Ottawa

Ford apologizes as 1M rapid tests 'disappeared like rapid fire' in LCBO giveaway

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said free COVID-19 rapid tests offered Friday at LCBOs and other locations in the province "disappeared like rapid fire" and he apologized "for the people waiting in line."

People lineup for rapid tests outside Ottawa LCBO locations, but most go home empty-handed

'There were audible groans of disappointment when the guy with the sign came out, said David Brennan, who lined up for a rapid test kit outside the LCBO location at Bank Street and Walkley Road. (David Brennan/Twitter)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said free COVID-19 rapid tests offered Friday at LCBOs and other locations in the province "disappeared like rapid fire" and he apologized "for the people waiting in line."

Ford says malls will serve as future locations for giving away more tests, which have become highly prized items for people looking to safely plan holiday gatherings amid the Omicron variant. 

"The ironic thing is, three months ago you couldn't even pay someone to take some of these," Ford said, adding it's "great news" the tests are being widely distributed. 

Ford said Ontario has given out 51 million free rapid tests to date at 45,000 sites, including businesses, schools and hospitals.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks at the province's latest COVID-19 news conference on Dec. 17, 2021. (CBC)

Another 10 million tests have been sourced and are expected to arrive next week, he said. 

Ford also thanked the federal government and said "they're doing their very best" to supply provinces with tests. 

Early birds met with no tests

The latest prong in the province's rapid testing strategy is a "holiday testing blitz" in which the province is giving out  approximately two million tests to the general public, including at some LCBO stores. 

Just over million tests were handed out at participating LCBOs on Friday, though not without some initial complications. 

Early birds lined up at various LCBO stores in Ottawa on Friday morning hoping to get a free five-pack — only to learn none were yet available. 

"At Hunt Club, we were told none have arrived," one person reported shortly before 9 a.m. 

They weren't alone. Several other people took to social media to report similar experiences. 

Both the Ministry of Health's "pop-up holiday" web page and LCBO's press materials had indicated tests would be available at LCBOs beginning on Friday.

"We thank our customers for their patience and understanding," the company said in an email statement to CBC News amid the delay, which Ottawa Public Health called on the province to resolve quickly. 

"Store signage is also being used at front doors to indicate if a store has kits, does not have kits or is expecting kits," the LCBO statement continued. 

LCBO had listed seven Ottawa locations where visitors could obtain one kit each:

  • Bank Street and Walkley Road.
  • Carling Avenue and Woodroffe Avenue (Fairlawn Centre).
  • Rideau Street and King Edward Avenue. 
  • Blair Road and Ogilvie Road (Gloucester). 
  • West Hunt Club Road and Merivale Road (Nepean Crossroads).
  • Strandherd Drive and Greenbank Road (Nepean).
  • Innes Road and Tenth Line Road (Orleans).

Many people answered the call Friday morning and lined up outside these stores.

David Brennan arrived at the location at the intersection of Bank and Walkley right before 9 a.m.

"The parking lot was jammed," he said. "There were audible groans of disappointment when the guy with the sign came out. It all felt very improvised and dystopian."

The tests arrive

By late morning, shipments had arrived at some stores and a select few were able to snag tests. 

"My sister is about to have a baby and I really want to see her," said Mackenzie Stewart, right after she received a box of tests at the LCBO location at the intersection of Rideau Street and King Edward Avenue.

"It will be her first time using rapid antigen tests. ... My plan is to use these so that I know that I'm not putting her in danger." 

By late afternoon, the province said tests were only available at one of the seven Ottawa LCBOs. 

WATCH | The tests finally came:

Ottawa residents find limited supply of rapid tests at LCBO stores

12 months ago
Duration 0:57
Residents who were able to get the kits say they’re relieved to have them ahead of the holidays, but say they should have been widely available much earlier.

10 more giveaway locations eyed

The Ontario government has said 10 rapid test pickup sites were under review in Ottawa, and those locations are in addition to the LCBO stores, though the addresses for those future locations were not confirmed as of Friday afternoon.

Josephine Poulin, who also picked up tests at the Rideau Street LCBO, said the tests are a great option.

But she added, "It would have been nicer to get it a little bit earlier and have it available more widely spread throughout the city."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

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