TORONTO -- As long lines are being reported at COVID-19 testing centres across the country, the federal government pledged billions in funding to address the issue and improve other pandemic measures.  

Under the $19-billion “Safe Restart Agreement” announced on Wednesday, the money will be used to increase COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, improve the capacity of provincial health care systems, and help with restarting essential services such as public transit, among several other benefits.

The announcement comes as testing centres across the country are reporting excessively long lines, due in part to the return of school classes. Federal public health officials told The Canadians Press on Tuesday that they saw a record demand at testing sites over the weekend, leading to some people being turned away.

Two testing sites in London, Ont. reached capacity on Tuesday, while a testing centre in Ottawa had wait times upwards of six hours. In Nova Scotia, the provincial NDP is calling for fast tracking of COVID-19 testing among students and teachers as parents have complained of unacceptable wait times for their children’s test results.

"Many people can't afford the time away from work and don't have the situation where they're able to self-isolate with their children while they wait for a test," NDP MLA Claudia Chender told CTV News Atlantic.

At a drive-thru testing facility in Longueil, Que., clinic employees have been giving out cards to those wishing to receive a test so that they won’t have to wait in line for hours, but ran out of the cards by noon.

The clinic has also expanded its hours. It’s now open four days a week for eight hours.

Meanwhile, new testing centres have recently opened in Edmonton, and Laval, Que. and another one is slated to open in Brampton, Ont. shortly.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, believes the wait times stem from a combination of factors, including limited testing capacity and an increased desire from the population to receive a test.

“In a perfect world with unlimited resources, we would be able to test everybody and be able to test on a much broader scale with rapid turnaround time, but of course we don’t live in that perfect world, there are finite resources, so I think we have to use our finite resources in a smart manner,” he told CTV News Channel.

Bogoch suggests changing the messaging around testing to focus on people who are most at risk, those who are symptomatic and those who may have been exposed to the virus.

“If testing is really focused on those individuals and those individuals have prioritized, I think that might better use the rescources that we have available across the country,” he said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters on Tuesday that his government is working on a plan to have pharmacies test asymptomatic people who want to be checked for COVID-19.

“I am not going to say that 100 per cent but I can tell you we are all over it,” 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.”

Bogoch said Ford’s plan should lower wait times to receive a test and allow for more equitable access to testing in rural and more marginalized communities, but doesn’t address any delays when it comes to test results coming back.

“All these tests still have to go to a lab and there really is finite lab capacity,” he said.