Ottawa scrambles to get more rapid COVID-19 tests
OTTAWA – The frenzied COVID-19 supplies market that defined the early days of the pandemic appears to be back with Ottawa scrambling to find rapid tests.
Federal Purchasing Minister Filomena Tassi said on Wednesday that 140 million more tests are expected to be distributed this month, the hunt for more continues.
“We are doing absolutely everything we can to get as many tests as possible,” she told reporters on Wednesday as pressure continued to mount from provinces to provide more tests.
Tassi said the market is competitive and a number of issues make matters worse.
“There are supply chain issues, and these relate to labor issues, issues of access to raw materials, as well as cargo planes and transportation,” a- she declared.
Provinces are relying on portable rapid antigen tests to compensate for the fact that their ability to perform laboratory tests is being overwhelmed by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 increasing infections.
On Wednesday, for example, Ontario announced it was sending 3.9 million rapid tests to schools and daycares to prepare for the return to in-person learning on Monday.
The province plans to reserve access to PCR tests for children who develop symptoms in school.
This is in addition to the 11 million rapid tests students were sent home with before the Christmas holidays.
“We still need millions more,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Wednesday.
Similar promises have been made to provide rapid tests to Alberta schoolchildren before they return to school this year, but on Tuesday evening the province said their shipments had been blocked.
“Alberta Health has learned that the planned supply of rapid home test kits has been delayed by the federal government and manufacturers,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on social media.
“Alberta Health is working hard to get more supplies as soon as possible. “
The federal government says it has placed orders for 426 million rapid tests.
“We will continue to send them to the provinces and territories as quickly as possible,” Tassi said.
The hunt for rapid tests echoes the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when masks, gowns, gloves and other infection prevention gear were scarce.
Countries have moved quickly to protect their stocks, and stories have circulated of brokers showing up at factories in China to pay in cash for goods already sold to other countries.
The situation was so chaotic that Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland once compared it to the “wild west”.
Federal Conservatives have argued in recent days that the Liberals failed to learn from this experience, and the scramble for goods is one reason for the return to public health restrictions across Canada.
Later this week, the House of Commons health committee is due to decide whether it should further investigate the supply and supply issues.
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