OTTAWA -- The federal government has shipped millions of rapid tests to Canada’s provinces and territories, but a vast majority of these units remains in storage.

According to federal data, more than 18.9 million rapid tests have been sent to the provincial and territorial health units, but just 3.1 million tests have been deployed to point-of-care locales for use.

The number of deployed tests does not indicate how many tests have actually been used, just ones that have been sent to where they can be used. CTV News reached out to each province and territory to see have many rapid tests have been administered and only Alberta could provide comment that it had administered more than 17,000 rapid tests of the 1.9 million it has received to date.

“We are currently in the process of expanding use of rapid point-of-care testing across the province,” the province wrote in a statement. “We have also developed mobile testing units that are visiting long-term care and designated supportive living facilities, an innovative approach Alberta is taking to protect populations that are most vulnerable to outbreaks.”

The federal government has sent three types of rapid tests to the provinces: the Abbott Panbio, the Abbott ID Now, and the BD Veritor. Each test is capable of returning results in about 15 minutes using a simple nasal swab. The ID Now device also works with a throat swab.

While the results of rapid testing are not as reliable as traditional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests -- which require laboratory analysis – experts have said they can be useful in large-scale surveillance, such as in long-term care homes or at workplaces.

According to the federal data, Quebec (37.1 per cent), the Northwest Territories (25 per cent) and Ontario (15.7) are the only provinces and territories to have deployed more than 10 per cent of the rapid tests they’ve received, while Yukon has yet to deploy a single rapid test.

In Manitoba, health officials have deployed 1.5 per cent of the more than 620,000 rapid tests that the federal government has sent to the province. In December, the province announced it had purchased its own PCR-based COVD-19 testing machines for testing teachers. The device is capable of testing six samples every 90 minutes with 95 per cent accuracy, according to a news release from December.

In speaking with CTV News Channel’s Power Play, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister cited this new device for why his government has not made use of the federally delivered tests. Using a car analogy, he compared his own procurement to a Lincoln, while the federal government’s testing is “your old Pinto in your shed.”

“We’ve got better testing available to us now,” he said. “We’ve spent over $50 million buying it. It’s more applicable to our needs. We’re using it and so we’ll leave the Pinto in the shed for awhile.”

In other provinces, such as Newfoundland and Labrador, health officials are still figuring out how to make best use of the rapid testing technology.

Certainly we are looking at options right now to increase our capacity,” Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer, told reporters on Thursday. “We're looking at how we use our rapid testing in the most effective way to get us the information that we need.”

Newfoundland and Labrador has only deployed 4,012 of its 188,640 rapid tests to date.


Despite the disappointing numbers, federal health officials are optimistic the provinces will make use of the rapid testing in short order.

“We anticipate that the use should be increasing, especially in settings where we know are certainly high-risk settings, long-term care facilities,” Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada, told reporters on Thursday. “I understand that several provinces are really moving forward very -- I think -- vigorously in terms of implementing these types of tests in those settings.”

“I think it's on the right track and we're looking forward to having these types of types of tests being a more widespread use, obviously to help us monitor and make sure that we are identifying people who possibly are affected with COVID-19.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also mentioned that his government is looking at different ways to make sure more of these tests are used in quick order.

”We've sent over 19 million rapid tests to the provinces. Some are being used, not all,” Trudeau said. “I think we're now looking at: ‘Well, can we instead send rapid tests directly to the pharmacies across the country?  Will that cause provinces to get upset or will it spark people actually using all these things?’ I mean, these are conversations we have to have.”