There is confusion and disappointment over changes to New Brunswick’s COVID-19 rapid test pick-up policy.
People seeking rapid tests are being required to schedule a pick-up appointment online rather than waiting in line at a distribution centre.
Under the previous policy, rapid tests could be secured on a first-come, first-served basis until daily supplies ran out.
But the province shifted to an appointment-based system, catching some by surprise.
New Brunswick Green Party MLA and health critic Megan Mitton said she did not know about the change. She said her constituency office was flooded with calls from people who said they had been turned away at a distribution centre in Port Elgin, N.B.
“They’ve gone out of their way to go pick up rapid test kits to protect themselves,” Mitton began. “To protect the people in their community, in our rural communities, and they’re being told to go home and register online.
“And then some people are going home, trying to find the site to register and calling my office and saying, ‘I don’t even know what they’re talking about.'”
Cars lined up for more than a kilometre in Grand Bay-Westfield, N.B., west of Saint John. Several people there without appointments reported being turned away by officials.
A Department of Health spokesperson told Global News the registration process is available on the government’s website where New Brunswick residents can book a test. After answering a few questions, the user is directed into a queue for booking an appointment to pick up rapid tests.
“It’s not okay for people to have shown up today,” Mitton said. “They had no warning. And I still think that, doing it this way, there may be some barriers to access.”
Vitalité Health Network confirmed the appointment process was in place Wednesday. Horizon Health Network later said the policy would take effect at its pick-up locations Thursday.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said the appointment-based strategy will help eliminate long pick-up lines.
“It also makes sure that people are getting them appropriately because when you click on the link it’ll ask you some questions,” Russell said. “So we want to direct people in the right way.”
Under new provincial guidelines that took effect Wednesday, PCR tests are being reserved for symptomatic people aged 50 and over, and those identified as a priority by public health. Everyone else is asked to use a rapid test and register COVID-positive results using a new online form.
“We’ve been in the pandemic for almost two years,” Mitton said. “And, at this point, for the communications to be this poor and to be this confusing is really unacceptable and really frustrating.”