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Provinces demand rapid tests as authorities struggle to deliver

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OTTAWA – Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has said Canada is in crisis over COVID-19 PCR testing capacity as Ottawa struggles to deliver on pledge to provide $ 140 million rapid tests to the provinces by the end of the month.

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Access to molecular PCR testing, which is considered the gold standard when it comes to confirming a diagnosis of COVID-19, is in crisis across the country, Duclos said on Wednesday.

Many provinces have decided to restrict molecular PCR testing to people who are at a higher risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19 or who are in settings where the virus could spread more quickly.

Duclos said that is why rapid home antigen testing has become a crucial tool in this fifth wave of the pandemic, which has been driven by the more transmissible Omicron variant.

It has skyrocketed the number of cases in the provinces, overwhelmed testing sites and prompted doctors to warn hospitals are being pushed to the brink.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged that the Liberal government would send the provinces 140 million rapid tests. That would be four times the number of rapid tests the federal government provided in December – enough for every Canadian to have one per week – and they must be distributed on a per capita basis.

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But as residents wait for testing, some provinces have reported that shipments are slow to arrive.

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In Ontario, 4.6 million of the 54 million tests reserved for the province by Ottawa have arrived, with a further 7.8 million expected to be delivered. There is no such timeline for the remaining 42 million promised tests.

Manitoba Health says Ottawa told them the province is entitled to five million tests per month. A recent shipping notice confirmed it will get a total of 700,000 devices for January. He has already received 132,000.

“The Premier and Premier also had discussions in December and again this week, in which the Premier highlighted the need for additional rapid testing for Manitoba,” a ministry statement said.

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The British Columbia Ministry of Health said the province had ordered more than 19 million tests from Ottawa and that “there was no confirmation from the federal government as to their arrival date.”

Federal Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi said provinces’ demand for testing has increased significantly since last year as the market has become very competitive.

“There are supply chain issues. And these deal with labor issues, issues of access to raw materials, as well as cargo planes and transportation, ”she said during Wednesday’s federal COVID-19 briefing in Ottawa.

She says the government is working with 14 vendors to get the tests promised by the end of the month.

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“We’re going to continue to work with the suppliers to make sure that if there are things, the logistics, that we can help as a federal government, we’re there to help those suppliers every step of the way.”

The United States on Wednesday pledged to increase the availability of rapid tests in schools by providing five million each month. For Anne Snowdon, a professor at the University of Windsor who studies health systems and supply chains, rapid test kits are the latest product to peak in global demand amid the pandemic.

The underdeveloped health care supply chain and lack of domestic manufacturing are at the root of the problem, she said, adding that Canada is at a disadvantage compared to larger markets like states. United, as countries rush to find suppliers.

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“Now we’re in this chaotic transition of finding and trying to find any supplier in the world who might have what you need. “

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping tweeted Wednesday that his province has yet to receive a firm delivery schedule for the roughly 16 million rapid tests promised by Ottawa for January, and like others, faces delays.

So far, he said only 500,000 have arrived.

Saskatchewan, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that $ 525,499 of the $ 4.3 million allocated for the month had arrived, with a further $ 2.3 million expected to be delivered.

In Nova Scotia, a government spokeswoman said she had received 700,000 of the 3.6 million rapid tests Ottawa had promised to provide this month, with the rest due to arrive in the next two weeks “if the shipping and logistics times remain on track “.

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The Prince Edward Island Department of Health said it requested its full share of 560,000 tests this month and received 80,000. Delivery is slated for 290,500 others.

The federal Liberals have said time and again that only vaccinations, rather than rapid tests, will get Canada through the pandemic. Trudeau reiterated the point on Wednesday as he criticized Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole for saying those who are not vaccinated should be allowed to take rapid tests, rather than losing their jobs or being put on leave. , under mandatory vaccination policies.

For their part, the Conservatives say Trudeau failed to provide enough rapid tests and personal protective equipment to provinces, forcing many to reinstate restrictive public health measures. Better access to these tools would have helped manage the spread, they argue.

“They failed. Again, ”tweeted Conservative health spokesperson Luc Berthold on Wednesday.

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