Free COVID-19 rapid tests will be available until ‘at least’ July 31, Ontario says
Posted: April 1, 2022
(March 30, 2022)
By: Rob Ferguson, The Mississauga News
Free rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 will be available until “at least” July 31 as infection levels jump following the end of vaccination certificates and mandatory masking in most indoor public spaces in Ontario.
Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office announced the change late Wednesday afternoon. Widespread distribution of millions of free tests was to wrap up at the end of next week.
“As an important tool that helps the province manage and live with COVID-19, the government will continue to provide free rapid antigen tests to the general public through existing channels like grocery stores and pharmacies, as well as to workplaces, schools, hospitals, long-term care homes and other congregate settings,” Elliott spokeswoman Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement.
“The province will also continue to provide free rapid antigen tests for asymptomatic screening in highest risk sectors.”
The statement made no mention of the current surge that has seen infections, as measured by limited PCR tests, increase 18 per cent since last Wednesday, with hospitalizations up 24 per cent province-wide in the same period.
Some regional health units are stepping up efforts to fight the rising case count by encouraging residents to wear good-fitting masks in indoor public settings and get vaccinated or boosted if they haven’t done so.
“The COVID-19 wastewater viral signal is very high and increasing,” Ottawa public health officer Dr. Vera Etches said Wednesday, noting that the rate of people testing positive is also rising.
Meanwhile, a prominent public health lobby group wants to see the return of widespread free PCR testing for COVID-19, arguing limiting who qualifies is forcing people to private labs — an alleged breach of the Canada Health Act.
“The Ford government strictly curtailed public (PCR) testing, forcing Ontarians to use the private, for-profit clinics or go without, and increasingly we’ve been receiving complaints from patients about exorbitant charges for COVID-19 tests in the private clinics,” Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition told a news conference Wednesday.
It’s a violation of “the Canada Health Act prohibition against charging user fees for medically necessary services,” Mehra said. PCR tests range in cost from $129 to $200 or more.