As of Oct. 6, anyone wanting a COVID-19 test in Ontario will need an appointment at all assessment centres and select pharmacies, the provincial government announced.
The move aims to address long line ups at testing centres in Ontario. To help with the huge backlog of swabs needing analysis, Canada has also ordered antigen tests that don’t require a lab or a device. Antigen tests identify the presence of virus-specific molecules that trigger an immune response in the body. Antigens exist outside the virus.
Only those who have symptoms or who are in high risk groups should get tested at the provincial facilities, advise health authorities.
People who are asymptomatic may get tested at certain Ontario pharmacies, also by appointment only.
To avoid the long waits, people have been seeking tests at private health clinics.
Health Canada is looking into these reports of for-profit tests being offered to people who want to pay to bypass the long line ups. Federal health minister Patty Hajdu has been critical of the practice.
“Generally, no, we prefer that there isn’t a two tier public health system,” she told reporters.
The backlog of approximately 68,000 tests that need to be analyzed has prompted the Ontario government to send the swabs south of the border.
A spokesperson at Ontario’s Ministry of Health announced that Ontario would be “working with third party providers, such as Quest Diagnostics, to process more tests and achieve provincial testing targets.”
Quest Diagnostics is one of the largest testing chains in the United States.
Meanwhile, the federal government has ordered its first antigen rapid test which does not need to be sent to a lab for analysis.
The Panbio Antigen test, made by Abbott rapid Diagnostics has just been approved by Health Canada and can help identify people who have been exposed to the virus.
“Antigen test are expected to have a few advantages, including being easier to perform with limited training and being able to be done at the point of care with more rapid results,” Hajdu said on Monday. “The Panbio test is quick and easy to use and the result are available in about 20 minutes.”
The federal government has ordered 20.5 million of the tests. When they will be distributed to the provinces and territories is still not known.
Last week, Health Canada also approved the order for ID Now tests from Abbott. The ID Now molecular tests require an analyzer box to get results but provide a quicker preliminary diagnosis. The new Panbio antigen test, which is similar to a pregnancy test, does not need an analyzer box to get results within 15 minutes.