Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland pleaded with the provinces to use the rapid COVID-19 tests that have already been sent to them, as she promised that Ottawa will spend another $ 1.7 billion to buy millions more in the coming months.

Dark clouds of COVID-19 hung gloomily over Tuesday’s tax update, a point that was emphasized by the fact that Freeland did not deliver it to the House of Commons chamber in person.

Instead, it released the update virtually, after two of its staff members tested positive for the virus using rapid tests earlier in the day.

As the number of cases increases, many Canadians clamor for easier access to rapid tests, and Freeland said the supply is there for the provinces to use.

“In fact, we already have a lot of rapid tests in the country and the federal government has distributed them to the provinces and territories,” he told reporters before delivering his speech.

“And we are buying a lot more.”

The update assumes $ 1.7 billion in the current fiscal year to buy faster tests, and Freeland told the House of Commons that that amount will buy 180 million of them.

That is in addition to the 99 million that have already been delivered to Canada, of which nearly 81 million have been distributed to provincial and territorial governments. But the provinces have been under pressure in recent days to hand over that evidence, with records suggesting that only 15.5 million have been used.

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“So my message to the provinces and territories, the health authorities across the country, is to use and distribute the rapid tests that we have already sent you,” Freeland said. “We are asking for 180 million more, we know they can be useful, we know they can make a real difference in our fight against Omicron in the coming weeks. So there is no shortage of rapid tests today in Canada and we have much more to come.”

Canada’s COVID-19 scenario appeared to level off in November, but things have started to turn bad again with the arrival of the new variant.

@cafreeland asks provinces to use faster tests, says millions more tests will come. #CDNPoli # Covid19

Much remains to be learned about the severity of Omicron, but most experts now agree that it is the most transmissible version yet of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

It was only identified as a variant in late November, but in Ontario alone it already accounts for 10 percent of all new sequenced COVID-19 cases.

Canada recorded more than 29,000 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, up from 22,000 the previous week.

In addition to rapid testing, Freeland set aside $ 4.5 billion in the upgrade for “potential” costs of responding to Omicron, including financial support in the event of new closures and additional testing at the border.

And in addition to faster tests, Ottawa is moving to expand treatments and vaccines in the coming months. Freeland encouraged all Canadians to receive a COVID-19 booster shot, promising that there are enough doses to stimulate everyone and noting that he has already booked his own appointment.

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Federal and provincial data suggest that there are still more than 16 million adult vaccine doses available for use in Canada for booster injections, with more doses purchased by 2022.

Freeland also proposes spending $ 1 billion this year and next to purchase new COVID-19 therapeutic drugs, and about $ 350 million to help schools, community buildings and small businesses improve ventilation.

That includes a new refundable tax credit so small businesses can claim up to $ 10,000 per project, to purchase, install, upgrade or convert mechanical HVAC systems, or to purchase high-efficiency air filtration units.

There is $ 37 million over three years from now to help Transport Canada enforce vaccine mandates for air, rail, and sea employees and passengers, and $ 300 million for the provinces to continue testing systems. vaccination.

The update says that the federal vaccine mandate now in place for federal civil servants will be extended to other federally regulated workplaces early next year. That includes banks, post offices, and interprovincial transportation.

This Canadian Press report was first published on December 14, 2021.

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