More rapid tests coming to pharmacies next week after many Quebecers left empty-handed
Province expects smoother distribution, sufficient supply this time around
Quebec pharmacies are gearing up to receive millions of COVID-19 rapid testing kits after soaring demand in recent weeks outpaced supply, forcing them to turn away hopeful Quebecers in droves.
"Till this day, our phone won't stop ringing," said Montreal pharmacist Moses Boachie. "Patients constantly come and ask us for tests, and we have to unfortunately tell them that we don't have any more."
On Wednesday, about three million rapid tests arrived in the province, and 31.5 million are expected from Ottawa by the end of January.
But the head of Quebec's pharmacist-owners association (AQPP), Benoit Morin, says people likely won't be able to get their hands on a kit until next week.
"We won't have any tests before Tuesday morning, so there's no more tests available in pharmacy right now," said Morin, pleading for people to not ask for those boxes before Jan. 11.
As of Dec. 20, all Quebecers 14 and older are eligible for one kit, containing five free tests, every 30 days. The rush for rapid tests is even greater now that the province has scaled back PCR testing for the general public.
The initial distribution rollout was marked by long queues and frustrated Quebecers. Morin is hoping this bigger shipment of tests will help ease the process for pharmacists this time around.
Quebec expects smoother process after messy rollout
Pharmacist Boachie says he remembers the first, rocky day of test distributions at his pharmacy, where a lineup stretched from the store's front door to the end of the street.
"I thought I was like at a Bell Centre show," he said.
In a matter of hours, the pharmacy had run out of testing kits.
Aleck Brodeur, a Familiprix pharmacy owner in the city's east end, says the initial rollout plan was disorganized and the government didn't give pharmacies enough time to prepare, especially in the face of rising cases and staff absences.
"The more and more we went into the the holidays, the less people were patient with us," he said, adding that he hasn't received any supply since Christmas Day.
Rapid testing stock across the province eventually dried up by Dec. 29., according to the AQPP.
The head of Quebec's vaccination campaign, who is also responsible for the distribution of rapid tests, blames the messy rollout on Ottawa, denouncing a lack of tests and delays. Daniel Paré says no one was prepared for the current situation.
"It should be remembered that in October, November, the pandemic wave was really on a downward trend. Omicron has really changed everything," said Paré.
This time around, some 12 million of Ottawa's January batch of rapid tests will be allocated to Quebec's pharmacies, with the rest going to other priority sectors such as daycares, elementary schools, public safety forces and Indigenous communities.
Paré is hoping for regular, consistent deliveries from Ottawa to ensure a smoother process than last month.
"I think with constant arrivals, the process will be better and people will have better access [to the tests]," he said.
Pharmacists want communication from province
Morin says the distribution methods for testing kits will vary from pharmacy to pharmacy in order to accommodate a wide range of customers, including some who don't have access to online appointments.
"Some of us will put the appointments online, some of us will call patients, some will distribute [tests] at the front door. It will be a mix of everything," he said.
For the pharmacies that distribute rapid tests by appointment only, Morin says the booking system will not open before Tuesday because "you never know what can happen" with the delivery.
Ahead of the expected second round of test distributions, pharmacist Brodeur says he would like more communication from the government.
"I just wish that like higher grade people would be a bit more transparent with us...We just want to kind of have an idea to prepare our staff because people in pharmacies get COVID, too."
Boachie says he's looking forward to not having to turn away vulnerable patients looking for a test and hopes for more consistent communication about supply moving forward.
Due to the added stock coming this month, Morin is confident the province will have enough tests and manpower to get a kit into the hands of every Quebecer in the coming weeks, and he advises those with symptoms not to hesitate to use a test if they feel sick.
"We will receive more and more tests in the few weeks coming, so we will have enough tests for everybody," he said, adding he'd like to see tests available for those who burn through theirs before their 30-day interval.
With files from Lauren McCallum and Radio Canada's Tout un Matin