COVID-19 rapid antigen tests: Medical experts call out Canada for not making 'every tool in the toolbox' accessible to fight virus

·5 min read
COVID-19 rapid antigen tests: Medical experts call out Canada for not making 'every tool in the toolbox' accessible to fight virus

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.

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.

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.

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