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B.C. waiting for take-home rapid COVID-19 tests to arrive in January

Nurse-administered tests in use at remote sites, work camps
Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston holds up a COVID-19 rapid test kit. The take-home kits are being distributed to Yukon First Nations by the federal government. (CYFN/Facebook)

B.C.’s health ministry is using 35,000 rapid COVID-19 screening tests a week in places like remote Indigenous communities and outbreak locations such as universities, schools and prisons, but it is still waiting for the federal government to provide at-home tests that don’t require a health professional to take the sample.

Health Minister Adrian Dix says Health Canada is “working hard to get us those tests,” which are in huge demand world-wide, particularly as the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus has begun showing up.

“We’re expecting a supply of these at-home tests to arrive from the federal government in mid to late January,” Dix said at a pandemic briefing in Vancouver Dec. 14. “We will be taking immediate action. Those will be provided and a plan will be laid out for the use of those tests.”

Alberta has begun offering take-home tests in its infection program, to screen people who have been exposed so they can be referred for a more accurate PCR test that confirms coronavirus infection. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there are several types of rapid tests approved for use in Canada, but some are not available yet in every province.

“Unfortunately, there is a global supply issue with many of these tests,” Henry said. “We have not been able to get them in, in the numbers that would be helpful for us across Canada or here in B.C. yet.“

Henry said she is hoping to get “lateral flow” tests, a kind being used in the United Kingdom, that can be packaged in kits of five so people can use them for screening after a potential exposure from a family member, at school or in the community. People in isolation can then “serial test” with the rapid test to determine if or when they are shedding enough virus to get a PCR test at a clinic.

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