Quebec plans to use rapid tests, days after health minister said they weren't needed

Quebec's government says it plans to make use of rapid COVID-19 tests less than a week after the province's health minister told reporters the tests were unnecessary.

Officials say use of rapid tests is intended to complement laboratory tests rather than replace

Health officials warned that rapid tests are less accurate than conventional laboratory tests. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

Quebec Public Health announced Thursday that it plans to make more use of rapid COVID-19 tests, less than a week after the province's health minister told reporters the tests were unnecessary.

The decision to increase use of the tests comes after a report by a committee of 30 experts commissioned by Public Health, released publicly on Thursday but dated Monday, recommended "prudent'' use of the tests.

Public Health officials warned that the rapid tests are less accurate than the laboratory tests Quebec currently relies on.

However, Dr. Isabelle Goupil-Sormany, the co-chair of the committee, told reporters at a technical briefing on Thursday afternoon that there is a place for rapid tests if they're used carefully.

Quebec plans to make increasing use over the next 60 days of a test that detects the virus's RNA. That test, known by the brand name ID NOW, will be used to test people with symptoms who live in isolated areas, such as Indigenous communities and the north.

Another technology, which detects antigens created by the body's immune response to the virus, could be used among marginalized communities that have difficulty getting access to regular testing facilities, as well as during large outbreaks in workplaces and seniors' residences, the committee said.

However, some of those results will have be validated through lab tests.

Public Health plans to continue evaluating the use of rapid tests, including with a pilot project in two Montreal high schools.

On Monday, Health Minister Christian Dubé said the tests weren't needed because Quebec is already testing enough.

More than 80 per cent of tests conducted in Quebec have results within 24 hours and the province has the capacity to do thousands more laboratory tests per day, Denis Ouellet, the director of medical biology at the Health Department said Thursday.

The announcement comes the same day 200 Quebec scientists published an open letter calling on the province to make more use of rapid tests.

Marie-Pascale Pomey, a public health professor at Université de Montréal and one of the signatories of the letter, called Thursday's announcement by the government a positive first step.

"We already have some interesting results in different places, so we know that in some cases where the virus is very prevalent, it's a tool to slow down the propagation of the virus,'' Pomey said.

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