Canada plays catchup on rapid testing amid Omicron surge

Canadians will receive 140m rapid tests free throughout January, Justin Trudeau announced on Wednesday, as the country struggles to cope with record-breaking Covid case numbers.

“With the speed at which Omicron is propagating through our communities and through our country, it makes sense to have rapid testing,” said the prime minister.

The health minister Jean-Yves Duclos said that rapid tests are proving to be an important tool in the fight against Covid.

But the decision to invest in rapid testing marks a dramatic change in a country where – until last month – rapid tests were not commonly available, despite successful implementation in the US, UK and Europe.

The delay of rapid test adoption in Canadá was caused by a couple of factors, David Juncker, department chair of biomedical engineering at McGill University, le dijo al guardián.

He said a “false sense of perfection” on testing sensitivity and an unnecessarily complicated maze of rules prevented Canada from acquiring the rapid self-tests the country would have needed to slow the spread of Omicron.

“They were focused on sensitivity that they haven’t come around to understand this test is a public health test,” Juncker said.

The scientific community has known since the summer of 2020 that Covid-19 tests’ sensitivity is less important than the frequency and speed of testing, particularly when it comes to stopping asymptomatic people from spreading disease.

Concerns over sensitivity led to an over-reliance on PCR testing, and slowed down approvals and procurement deals for rapid tests. The current Omicron surge has provincial and territorial PCR facilities completely overwhelmed, which has led some to limit the public’s access to such testing.

Provincial governments have also played a key role in the slow adoption of rapid testing.

Canada acquired several million rapid tests at the end of 2020. sin embargo, most provinces failed to distribute the tests they were given over sensitivity concerns. Juncker said provinces claimed they wanted to do more research before rolling the tests out.

El miércoles, Trudeau was asked whether he had any qualms with the way provinces have chosen to distribute their supplies of rapid tests.

He said he hoped they would learn and share best practices, but that the federal government had no real say in the matter.

“Our job is to procure as many [pruebas] as we possibly can,” said Trudeau.

The first self-test in Canada was approved only on 23 abril 2021, six months after the FDA approved the same test for use in the US. All previously approved tests – including rapid tests – required professional administration or lab processing.

Most of the rapid self-tests now available in Canada were only approved in November and December of 2021, including Abbott’s Panbio rapid antigen test which was approved on 21 diciembre. En la actualidad, Canada has an agreement to procure up to 122.9m of those tests.

Canada’s increased supply may be a case of better late than never, although 140m a month may not quite cut it.

Juncker said with the highly transmissible Omicron, Canadians could need upwards of 600–700m tests a month. “Once the situation subsides, two tests a week [per person] should be fine," él dijo.

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