Medical experts are questioning why rapid antigen tests aren’t more accessible across Canada, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise and more is being learned about the Omicron variant.
Some provinces, like Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have the tests available throughout communities for free. In B.C., tests are distributed through the government to various industries and organizations, like care homes and detention centres, which meet a criteria, but aren’t directly or easily available for the general public. Ontario follows a similar model, and in the coming weeks will offer pop-up testing sites at high-trafficked areas. Otherwise, rapid antigen tests are available to the general public at Shoppers Drug Mart for $40. Some medical professionals are adamant that this isn’t helping to quell the spread of the virus.
Naheed Dosani, a Toronto-based palliative care physician, has taken to social media to express his concern.
Good morning & happy Tuesday to everyone advocating for the Ontario government to distribute free COVID rapid tests to all. Making people spend $40 at Shoppers Drug Mart when other provinces are giving them out for free, just isn’t fair.
Make. Rapid. Tests. Accessible. Now.
— Naheed Dosani (@NaheedD) December 7, 2021
He says case numbers are the highest they’ve been since the spring time, and as they rise, more needs to be done.
“We aren’t using every tool in our toolbox to support a layered approach to breaking the chain of COVID-19 transmission,” he tells Yahoo Canada News. “Rapid tests are an excellent tool to control transmission until the pandemic is over.”
He adds that if people were able to test themselves at home once or twice a week, it would be an effective measure to avoid further lockdowns or restrictions, in the face of Omicron, the latest variant of concern.
“There’s a real opportunity to not only prevent the spread of transmission but also to normalize and remind people that COVID-19 is present in our communities and keep people safe,” Dosani says.
Many have taken to social media to express their concern and frustration over the lack of affordable and available rapid testing.
Why is it virtually impossible to get Rapid Antigen Tests or N95 masks in BC? Why is proper ventilation not a high priority in BC? Why has BC become the laggard in delivery of kid vax & booster shots (many still don’t even have their 2nd shot!!) DBH: Its time to act not “chill”.
— Arlis (@arlisfrench) December 9, 2021
The widespread lack of free rapid tests in Canada (Nova Scotia & a few small examples excluded) is a scandal. Where is the investigation by media? BC seems to be the worst but it's not just BC. Failing to catch cases leads to deaths. Indefensible. #FreeTheRATs #cdnpoli #bcpoli
— Lindsay Brown (@Lidsville) December 8, 2021
OK Canada. I think we need to double down, on everything. I call on the feds to provide a respirator-style mask free of charge, to each Canadian, each week. And seven free rapid tests/week per household. Let's use collective action to keep us safe. #BreatheandTestFree
— 𝙹𝚘𝚎 𝚅𝚒𝚙𝚘𝚗𝚍 (@jvipondmd) December 5, 2021
Hey Ontario: our province is failing us. Arrived at NS airport & was given 2 COVID take home tests. Testing clinics all over the city. Ppl test before seeing loved ones, test at the 1st sign of a cold. And there’s contact tracing. COVID is still here but we’re not living in fear. pic.twitter.com/K7OEPpWwnV
— Megan Leslie (@MeganALeslie) December 6, 2021
Almost anywhere else in the world a free rapid antigen test is available. In Ford’s Ontario though you have to pay $40 at a drugstore. Millions are available. Ford’s priority - donors and shareholders - always. Cases are exploding in schools. Pass free tests out. #onpoli #onted
— Colin MacKay (@coljmackay) December 8, 2021
What Ontario needs, is vending machines stocked with Covid rapid test kits, and paid for with credit or debit cards.
— Bernard Bennell (@biagioni03) December 7, 2021
The encouragement of vaccine uptake, contrasted with
the reticence of Ontario's rapid-test availability is
strange. It's as if the government provided windshields
for vehicles, but impedes the distribution of wiper blades.
𝔽𝕣𝕖𝕖 𝕋𝕙𝕖 ℝ𝔸𝕋𝕊
🎄🎵 ᴅᴏꜰᴏ ʜᴏ ʜᴏ ʜᴏ
— ░1░M░a░r░z░i░p░a░n░ #COVIDisAirborne (@1marzipan) December 7, 2021
As someone who recently moved from #Ontario to #NovaScotia, I couldn’t agree more that the widespread availability & use of rapid test kits for #COVID19 is making life here much, much better. It’s empowering & freeing. #testtoprotect #RapidTests https://t.co/0FYaeo5Cwc
— Melissa Peneycad (@melissapeneycad) December 7, 2021
A petition on Change.org was also launched this week aimed at Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government to make rapid antigen tests available to every household in Ontario.
The rapid antigen tests are meant for people who don’t have any of the symptoms of COVID-19, which include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Dosani says that 30-40 per cent of adults and 50 per cent of children who are infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic.
“Regular surveillance can prove to be a useful tool for these folks,” he says. “If you have no systems and you test positive for this, then you know not to go to the party and you keep people safe. It’s especially important as we go into the winter and we’re inside more with the holidays coming. Why aren’t we doing more to protect Ontarians?”
Dosani adds that charging upwards of $40 for these tests is unreasonable, considering how many people who’ve been hit hard over the pandemic, especially when other countries like the UK and Germany are making them readily available for free or for a few dollars.