The Ontario government says free rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 will be made available at select grocery stores and pharmacies across the province.
The expansion of the testing strategy begins Wednesday.
A limit of one box with five tests per household will be given out per visit.
Some participating retailers include: Costco, Shoppers Drug Mart, Loblaws, Metro, Food Basics, Rexall, Sobeys, Real Canadian Superstore, Longo’s, Walmart, among others.
At Longo’s, tests will be made available through online grocery delivery order, then shifting to in-store pick-up.
Initially, Walmart said it would make the test kits available online with grocery pickup orders but no in-store pickup.
But, the company said those looking to pick up through an online grocery order would have to have a minimum order of at least $35.
However, in a tweet Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford said “free means free.”
“We’re providing #RapidTests free of charge and all participating partners are expected to honour that – no minimums or mandatory purchase,” he wrote. “If they don’t, we’ll give them to retailers or pharmacies that will.”
In an update Wednesday evening, Walmart changed course, saying the company’s intention of distributing the tests through online grocery pickup was to “avoid long lines in Ontario stores and offer them in a safe, efficient and equitable manner.”
“We’ve heard the concerns raised and will make kits available in these stores for free,” the tweet reads.
The government said a total of 2,406 sites are participating in distributing rapid tests. This includes 2,385 grocery and pharmacy stores with 21 high-priority community lead agencies.
Almost all of these sites will be able to start distributing the tests by Wednesday, officials said.
Officials also said there will be no tracking or barriers in accessing the rapid tests. Retailers are not required to take down health cards or names to ensure the allotment of one test kit per household. Officials said they hope Ontarians will respect the one box per household limit.
The government said participating locations will not be advertised broadly to ensure direct communities and targeted populations have ready access to the tests without lineups and to discourage others from travelling to get the tests.
Retailers were selected based on who was able to transport and properly store the tests — officials noted the tests must remain at room temperature and cannot be frozen.
Up to 5.5 million test boxes per week will be made available over the next eight weeks to the general public.
Officials said after the eight weeks, the government will reassess the need and demand afterwards as the province gradually reopens the economy.
Read more: Ontario changes PCR COVID testing eligibility, isolation reduced for fully vaccinated to 5 days
In December, the government restricted PCR testing to the most vulnerable and highest risk settings such as health care, long-term care and other congregate settings. Free testing was not available for the wider public.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Wednesday that PCR testing limitations will remain.
The expanded use of rapid antigen tests is being recommended for people with symptoms, people without symptoms as screening, and for “test-to-work” purposes to meet critical workforce needs in the highest-risk settings only.
Elliott said the rapid tests should not be used on asymptomatic people who want to go out for a social gathering or to a party. She said testing would be appropriate if it’s to see a senior family member or someone who is immunocompromised.
The province said so far it has deployed almost 76 million rapid tests.