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Facing mounting pressure to reduce long waits for COVID-19 screening, Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen promised new increased testing capacity "in a matter of days."

The measures will include increasing throughput at current sites and adding new test sites, he said.

"We know there are Manitobans who are saying they are waiting for service at those sites. That is a concern to us," Friesen told a news conference Monday. "We are doubling the number of sites in Winnipeg over the next few weeks."

For weeks, Winnipeggers have waited hours in line to receive a nose swab to screen for COVID-19 — frequently only to be turned away after a screening site had reached its capacity for the day.

The COVID-19 mobile testing centre at Portage Avenue and Erin Street has been busy since opening last week. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)


The COVID-19 mobile testing centre at Portage Avenue and Erin Street has been busy since opening last week. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Asked how Manitoba wound up in this situation, Friesen said other jurisdictions are facing the same pressures.

"Why is Kitchener (Ont.), why is Edmonton, why is Saskatoon, why is Montreal dealing with these issues? These are issues that are common to all provinces," he said.

Earlier in the pandemic, elective surgeries were put on hold, freeing up staff to be redeployed elsewhere. Now many of these health workers are back at their old jobs.

"The same people who are asking for (additional) screening sites are also asking for their hip or their knee surgery or their cataract surgery or their endoscopy procedure to be done. And we have said yes to all," Friesen said.

Asked if a shortage of nurses was standing in the way of increased screening capacity, the minister said: "It's a variety of factors, not just one factor."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the province knew long ago it would require increased testing capacity in the fall.

Kinew said Monday he believes the main problem is a reluctance on the part of the cost-conscious Pallister government to spend the money necessary to get the job done.

"This is a slow-moving train that has been coming down the tracks at us for more than six months," the Opposition leader said. "It's inexcusable and it's indefensible that the government doesn't have an answer on testing after so long."

If Friesen is looking for creative ideas, Kinew said his party have several.

Lineups at test sites are a common site. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Lineups at test sites are a common site. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"We could bring in fast-tracked international accreditation for people who are nurses in other countries and are working here as health-care aides. We could bring back retired nurses. If this pandemic is going to last a year or two, why aren't we training more people? There's a ton of things we could be doing," but the province doesn't seem willing to pay for them, he said.

"Most of the solutions involve hiring more people and this government seems to be dead set against having more people working in the public sphere."

Friesen said the government is looking at being "very creative" in how it tackles the capacity issue, although he offered few hints at what those innovations might entail.

The province named a "point person" last week to spearhead its analysis of the problem, he said.

Health regions are being asked to explore how they might beef up staffing at screening sites, how they can lengthen operating hours at the sites and how the centres can be more efficient, the minister said.

Already, he noted, the new screening facility at 1181 Portage Ave. has seen its daily capacity rise to 100 swabs a day from 75.

On Monday, the province announced 2,313 coronavirus laboratory tests were completed Friday, 2,070 on Saturday, and 1,235 on Sunday.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said private and public labs in Manitoba can now process 3,000 COVID-19 tests per day.

— with files from Carol Sanders

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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