Asymptomatic Ontarians who want to get tested for COVID-19 may soon be able to avoid the “ridiculous” lineups at some assessment centres and head to their local pharmacy instead, according to Premier Doug Ford.

There have been large lineups reported at many of the assessment centres across the GTA in recent days with some people enduring waits of up to three hours just to get a test.

The lineups, along with reports of some people being turned away, prompted Mayor John Tory on Monday to call for the hours at assessment centres to be extended.

At his daily COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, Ford was asked about the lines and conceded that they have gotten “ridiculous” while stressing that officials with his government are “on it.”

He said that one way that the waits could be reduced is through the testing of asymptomatic individuals at pharmacies, something that could be formally announced in the coming days.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce also told reporters earlier in the day that existing mobile testing units could be used at schools should they be needed.

“I am not going to say that 100 per cent but I can tell you we are all over it. I had a personal call with the CEO of Shoppers (Drug Mart) today and I don’t want to just mention Shoppers because there are other great pharmacies out there that are willing to jump in but we are doing everything we can to move this forward rapidly,” Ford said. “Just stay tuned over the next day or two and we will have an announcement. I just don’t want to announce anything until all the ducks are in a row there.”


Officials did anticipate some increase in demand for tests

Ontario was last in Canada on a per capita basis for testing earlier in the pandemic but has now led the country in that statistic for several months, turning around another 27,664 tests over just the last 24 hours.

The large numbers of people opting to get tested in recent days and weeks has, however, lead to big lineups at some assessment centres.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that Ontario health officials “did anticipate an increase in the lineups” at assessment centres particularly with students heading back to school “but not to this extent.”

“The good news here is that people are going to be tested. If they have concerns, if they have some symptoms, if they feel that they have been in touch with somebody with COVID-19 we want them to be tested. But they also deserve to be tested in a timely manner and we are aware that there are some significant lineups in many parts of Ontario,” she told reporters. “We are looking at the best way to address those issues whether it be through pharmacies, through labs or other ways to enhance our assessment facilities.”

Ford said that the plan is to allow asymptomatic individuals to get tested at some pharmacy locations, thus “taking the burden off” assessment centres that “potentially have a lot more sick people.”

The idea is similar to a system already in use in Alberta, where Loblaws has been offering COVID-19 testing at all of its pharmacy locations since August.

“The whole problem with testing has been significant from day one and as we move more and more indoors and more and more kids start getting back into the classrooms the testing situation is going to be worse not better,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath predicted during a scrum with reporters at Queen’s Park earlier on Tuesday. “It is pretty frightening that we are on the cusp of wave two and the government hasn’t learned its lessons when it comes to the faultiness of their wave one response.”