Politics

Ottawa says 140 million more rapid tests heading to the provinces, territories this month

Push for rapid tests comes as Omicron variant continues to spread quickly

Posted: January 05, 2022
Last Updated: January 05, 2022

A nurse instructs a man on how to use a COVID-19 rapid self-test at a testing clinic in Montreal on Dec. 15, 2021. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The federal government said today an additional 140 million rapid tests will be delivered to provinces and territories this month.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the government is now in the process of delivering the tests, which will be allocated to provinces and territories on a per-capita basis.

The 140 million additional tests are enough to provide "one rapid test per week, per person, in Canada for January," he said.

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Before December, the government said it had delivered 85 million rapid tests to the provinces and territories. As the Omicron coronavirus variant began to spread rapidly last month, the government pushed out 35 million tests to the regions, said Duclos.

The rush for rapid tests comes as many regions scale back on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing — the gold standard of COVID testing — due to capacity concerns. PCR tests are mostly offered through assessment centres, hospitals and other health care settings and require lab analysis.

The demand for rapid tests has been outpacing supply. A pop-up in Kitchener, Ont. ran out of rapid test kits within an hour on Tuesday.

WATCH | Ottawa announces distribution of 140 million rapid tests this month:

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The federal government announced it will be sending more than 140 million rapid COVID-19 tests to the provinces in January to try to keep up with demand, but questions remain about the best way to use them.  4:05

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Before the Christmas break, Ontario Premier Doug Ford apologized after free COVID-19 rapid tests offered at LCBO stores and other locations in the province "disappeared like rapid fire."

It's not clear exactly how the tests will get to Canadians. Each province and territory is in charge of its own distribution.

 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said rapid tests are going to help the country get through the latest pandemic wave.

"Our job is to procure as many as we possibly can and get them to the provinces free of charge. They will make determinations in delivering them to people," he said. 

WATCH | Infectious disease specialist discusses the use of rapid tests on CBC's Power & Politics:

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Sinai Health System senior clinician scientist Dr. Allison McGeer joins Power & Politics to discuss the use of rapid tests. The federal government has announced it is purchasing 140 million rapid tests to deliver to the provinces and territories this month.  7:28

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"We have certain stockpiles for vulnerable populations and specific usage but the vast majority of rapid tests will be sent to provinces and territories for them to distribute in the best way to serve their citizens."

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said rapid tests are "simple" devices that can be sold over the counter and the federal government should have done a better job of ensuring they did not run out.

"There should have been hundreds of millions of these tests already being used over the course of the last year and the Trudeau government failed to deliver on that," he told a Facebook Live event. He did not take questions from the press.

O'Toole echoed Trudeau's call for all eligible Canadians to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.

"Let's be honest, this isn't how anyone wanted to be starting 2022 ... I can tell you as a parent I'm very aware the kids are back in school virtually and I can understand people are frustrated. But I also know that we know how to get through this," Trudeau said.

"We're looking at a better spring as long as we all keep doing our part."

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During the government's first media briefing of the new year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said rapid testing will be key to curbing rising Omicron variant caseloads nationally.  1:28