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Quebec pharmacies may stop distributing free COVID-19 rapid tests

Click to play video: 'Quebec pharmacists set to stop handing out free COVID-19 rapid tests in March'
Quebec pharmacists set to stop handing out free COVID-19 rapid tests in March
WATCH: Getting a complimentary box of COVID-19 rapid tests at a pharmacy in Quebec may soon be a thing of the past. An agreement between pharmacies and the government expires on March 31. As Global's Felicia Parrillo reports, the health ministry insists discussions are in the works and that people will be notified if there is a change in the distribution process. – Jan 16, 2023

At the Proxim pharmacy in Montreal’s Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood, there are dozens of COVID-19 rapid tests on hand.

Long gone are the days when clients lined up outside in hopes of getting their hands on a box, but the pharmacy says it still hands out about two to four boxes a day.

“It’s slowing down, but it’s stable for at least three months,” said Benoit Morin, head of Quebec’s Pharmacist-Owners Association and owner of the Proxim on Sherbrooke Street.

READ MORE: Quebecers wait in long lineups for free rapid COVID-19 test kits

In December 2021, the government announced that COVID-19 rapid tests would be made available to the general population through select pharmacies. People would have access to five free tests every 30 days.

Click to play video: 'How reliable are rapid antigen tests against Omicron?'
How reliable are rapid antigen tests against Omicron?

In an email to Global News Monday, a spokesperson for Quebec’s health and social services ministry said the agreement for the distribution of rapid tests by pharmacists expires on March 31.

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“Discussions are ongoing as to where we go from here. If changes are made to the distribution of rapid tests in Quebec, the information will be provided in due time.”

“We’ll see what the public health will (decide), but we will need the tests to prescribe Paxlovid and things like that,” said Morin.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Some Quebec high school students falling through rapid testing cracks

Morin says last year, Quebec pharmacies handed out about 8 million boxes. That’s 40 million tests.

But in recent months, the demand has declined – he says pharmacies now give out on average about 300,000 boxes a month.

Dr. Christopher Labos, an epidemiologist, says instead of halting free rapid tests, the government should be thinking about expanding the idea, arguing it would lessen the burden on family doctors and ERs.

“We should be able to test for COVID, influenza, RSV,” he said. “We should be able to test for these things because they are easy to treat and they are easy to control, if you adopt very basic public health strategies. But the first step to all that is testing.”

Morin says there’s still time to renew the contract.

He hopes it’ll be done before the March expiry.

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