As Canadians prepare for another respiratory virus season this fall and winter, some may be curious to know if what they have is a cold, flu or possibly COVID-19.

One method to determine this has been the use of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests, which were offered free of charge during the pandemic before their distribution began to wind down as infection rates and demand declined.

But it appears the number of people testing positive and being hospitalized for COVID-19 is on the rise.

COVID-19 hospitalizations across Canada have increased since August from nearly 1,500 to more than 2,700 this past week. The proportion of those patients who are in intensive care so far, though, has continued to hover around three per cent and remains well below the peaks seen in previous waves.

As infections increase, demand for COVID-19 testing, and rapid tests in particular, could also rise. looked into how many rapid tests there are in the country and where you can still get one.


A spokesperson from Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed in an email to Thursday that there are currently more than 90 million tests in the federal inventory.

Of those, approximately 700,000 will expire by the end of the year.

Nearly 500 million rapid tests procured by the federal government and provided to provinces and territories were distributed as of July 14, federal data shows, leaving an estimated 187 million tests in provincial and territorial inventories.

The federal spokesperson said provinces and territories can request "medical assets" from the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile, which includes medical equipment, vaccines and other supplies.

This request can be made in the event of a public health emergency or if local resources are depleted and otherwise not available.

"The government of Canada continues to work closely with the provinces and territories to ensure these tests are available to Canadian free of charge," the spokesperson said about COVID-19 rapid tests.

"It is important to note that provinces and territories are responsible for the management and distribution of these tests within their respective jurisdictions including, management of their inventories. The government of Canada encourages and supports the provinces and territories in sound shelf-life and inventory management practices."


The federal spokesperson said Health Canada has authorized 17 shelf-life extensions for 13 rapid tests.

For some tests, this can be up to two years.

"The shelf life, authorized by Health Canada, plays a role in determining the expiry date that is printed on the labelling of the device," the spokesperson said.

"However, the expiry date is determined by the manufacturer and is printed on the labelling during their manufacturing process. Any questions related to the effect of Health Canada authorized shelf-life extensions on the expiry dates of devices should be directed to manufacturers."

That said, the federal government says the results of expired tests may not always be accurate and Canadians should "use unexpired tests and follow the provided instructions carefully."

"Contact your local public health authority to discuss disposal of expired tests," the spokesperson said.


Since provinces and territories are responsible for the distribution of rapid tests, their availability will ultimately depend on where you live.

In British Columbia, for example, testing is not recommended for adults and children who do not have COVID-19 symptoms, but the provincial government says rapid tests are available at "many community pharmacies."

The Alberta government says tests can be picked up at participating pharmacies in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton or certain Alberta Health Services clinics.

Saskatchewan has tests available at "participating local public distribution centres," as well as in First Nations communities and schools.

Manitoba offers tests at pharmacies, doctors' offices, certain retail stores, libraries and some city facilities in Winnipeg.

Ontario announced in June that its rapid test distribution program for retailers would end at the end of the month. The provincial government says if a certain location is out of stock, local public health units may have tests available.

Quebec pharmacies also stopped distributing free rapid tests earlier this year, with certain exceptions.

Rapid tests also can be obtained at "local points of services," where COVID-19, flu and shingles vaccinations also take place.

New Brunswick residents can register online to pick up a rapid test. In Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, tests are available at a number of locations.

The Yukon and Northwest Territories governments also list pickup locations on their websites.

Nunavut says tests are not available at health centres, public health units, the hospital or any government offices, but that the company Northmart will advertise where kits are available.