OTTAWA — Days after promising an onslaught of COVID-19 rapid test kits for provinces, the federal Liberals still haven’t given Manitoba a date or amount to plan for.

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This article was published 14/12/2021 (196 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Days after promising an onslaught of COVID-19 rapid test kits for provinces, the federal Liberals still haven’t given Manitoba a date or amount to plan for.

“We are currently waiting on information from the federal government on timelines and quantity of tests to be received,” a Central Services spokeswoman wrote Monday.

On Dec. 8, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said provinces had “substantially increased” their requests for rapid tests, and Ottawa would be responding.

“We are very soon going to deliver to provinces and territories a very large amount of rapid tests — much larger than what we’ve seen over the last few months,” he told reporters, adding Dec. 10 this would be around 35 million tests.

Yet, the province said Monday it had no clue how many are actually coming; the Public Health Agency of Canada said it did not have an immediate response.

Last week, epidemiologist Dr. Souradet Shaw suggested Manitoba come up with a strategy for how to get these tests into public hands, after a rollout that has almost exclusively focused on employers trying to cut down on the risk of a workplace outbreak, and routine testing for people exempted from vaccination mandates.

In Saskatchewan, kits of five rapid tests are available free to the public at libraries and community centres, with that province encouraging people to test asymptomatic family members once or twice a week.

Canada’s chief public health officer said Monday she’d like to see provinces use these tests, and her team is providing guidance on how best to do so.

“We need to use everything we have available to add those layers of protection, of which a rapid test is one,”Dr. Theresa Tam said, in response to questions from the Free Press.

“We’re hoping that communities all get access to the tools that they need.”

Ottawa provides tests and technical guidance, but doesn’t set pandemic responses, Tam noted. So she instead tries to share best practices between the provinces’ top doctors in regular calls.

Tam says that’s primarily in high-risk settings (such as for health-care workers and homeless shelters) or helping remote communities that have to fly out samples for laboratory testing.

She also cited routine testing in schools and some workplaces.

Manitoba said last week its own data suggest rapid tests only have 30 per cent sensitivity for detecting asymptomatic cases of COVID-19, versus 70 per cent sensitivity for symptomatic ones, and an existing program of screening non-COVID hospital patients shows just one case per 500 asymptomatic people screened.

Tam struck a similar tone Monday.

“Under circumstances of low prevalence or low case loads, you actually have to test a lot of people to find a single positive. And so that means we do still have to be prudent, in using these rapid tests in the most appropriate way, at the right time, for the right populations,” she said.

But Tam added the tests could be more helpful as a variant like omicron takes hold in a region or workplace.

“You can use those rapid tests quickly, to gain a sense of what are the edges of this outbreak; how many people might be involved, but also as a preventive measure to essentially manage that outbreak.”

While lab tests are much more accurate, 15-minute rapid tests can detect people who have high loads of coronavirus, similar to how a pregnancy test doesn’t always detect someone who’s only recently started expecting.

Experts have thus characterized rapid tests are an extra layer of protection — a screening tool but not a surefire test, and one that must come alongside vaccination, masking and ventilation.

Dylan Robertson

Dylan Robertson
Parliamentary bureau chief

In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"