New Brunswick

Thousands of contaminated test kits delivered to New Brunswick

Thousands of kits meant to screen for COVID-19 delivered to New Brunswick from a supplier in China last week were contaminated and unusable. The province says this hasn’t affected its ability to test during the pandemic.

Province says it has 'no concerns' with testing capacity at this time

An example of a swab and tube used as part of testing for COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Thousands of kits meant to screen for COVID-19 delivered to New Brunswick from a supplier in China last week were contaminated and can't be used at this point.

Premier Blaine Higgs told reporters Thursday that he learned about the defective kits a week ago and found the news "disappointing."

The problem appeared to be "related to the packaging and the situation around the company," Higgs said when asked about the test kits at his regular coronavirus briefing.

Dr. Richard Garceau, a microbiologist-infectologist at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, told Radio-Canada more than 6,400 test kits were contaminated prior to being used.

"As soon as we received them, we realized that they were all contaminated with bacteria … In addition to being contaminated, the product was defective," Garceau said. 

The kits included swabs and sterilized tubes.

It wasn't clear how the contamination occurred. 

Dr. Richard Garceau is a microbiologist-infectiologist at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton. (Radio-Canada)

A lab at the Dumont has been testing samples to confirm whether people have COVID-19.

Bruce Macfarlane, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, said none of the contaminated test kits have been used.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Thursday that Health Canada will work with the supplier to get more kits 

Russell and Higgs said the Dumont is looking into ways to sterilize the test kits. 

"We do hope we can reuse them because we don't want to throw them away," Higgs said. He added the province expects to get a full replacement shipment. 

Premier Blaine Higgs says he was disappointed to learn about the issue last week. (Photo: Government of New Brunswick)

The federal government had ordered the kits from a supplier in China after a normal supplier's factory in Italy had sold-out of stock.

The test kits were delivered to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg and then sent to New Brunswick. 

Garceau said the province isn't the only location affected, estimating more than 300,000 test kits delivered across the country were contaminated. 

The province says the issue hasn't affected its ability to test people. 

"We're fortunate that we have adequate supplies, so we're not restricted in testing at all," Higgs said. 

Asked if he had any concerns with receiving supplies from China, Higgs said that there haven't been any other problems and that the province is carrying out checks before using supplies.

In an early April interview, the premier said New Brunswick could be days away from running out of supplies to test for COVID-19. 

Health Minister Ted Flemming told reporters that 5,000 test kits were received from the federal government, which relieved some of the pressure on testing.

The province confirmed in an email to CBC News on Thursday that it was that shipment that had the contaminated test kits. 

With files from Nicolas Steinbach