British Columbia

Advocates call on the province to make rapid tests free and accessible for all

B.C. has used about 9 per cent of its tests from the federal government, while other provinces have used up to 47 per cent.

Select groups have access to rapid antigen tests in B.C., other provinces offer them to everyone

Rapid tests are available for the general public in other countries and provinces. In B.C., rapid test kits are available at long term care and seniors' assisted living facilities, and are accessible to businesses, non-profits, charities and Indigenous community organizations. The general public will have to purchase them online. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Advocates are calling on the provincial government to make rapid antigen tests more widely available in B.C., as other jurisdictions, such as some Canadian provinces and the U.K., offer free rapid tests for anyone who wants them.

COVID Test Finders, a group dedicated to sharing where to access rapid testing in Canada, has launched a petition calling on the province to provide free rapid antigen tests for all British Columbians. As of Dec. 10, it had more than 11,400 signatures. 

That petition is being supported by Protect Our Province B.C., a group of physicians and other health-care professionals who have raised concerns about the way health policies are being created and implemented in B.C. 

On Twitter, British Columbians are expressing their concerns using the hashtag #ReleasetheRATS — asking the government to make rapid antigen tests available to the general public.

As of Dec. 10, the federal government website showed it had sent upwards of 3.2 million tests to B.C., though only about 300,000 had been used — about 9 per cent. 

Right now, rapid test kits in B.C. are available for free at long term care and seniors' assisted living facilities.

Businesses can also access the tests for their staff, and for free, through the Safe Screen B.C. program.

Non-profits, charities and Indigenous community organizations also receive free rapid tests through the Canadian Red Cross to distribute to the communities they serve. 

Demand

Currently, online purchasing is the only way the general public in B.C. can access rapid antigen testing.

Vancouver resident Lindsay Brown ordered a box of rapid antigen tests online ahead of time to add a layer of protection for her loved ones gathering over the holidays.

Her order has been delayed as couriers continue to deal with high volumes and transportation delays, and she says that if she could have just bought the tests in stores, the stress of waiting for their arrival could have been avoided. 

"Road and supply chain issues are just one more reason why the B.C. government should distribute the tests that are already in its possession and are warehoused somewhere in B.C.," she said in an email to CBC. 

"The failure to distribute the tests is profoundly inequitable. It's indefensible."

A rapid antigen test is pictured with results pointing to the letter C, meaning the person who took the test is in the clear. In B.C., Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said her team is looking at whether it makes sense to have rapid tests available to everyone.  (Alexandre Silberman/CBC News)

Canadian Shield, one of the many companies selling rapid antigen tests online, told CBC it is sending "tens of thousands" of tests to B.C., and while Ontario is its largest customer base, B.C. is certainly second. 

Canadian Shield sells packs of five rapid antigen tests for $75.

The company also says demand has "surged" in the past two weeks.

Other provinces, such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan have made the tests available through pharmacies and other public places, either for free or for purchase.

Province 'looking into it'

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday that her team is looking at whether it makes sense to have rapid tests available to everyone. 

"It's an evolving issue," Henry said. 

"Our program is focused on where we can use rapid tests to help address transmission. It is for people who have symptoms. More and more we are learning across the country that using rapid tests for asymptomatic testing, particularly vaccinated people, has a very, very low yield. So we are looking at what's the benefit of that."

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, a Calgary physician and medical columnist for CBC, said "it's frustrating that they're not available for free everywhere," and that rapid antigen tests are a great layer of protection, especially for people planning to gather for the holidays.

"If you test positive on a rapid test, then you don't go to your event, you go get a lab-based PCR test to confirm," he said. 

Bhardwaj said it's especially important for children under 12 who can't be fully vaccinated to have access to this particular layer of protection, to avoid spreading the virus to loved ones.

With files from BC Today, Daybreak South, Janella Hamilton, Stephanie Dubois and Lauren Pelley

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now