The federal government announced it will send 140 million COVID-19 rapid tests to provinces and territories, saying the tests were an important tool to combat the pandemic.
“I think we all understand that rapid testing is going to be part of the path through [the pandemic],” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a press conference on Jan. 5.
The move comes as access to testing has proven challenging in certain jurisdictions, with test kits running out or authorities rationing them for certain vulnerable populations.
Trudeau was joined by other officials including Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam as they provided an update on the COVID-19 situation in the country.
Trudeau acknowledged Canadians’ frustration as they face fresh pandemic-related health measures and restrictions sparked by the Omicron variant.
“There’s no magic bullet on this. None of us want to be here right now,” he said.
“But we know what to do to get through it. And I know Canadians will continue to do it. Even though we’re tired. Even though we’re frustrated. We can get through this together.”
On the federal response, Trudeau said 120 million rapid tests had already been delivered to provinces and territories. Two hundred Canadian Forces members were also being deployed in Quebec to help with vaccination, and the government has expanded eligibility for programs helping those affected by public health restrictions.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said despite the fast spread of the Omicron variant, “there are many reasons for us to be hopeful and optimistic about the future.”
Duclos said the country has made significant progress, with 7 million vaccine booster doses administered throughout the country, and over 40 percent of children aged 5-11 having received a first dose of vaccine.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland also gave an update, saying “the federal government has provided eight out of every $10 spent in Canada to fight the pandemic and to support Canadians.”
Freeland said the government has expanded eligibility for financial support to businesses affected by lockdowns by temporarily lowering the threshold for revenue decline from 40 to 25 percent. An additional 25 percent in rent support for businesses affected by a full lockdown was also made available.
Tam said health officials were not currently considering changing the definition of what constitutes being “fully vaccinated,” but the question could be revisited again once vaccine booster programs have “rolled out significantly.”
Tam said the vaccines available globally offer “substantial protection against severe outcomes,” but are “not as good as reducing infection rates with the Omicron virus, even though it can be boosted somewhat with a booster dose.”
Tam also addressed the issue of jurisdictions reducing the quarantine time from ten to five days for vaccinated individuals.
She said the most precautionary approach is to have longer isolation periods but noted the need for society to keep functioning, “particularly the health system, as well as other critical infrastructures.”
“Those are the difficult decisions that provinces have to make,” she said.