Some Brandon business owners are frustrated over long wait times to apply for the federal government’s COVID-19 rapid test kit program.
Micheal Smith, owner of Patches Family Restaurant, said he was delighted when he found out about a federal program that provides COVID rapid antigen test kits to small- and medium-sized businesses for an upfront cost of $14. Buying test kits for his staff of 10, including himself, would prove expensive as they retail for around $35 to $45 at pharmacies.
He wasn’t expecting a nearly two-week wait time just to be approved to apply, though.
"When I logged on the website and put in my information, it said I qualified and got a message that it would be about four business days for approval — [but] it took eight business days just to get approval to apply," he said.
He received notice of his approval to apply on Tuesday.
While he understands demand for these test kits is extremely high across the province, he questions why it took so long when he was given a specific time frame.
The federal government established the Rapid Antigen Test Initiative to distribute rapid tests to small- and medium-sized businesses. According to the Government of Canada website, businesses who are approved can receive rapid tests from pharmacies if they are an incorporated business, have 10 to 199 employees, and are in an industry that is currently open under provincial guidelines. Businesses can apply to pick up their tests from a Shoppers Drug Mart and accept their terms and conditions, or register with another participating pharmacy.
The tests are to be used for regular workplace screening of employees who are required to be on-site.
Businesses and not-for-profit organizations are eligible to apply.
Working in a restaurant, Smith said he and his staff definitely need these kits to keep themselves and their patrons safe. At the time he applied, he was told he could get up to 10 boxes with five tests per box and the small upfront cost. That sounded ideal to him, he said, as he could give a box to each staff member.
"We are a restaurant and we definitely need these because we work with the public," Smith said. "I got lucky, though. My sister mailed me two boxes from Ontario, so I can test myself, but I am very limited on what I can get."
So far, he had only tried the online portal to acquire test kits.
Another Brandon business owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said he signed up for the program, too, and was ecstatic to find out the tests were so affordable.
As of Tuesday afternoon, he had been waiting two weeks, as well as weeks for pharmacies to get supplies for the program. He agreed businesses need these tests to keep their workplaces safe for themselves and their customers, adding no one can expect an employee to pay $35 to $45 for their own test every time someone feels ill because there are no supplies to take home.
The governments are stressing safety in the workplace, but are not providing the tools to help them, he added.
While looking at other locations where the tests were available for purchase, the cost was either too high or the product was out of stock.
The program is supposed to help provinces and territories deal with heightened demands for testing kits and long lineups at testing sites.
The province has been making rapid antigen test kits available to businesses through an agreement with the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce to distribute them to employers, but that program was recently placed on hold.
Brandon Chamber of Commerce president Barry Cooper said the chamber is always willing to work with the government to distribute test kits.
"We want these kits out there and in the hands of business owners and employees," he said. "This will help businesses stay open and safe, because if they are not feeling well, they can check themselves quickly and isolate if it is a positive case, [therefore] protecting the public and reducing time off. It also gives the public confidence staff are protecting them as well."
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