Manitoba says Ottawa won’t let province buy new rapid COVID-19 test

By | October 2, 2020

Manitoba claims Ottawa won’t allow provinces to purchase new rapid COVID-19 tests made by a U.S. manufacturer.

Central Services Minister Reg Helwer says the federal government won’t allow Manitoba to order ID NOW antigen tests, which Health Canada approved for use north of the border two days ago.

“This is a completely unacceptable action by the federal government,” Helwer said at a press briefing at the Manitoba Legislative Building on Friday.

“The federal government has indicated that they will decide how that supply will be allocated across the country. Provincial governments are the frontline providers of health care in the country. We are the ones best able to determine our own needs.”

Ottawa is buying 7.9 million of the tests from U.S. manufacturer Abbott Laboratories. The ID NOW machines can analyze swabs in less than 15 minutes by looking for proteins associated with the virus that causes COVID-19.

This sort of test is less accurate than standard COVID-19 tests, which use a process called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, to demonstrate the presence of genetic material unique to the virus. PCR tests, however, may take days to process.

The rapid antigen tests could allow provinces to quickly isolate potentially infected people in high-risk settings, such as workplaces or schools, until a PCR test demonstrates conclusively they are sick.

Helwer claimed Manitoba wanted to place a “significant order” for the tests but would not say how many tests Manitoba wanted.

He conceded the tests would not arrive in Canada until December or January at the earliest.

Central Services Minister Reg Helwer says it’s “unacceptable” for Ottawa to monopolize the purchase of the Abbott testing machines. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

Helwer said Premier Brian Pallister learned of the move on Thursday and has written the federal government to complain.

In Ottawa, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominique LeBlanc neither confirmed nor denied the Liberal government is preventing provinces from buying the machines.

He suggested his government is attempting to ensure all provinces get access to new tests.

“Our objective is not to block provinces from accessing supplies. It would, in fact, to be to work collaboratively with provinces and territories to ensure that all Canadians and all orders of government have the necessary supplies to keep Canadians safe,” Leblanc said.

LeBlanc said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Pallister on Thursday the Public Health Agency of Canada has placed a priority on ensuring supplies are distributed equitably among the provinces.

“We need to continue to make efforts collectively to ensure that that success continues and is shared across the country,” LeBlanc said.

The Manitoba Liberal Party condemned Helwer’s statements.

“The Pallister PCs are complaining they can’t yet buy a test that was only approved by Health Canada 24 hours ago,” Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said in a statement. 

In fact, the test was approved Wednesday.

“This is a deliberate attempt to once again blame the federal government for their inaction and lack of proper pandemic planning as COVID testing line ups continue to get longer.”

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