Canada signs deal to buy 7.9M rapid coronavirus tests, pending approval

Canada has signed a deal to buy up to 7.9 million rapid coronavirus rapid point of care tests, pending approval from health officials, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said on Tuesday.

Anand said it is not an antigen test, but the instruments used to analyze it can be run outside of a major lab, giving rapid results at a clinic or hospital.

Health Canada has not yet approved any at-home test options.

Officials said they expect to authorize new antigen tests for COVID-19 soon.

The rapid tests look for antigens, or proteins found on the surface of the virus. They are generally considered less accurate — though much faster — than higher-grade genetic tests, known as PCR tests. Those tests require processing with specialty lab equipment and chemicals. Typically that turnaround takes several days to deliver results to patients.

“We have a number of them under review at the moment – it is our priority,” Supriya Sharma, senior medical advisor for Health Canada, said during a media briefing. “For some of them we are, I think, very close to having a final decision.”

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The regulator is currently reviewing antigen tests from Abbott, Quidel and Sona Nanotech, according to public data.

On Tuesday, the Conservatives blasted the government for not having rapid and at-home testing available for Canadians.

“Many of our G-7 allies already have access to rapid and at-home testing and now they are contributing to an initiative to ensure that low-income countries have those same tests. So why don’t Canadians have those tests?” Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner said in a statement.

“COVID-19 cases are surging across Canada, lineups to get a test can be hours long, and there are reports that people are being forced to self-isolate for days as they wait for their test results. Justin Trudeau needs to explain why he has made no progress in getting at-home and rapid testing deployed in our country.”

On Monday, the World Health Organization announced that it’s planning to roll out 120 million rapid-diagnostic tests for the coronavirus to help lower- and middle-income countries make up ground in the testing gap with richer countries — even if it’s not fully funded yet.

The federal government has set a goal to be able to test 200,000 people per day in the event demand becomes that great. But so far, testing remains way off the target as backlogs continue.

In the last week, about 70,000 COVID-19 tests were conducted daily across the country.

The tests have been highlighted as an urgent need by politicians like Ontario Premier Doug Ford in recent days as a means to reduce long lines and rising tempers at testing centres.

Health Canada on Tuesday said it’s publishing new advice for companies rushing to develop rapid tests for COVID-19.

The department’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Supriya Sharma, said reviewing the rapid tests already submitted for approval is a top priority.

She said it is critical to ensure the tests are accurate and don’t produce a large number of false results.

Sharma added that Canada’s approval process is similar to other countries’, and that some of the rapid tests already rolled out elsewhere simply have not been submitted for Canadian approval.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the federal government is focused on procuring any rapid tests as soon as they are approved by Health Canada regulators, but won’t act before that approval is in hand.

“We need to be ready to pounce,” she said. “Our government is going to be ready to jump in and buy these medicines and technology for our country.”

Freeland stressed the importance of waiting for health officials’ approval, as any pressure by the federal government to help speed the process could result in some of the “dangerous consequences” being seen elsewhere in the world.

— With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly and The Canadian Press

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