Manitoba sits on COVID-19 rapid test stockpile

Businesses want to see tests in place immediately

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OTTAWA — Manitoba has used just four per cent of the rapid tests it possesses, as other provinces rely on these devices to help prevent COVID-19 outbreaks.

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This article was published 03/07/2021 (523 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Manitoba has used just four per cent of the rapid tests it possesses, as other provinces rely on these devices to help prevent COVID-19 outbreaks.

Almost two-thirds of rapid tests Ottawa has sent to Manitoba remain in a stockpile, despite a threefold increase in the use of such devices since April, according to data obtained by the Free Press.

Manitoba is using a much lower proportion of the rapid tests it’s received than the other Prairie provinces.

Almost two-thirds of rapid tests Ottawa has sent to Manitoba remain in a stockpile, despite a threefold increase in the use of such devices since April. (Riley Smith / The Canadian Press files)

“Businesses would like to see this in place,” said Jonathan Alward, Prairies director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“Something like rapid testing might help preemptively, to stop a business from having a two-week shutdown.”

As of June 23, Manitoba had used just 38,000 rapid tests, and deployed another 326,000 kits schools and businesses haven’t yet used, while leaving 585,248 in a stockpile.

That means just four per cent of rapid tests owned by Manitoba have been used as of June 23, up from 1.26 per cent April 23.

Alberta has used 10 per cent of the tests it’s received from Ottawa, while Saskatchewan has used 8.8 per cent, as of June 24.

Ontario takes the national lead, in using 31.9 per cent of its tests from Ottawa, followed by Nova Scotia at 30 per cent.

NDP health critic MLA Uzoma Asagwara said Manitoba’s numbers are embarrassing.

“There’s no good reason to not being using those tests, to ensure that we have as much of an understanding of our case numbers as possible, and that we’re doing everything we can to keep them as low as possible,” said Asagwara.

Manitoba uses rapid tests that involve a swab taken less than two centimetres up the nostril, with results generated within 20 minutes. Winnipeg-based Red River College provides a two-hour course on how to safely get a reliable result.

The province has offered rapid tests to daycare, school and personal care home staff. Rapid tests are less capable of detecting novel coronavirus than the deep-nasal swab test for people with COVID-19 symptoms, which are processed in laboratories.

Yet, rapid tests tend to detect people with high viral loads and no symptoms, who are among the most likely to be spreading the coronavirus.

In May, Manitoba announced it was sending thousands of rapid tests to 35 companies as varied as Air Canada, Pizza Hotline and Winkler Meats.

Some 34 per cent of Manitoba’s tests are now sitting with such partners but haven’t been used, which concerns Asagwara.

“The government needs to listen to the organizations that had been provided those rapid testing kits, and understand what the barriers are to them being put to use,” the MLA for Union Station said, arguing congregate workplaces could be using tests to prevent a pandemic fourth wave.

“Manitobans have suffered greatly, and they deserve for the premier and his cabinet to utilize every resource possible to keep Manitobans safe.”

Manitoba’s acting health minister, Kelvin Goertzen, was not made available Wednesday.

His office noted the lab tests are generally available for the public with results in 24 hours — despite the province’s COVID-19 website advising against asymptomatic people getting that test done.

“Rapid testing has been strategically used in communities and businesses where the spread of COVID-19 is at the greatest risk,” wrote spokesman Brant Batters, who said the province’s use of rapid testing will change as the pandemic evolves.

Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce says it asked the province in May for a program similar to Ontario and New Brunswick, where chambers have rolled out rapid tests to smaller businesses so they can screen employees for asymptomatic COVID-19.

No program appears in the works in Manitoba, which in May, started defining workplace outbreaks as having just two COVID-19 cases linked to a workplace.

“There’s an appetite from a lot of small- to medium-size employers, for increased access to a program like that, as the economy starts to reopen,” Alward said, especially as business start to plan larger events later in the year.

In recent weeks, Ottawa has gone over the heads of provinces to provide Shoppers Drug Mart with rapid antigen tests for employers who want to screen employees.

The program expanded to Manitoba on June 21, and those tests are not counted in the province’s numbers.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, July 5, 2021 11:00 AM CDT: Corrects number and percentage of deployed test that remain unused.

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