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Rapid COVID-19 testing in Manitoba sees increased demand

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Rapid COVID-19 testing in Manitoba sees increased demand
As the holiday season approaches with growing COVID-19 case numbers, it's raising questions about whether or not rapid testing should be more accessible. Global's Abigail Turner explains – Dec 13, 2021

More than 2.7 million rapid COVID-19 tests have been distributed to Manitoba by the federal government to private businesses through the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. Since November 2020 the province has received about 2.7 million test kits at this time and has distributed nearly 1.5 million with over 1.2 million in inventory.

Now, any Manitoban who can afford to pay for one can visit a pharmacy to get a quicker COVID-19 test.

In a memo to pharmacists Friday, the Manitoba Pharmacists Association indicated that rapid tests can now be sold directly to the public through pharmacies. It was previously directed toward travellers or unvaccinated children participating in sports.

But the rapid test comes at a cost, anywhere between $40 to $100. Infectious disease physician Dr. Pamela Orr questions putting a price tag on public health.

Read more: Millions of unused rapid COVID-19 tests prompt calls for greater access to free swabs across Canada

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“Is it ethical for a health system to not use a tool that can be helpful in the middle of a pandemic?” Dr. Orr told Global News. “It’s a valuable tool that shouldn’t be sitting on a shelf.”

Dr. Orr says while PCR tests are considered the gold standard, accessible rapid tests could be useful in the holiday season when more group gatherings are taking place.

“If you’re bringing unvaccinated people to a Christmas gathering, maybe it’s children or unvaccinated cousins, you could use the test in areas of high transmission in this province.”

Health Canada-approved online retailers say they’ve seen a surge in demand as well.

“There’s certainly a lot of demand that we’re getting from the Prairie provinces across the board. Manitoba is a smaller province but the demand there has picked up substantially,” said Sandy White, founder of Rapid Test and Trace Canada.

His website ships rapid tests across Canada to individuals, institutions and governments.

Read more: How rapid tests are being used to test for COVID-19 across Canada

“Without question, there’s been a huge, huge surge in demand in the past few weeks, if not days,” White says.

“We’re seeing Canadians, I think, start to get prepared for the holidays and spend time with each other and wanting to do that safely.”

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Meanwhile, in other provinces, rapid tests are being made more accessible. Global News has confirmed Alberta pharmacies will soon be able to give out free rapid test kits to asymptomatic people who hold a valid Alberta health card.

On the east coast, Nova Scotia is making five types of take-home rapid tests available at public libraries across the province.

Manitoba says they currently have 1.2 million rapid tests in inventory, but the price tag for public health remains heading in to the holiday season.

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