Waits for COVID-19 tests in Winnipeg stretch up to 4 hours as demand surges
Rise of extremely transmissible Omicron variant driving the demand for testing
The wait for a COVID-19 test in Winnipeg is growing as fast as the caseloads, with some lineups at drive-up testing centres meandering through parking lots and onto the roads.
There were reports on Tuesday of people waiting in their idling cars for close to four hours at the MPI site on King Edward Street.
"It's ridiculous. I have a sick kid in the car and we can't go to the washroom or anything," said Kristie Page, who had been in the car line for 2½ hours and was nowhere near the front. "This is insane."
Coleman Paul had also been in line that long and had to take time off work to do it, but he was more forgiving.
"It's a long wait but it is what it is," he said. "It's more important to get tested and make sure everybody's safe. You gotta wait, that's just how it goes."
I have a sick kid in the car and we can't go to the washroom or anything. This is insane.- Kristie Page
Virginia Jackson, who had been waiting just over three hours, said cars were pulling in from three different directions, causing a gridlock at the site.
"No one's moving, [it's] terrible. Somebody should be controlling them coming in," she said.
Lineups were also long at the walk-up site on St. Mary's Road with people waiting outside in temperatures close to –20 C and a wind chill that made it feel closer to –30 at times.
Jackson, Paul and Page all said the province needs to open more testing sites as it faces an increased demand due to the rise of the extremely transmissible Omicron variant.
There are currently nine test sites in Winnipeg.
Page said the province should go one step further: "Why aren't we using the rapid testing we have stockpiled?" she asked.
As of November, the Manitoba government had distributed about 1.5 million of its 2.7 million rapid tests, prioritizing schools and businesses. Other provinces have made the tests freely available at locations such as libraries, liquor stores and gas stations.
Exactly one week ago, Premier Heather Stefanson said she intends to advocate for those tests to be made more publicly available.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer, said last Wednesday more details would be made public soon.
There have been no updates since then, although a spokesperson for the province told CBC News in an email on Tuesday it is working on a system to "greatly increase" the use of rapid testing.
NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara says expanding access to testing is critical for stemming the spread of COVID-19 and being able to make sure that people can make informed health decisions.
"Folks need timely access to COVID testing, not to be waiting 3½ and four hours in a line in the freezing cold. That is a deterrent from people accessing testing," Asagwara said.
"We can do better. We must do better than that."
With files from Jérémie Bergeron