your period of self-isolation is on day seven — providing your lateral flow tests on day six and seven are both negative and you do not have a high temperature,” said a spokesperson.
“Your day six and day seven lateral flow tests should be at least 24 hours apart. If either is positive, you should continue to isolate until you get two negative lateral flow tests taken 24 hours apart, or after you have completed 10 full days of isolation — whichever is earlier,” a spokesperson added.