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The Manitoba government says it is developing a strategic plan to sort out the backlog of COVID-19 tests and increase access to rapid antigen test kits, but the province is not ready to divulge details yet.

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This article was published 31/12/2021 (340 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Manitoba government says it is developing a strategic plan to sort out the backlog of COVID-19 tests and increase access to rapid antigen test kits, but the province is not ready to divulge details yet.

Demand for tests is growing as new COVID-19 cases are reported at a record pace. Lineups at provincial testing sites are becoming very long and people are waiting days to learn their results.

Reg Helwer, Central Services minister and Progressive Conservative MLA for Brandon West, addressed some of these concerns on Thursday.

File Central Services Minister Reg Helwer

He explained lab testing capacity is the issue and stressed that this situation is changing constantly and they are reacting to those demands as fast as they can.

The wait time is too long, Helwer said, which is why they are making rapid test kits available and activating more testing sites.

Even as rapid tests come to the forefront, people are still required to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm if they are infected with the virus.

“It’s under consideration whether they would accept a rapid test or what the best process is moving ahead,” Helwer said. “We are reacting, as the rest of the world is, to this ever-changing situation and finding new processes. We have advanced testing, and we are looking at opening up sites when we can and making sure swabbing capacity is there. We are sending rapid testing kits to those sites to enhance testing capacity.”

Most test kits are being distributed in Winnipeg, which currently has the highest daily case counts. Kits will be dispensed to other sites around the province in the near future, but Helwer couldn’t say exactly when they would arrive.

With such high demand, there are concerns of people and businesses taking advantage of shortages — and ahead of schools. The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce administered test kits to businesses that applied for them, Helwer said, and the province will work with Manitoba Education to get rapid testing kits to schools across the province for students from kindergarten to Grade 6.

“Everybody in the world is looking at how to acquire these tests,” he said. “We have partnered with the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and they receive applications from businesses and send them out to those [businesses].”

More rapid test kits have been requested from the federal government, but they have to wait like every other province. Helwer explained they can’t just order any test on the market — they must be approved by Health Canada.

“If you go back to October 2020, you will see where I asked the federal government for rapid tests and placed orders immediately for those test kits,” he said. “We waited a long time to receive any of those [test kits].”

The province has been distributing KN95 masks to the public through Manitoba Liquor Marts. However, it didn’t take long before some of those businesses ran out. Masks have also been made available at some MLAs’ constituency offices.

“This is continuing. We are looking at our inventory to see how we can help Manitobans best get these masks in people’s hands,” he said.

He couldn’t say how many tests were awaiting processing as of Thursday.

On Monday, Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said there were more than 11,500 tests that had yet to be processed.

This is a sign of not enough being done upstream to care for people’s health, said NDP Leader Wab Kinew. He pointed the finger at former premier Brian Pallister and his refusal of more rapid test kits from the federal government.

“For many people in Manitoba, testing kits are out of reach,” Kinew said. “I’ve heard from many in Winnipeg and other places that they are very hard to come by. In other jurisdictions, people are getting them in places like libraries.”

Going forward, Kinew said there needs to be solid direction and specific steps from public health on how surging cases are being managed. His immediate concerns are keeping schools open and continuing youth sports so students have the fewest disruptions to their lives.

» kmckinley@brandonsun.com

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