Ottawa scrambles for more rapid COVID-19 testing with back-to-school just days away

OTTAWA — The frenetic market for COVID-19 supplies that defined the early days of the pandemic appears to be back with Ottawa struggling to find rapid tests.

Federal Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi said Wednesday that while 140 million more tests are expected to be doled out this month, the search for more continues.

“We are doing absolutely everything we can to get as many tests as possible,” he told reporters on Wednesday as pressure continued to mount from the provinces to deliver more tests.

Tassi said the market is competitive and a number of problems are making things worse.

“There are issues with regards to the supply chain, and those have to do with labor issues, issues of access to raw materials, and also cargo and transport aircraft,” he said.

Provinces have been relying on portable rapid antigen tests to offset the fact that their laboratory testing capacity is being overwhelmed by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is increasing infections.

On Wednesday, for example, Ontario announced it would send 3.9 million rapid tests to schools and daycare centers to prepare for a return to in-person learning on Monday.

The province plans to reserve access to PCR tests for children who develop symptoms while at school.

That’s on top of the 11 million rapid tests students received before the Christmas break.

“We still need millions more,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Wednesday.

Similar promises were made to provide rapid tests to schoolchildren in Alberta before they return to school this year, but the province said late Tuesday that its shipments had been delayed.

“Alberta Health has learned that the expected supply of rapid home test kits has been delayed by the federal government and manufacturers,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw on social media.

“Alberta Health is working hard to get more supply as soon as possible.”

The federal government says it has ordered 426 million rapid tests.

“We are going to continue to get them to the provinces and territories as quickly as we can,” Tassi said.

The search for rapid tests is an echo of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when masks, gowns, gloves and other infection-prevention equipment were in short supply.

Countries moved quickly to protect their reserves, and stories circulated about middlemen showing up at factory doors in China to pay cash for goods already sold to other nations.

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 Liberals have not learned from that experience, and the fight over assets is one reason for the return to public health restrictions across Canada.

Later this week, the House of Commons health committee will decide whether to investigate the procurement and supply issues further.


Conversations are the opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of conduct. The Star does not endorse these views.

Leave a Comment