Ontario is expecting to receive up to 119 million Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) this month as residents have been scrambling to find free tests amid record-breaking coronavirus infections in the province.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Health held a technical briefing and laid out how many RATs the province is expecting to receive this month as the kits are in high demand amid a lack of supply.
Officials say the province has procured 65 million RATs in December and January, which will be prioritized for health care and congregate settings.
In addition, Ontario requested 68.6 million RATs from the federal government but Ottawa only committed to providing 54.3 million RATs, the ministry says. Confirmation of the remaining 14 million is still pending.
Of the 54.3 million RATs coming from the federal government, health officials say only 150,000 have been delivered and approximately nine million have been scheduled for delivery. However, the remaining 45 million have not yet been scheduled.
In December, Ontario received only 3.4 million tests from the federal government.
However, Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has repeatedly said that Ontario only asked for five million tests last month.
Yesterday, the federal government announced that it would be distributing 140 million rapid tests to provinces and territories on a per-capita basis throughout January- four times the number delivered in December.
Ontario’s Ministry of Health anticipates that approximately 18 million tests will be used in health care and congregate settings weekly throughout January, virtually using all tests they expect to receive for the month.
As of Jan. 3, 54.3 million tests have been deployed in the province and 380,000 remain in inventory. Most of the tests deployed (22.61 million) were handed out to long-term care and retirement homes, and hospitals.
The new shipment of tests comes as long lineups have been recently forming at pop-up sites, including LCBO locations and malls, that were handing out free RATs in the Greater Toronto Area.
The government has been heavily criticized for the scarcity of tests available and the lack of organization with distributing the tests, especially in light of new testing protocols announced last week.
Publicly-funded polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are now limited to high-risk individuals only, including those experiencing homelessness, First Nations communities and those who seek treatment in emergency rooms.
With PCR tests now restricted to roughly 70 per cent of Ontario’s population, the province is acknowledging that RATs will play a bigger role in the highest-risk settings.
RATs will be prioritized for “test-to-work” purposes in high-risk settings with critical work shortages, such as long-term care homes and hospitals, where staff are able to return to work after a negative test even after exposure to the virus.
Priority will also be given to educational settings for symptomatic and screen testing, and for screen testing in sectors with unvaccinated employees.
The latest testing guidance comes after the province reverted to Step Two of it’s reopening plan on Wednesday in an effort to slow down transmission of the highly-contagious Omicron variant and reduce pressure on the health-care system.
Ontario students also pivoted to virtual learning on Wednesday until at least Jan. 17 and hospitals were directed to pause non-urgent surgeries due to surging cases and hospitalizations.