On Tuesday, PHSA shared a post on its website on Twitter, touting how staff worked to make rapid antigen tests “widely available” when Omicron hit in December and January.
In reality, rapid tests were only made available in very small numbers to those who were denied a PCR test in those months. They were not widely available to the general public until March.
B.C. General Employees’ Union treasurer Paul Finch tweeted in response that his organization demanded rapid tests for months out of an “occupational health and safety” need for its members.
“(We) were denied while over a million rapid tests sat in a warehouse. The response wasn’t rapid, it wasn’t even adequate, it was failure,” he wrote.
After significant online backlash, PHSA tweeted about two hours later that it had clarified its post to say that tests “were first available at collection centres in December, then increasingly more widely available from January onward.”
Back in early December as the Omicron wave took hold, rapid tests grew to become an everyday part of the public health response in countries like the U.K. and Germany.
Health officials in B.C. faced increasing calls to make rapid tests more available outside of long-term care, with many people, especially parents, reporting they could only find them online or having to wait for hours outside PCR test clinics with the hopes of not being turned away.
At the time, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said rapid tests were not yet widely available because, across the country, using rapid tests for asymptomatic people, especially those who were fully vaccinated, was yielding low results.
Ontario took 31.3 million tests from the federal government and had used about 30 per cent of them at the time of Henry’s response, while Alberta had received 11.2 million tests and used about 15 per cent.
B.C., meanwhile, received just 3.2 million tests and used only used 10 per cent of them — about 300,000 tests.
Later in December, health officials announced an expansion to its rapid-test program, making about 700,000 at-home tests available at sample collection sites for people showing COVID-19 symptoms and releasing an additional half million to manage outbreaks in the general population.