Kelly Geraldine Malone and Laura Osman, The Canadian Press
Published on Wednesday, January 5th, 2022 at 5:51 AM EST
Last updated on Wednesday, January 5th, 2022 9:58PM EST
Federal officials are adding more COVID-19 rapid tests to Canada’s arsenal as rising infections from Omicron variants push some public areas to the brink.
Health care is facing severe pressure across the country as front-line workers are unable to work as they wait for delayed test results or are isolated from infections. Other sectors including education and entertainment are also witnessing significant shortage of staff.
In Manitoba, the Winnipeg Police Service declared a state of emergency on Wednesday. The service said 170 personnel were booked on leave related to COVID-19.
Calgary police also warned of staff pressure after 36 members tested positive and an additional 35 members were in isolation.
Ontario, Quebec and other provinces recently shortened the isolation period for infected people in half to five days, to offset the effects of similar staffing conditions in many regions.
Several jurisdictions are also hoping to roll out more rapid tests in the coming weeks to tackle the infectious Omicron variant while keeping the economy running.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said 140 million tests are to be distributed across provinces and territories on a per capita basis this month. He said this is four times the number given in December, and that each Canadian would be allowed to have one test per week in January.
However, each province is distributing rapid testing differently and not everyone has the same access.
Ontario’s pop-up models for rapid testing have been widely criticized for having long lines and not having nearly enough supplies. The situation is similar in other provinces where there are significant delays in obtaining laboratory test results, but no widespread way to obtain or purchase rapid tests.
The federal opposition accused the Liberal government of failing to conduct rapid tests for Canadians. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole suggested Canada Post may have been used several months earlier.
“Before Christmas, it was like the ‘Hunger Games’ trying to do rapid testing in Canada,” O’Toole said during a Facebook Live on Wednesday. “Millions of these tests should have already been used during the last year.”
Despite those concerns, the distribution will remain up to the provinces, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during the first federal COVID-19 update of the new year.
“Different regions of this country are facing very different situations,” he said.
In a familiar routine, Ontario reimposed restrictions on Wednesday. Restaurants, gyms, cinemas and other indoor venues were forced to close, while retail stores and personal care services were limited to half capacity. Schools were closed across the province and all non-urgent scheduled surgeries were stopped.
Ontario reported 2,081 people with COVID-19 in hospital – up from 1,290 people in the previous day – and 288 patients in intensive care.
Elsewhere, Quebec reported 39 more deaths and an increase of 158 hospitalizations for a total of 1,750.
Quebec’s Education Minister Jean-François Robert said classes would resume as planned on January 17, but the province would send all primary and secondary students to schools in January and February to try to control infections with five COVID-19 Will deliver package with self-tests.
“Our schools are and will be safe,” he said.
With regions of the country restricting molecular laboratory tests to prioritize those at high risk, including health workers, there is no telling exactly how many COVID-19 cases there are in Canada. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said officials were still monitoring the spread of the virus and that public health could still track trends and identify community spread.
“We are testing more daily during this pandemic than in any other period,” Tam said.
Trudeau said he understands people are disappointed as the country is locked in a two-year pandemic.
“There have been moments of more intensity and moments of less, but I think everyone was hoping we were in a better place right now,” he said.
In fact, Trudeau said, things are different. Canadians are practiced about what needs to be done to slow the spread of the virus, have high vaccination rates and will have a significant supply of rapid tests.
“There’s no magic bullet to this. None of us want to be here at the moment, but we know what it takes to get over it.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 5, 2022.
—With files from Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa and Jacob Cerebrin in Montreal