Ontario hopes to distribute rapid tests at ‘population level’ but supply not expected to improve until at least mid-January: official

Ontario’s top public health official says that the government still plans on distributing rapid tests “at a population level” but isn’t likely to have sufficient supply to do so until at least mid-January.

The province distributed approximately two million free rapid tests at pop up sites at shopping malls and transit stations over the last several weeks but demand significantly exceeded supply with some residents lining up overnight just to get their hands on one of the test kits.

A select number of LCBOs that were given the kits to hand out before the holidays also ran out in less than a day.

In an interview with CP24 on Friday morning, Chief Medical Officer of Health. Dr. Kieran Moore said that the province still intends to distribute rapid tests but is dealing with dealing with a global supply issue that is likely to make them scarce for at least the next several weeks.

His comments come as a new policy limiting publicly-funded PCR testing to select high-risk individuals takes effect.

“It is absolutely in our plan to distribute more (rapid tests) at a population level to make them accessible and available now that we have to limit the PCR but please bear with us as we negotiate on the international market to have them available to Ontarians,” he said. “We anticipate second or third week of January that we’ll have more to distribute. Right now we need them to protect our workplaces in long-term care, in cancer wards, in transplant centers where we’re trying to protect patients by testing workers asymptomatically in those areas.”

The final planned pop-up sites to distribute rapid tests to the general public are taking place this morning at Hillcrest Mall in Richmond Hill and Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket.

It is unclear when the tests will be made available to most Ontarians again but Moore said that he anticipates the government will be able to make an announcement in “the coming weeks.”

In the meantime, he urged residents to continue to use caution and to isolate for a period of five days should they develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Residents who are not fully vaccinated should isolate for a period of 10 days.

“I don’t necessarily have a crystal ball but we’re absolutely accelerating throughout January. I do hope we’ll be on the descent in February and in March we’ll have population immunity plus immunity through our robust immunization strategy and head us off for spring and summer with a very strong protection at a population level,” Moore said of the weeks ahead. “So that’s our hope. I do think January is going to be a rough month for us and we’ll be watching the data closely.”

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