British Columbia

Free rapid COVID-19 tests now available for B.C. residents aged 70 and over

Rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 are now available for free at some pharmacies for people over the age of 70, with provincial officials promising to include other age groups soon.

5-pack of tests available to pick up every 28 days; program expected to include other age groups soon

New Westminister pharmacist Jamie Wigston hands out a rapid COVID-19 test to a customer on Friday Feb. 25. 2022. (CBC News)

Rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 are now available for free at some pharmacies for people over the age of 70, with provincial officials promising to include other age groups soon.

The measure was announced on Wednesday by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health Adrian Dix and came into effect Friday.

The tests are currently being limited to people over the age of 70 because that group is at highest risk of severe illness, but the program will be expanded to include younger age groups and more pharmacies as the supply of tests grows.

People over the age of 70 who have a personal health number can locate a pharmacy on this list, and receive a kit, which has five tests in it, every 28 days.

'To be as safe as they can be'

Jamie Wigston, a pharmacist at the West End Medicine Centre in New Westminster, was busy handing out the kits on Friday.

"It's for people who are meeting up with some friends and just want to be as safe as they can be," he said.  "Or they're going into work and they have a little bit of symptoms and just want to make sure they aren't bringing anything into work."

A health care worker hands out COVID-19 rapid tests to people at the Bear Creek rapid test distribution centre in Surrey, B.C., on Jan. 18. Five-packs of rapid tests are now available free of cost at some pharmacies for people over the age of 70. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Frank Benoit and his wife Lynne collected test kits from Wigston's pharmacy on Friday.

"I think it will give some peace of mind," he said about being able to test at home for any symptoms the couple may have.

The province said it had delivered more than 865,000 kits to pharmacies in advance of Friday's roll-out.

"If you're under the age of 70, kits will be available soon," read the government's web page explaining the program.

Dix said Wednesday 12 million more tests are expected to arrive in B.C. in the next four weeks.

Residents are not allowed to pay for additional kits.

A test should only be used by people who develop symptoms of COVID-19 and want to confirm a positive or negative result. The tests are not suitable for international travel requirements.

Between Dec. 13 and Feb. 22, the province deployed more than 14.8 million tests out of 22.2 million received, with the bulk going to schools, hospital workers, testing sites, long-term care and assisted living, and rural, remote and Indigenous communities.

B.C. has faced criticism as other provinces and countries around the world embraced the widespread use of the rapid tests.

Retired physician Dr. Lyne Filiatrault is part of Protect Our Province B.C., a group of health professionals advocating science-based policies around COVID-19.

There are five COVID-19 tests included in kits the province of B.C. is making available to the public through pharmacies. (CBC News)

She said she's glad the rapid tests are finally being distributed more widely now, something that would have been useful at the end of the 2021 when the Omicron variant was spreading rapidly.

"For some reason, our public health officials have basically discredited rapid antigen tests and I think it's a big misunderstanding," she said.

Premier John Horgan said the province simply didn't have the supply to make the tests available to the public earlier.

Infections and hospitalizations from COVID-19 are dropping in B.C. but the province continues to stress the importance of getting fully vaccinated against the disease.

With files from Joel Ballard, Bethany Lindsay, Courtney Dickson, and Missy Johnson.


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