Northern Currents -Canada has started rationing PCR tests as Omicron fast

Josh Kaye

Josh is the lead author of Northern Currents – A Leftist Perspective on Canadian Politics. Josh is a 10 year old electrician and is even longer interested in radical politics. Follow on Twitter at @josh_nc.

Montreal, parts of British Columbia, and Alberta have begun rationing Covid-19 PCR tests as Omicron cases reach record numbers across Canada. The jury is still out on whether Omicron is milder than previous tribes, as several studies and reports have come to conflicting conclusions.

Canada is about to find out, really quickly, how virulent Omicron really is.

Even though the world has known about Omicron and its high portability since the end of November, many places in Canada are apparently surprised. Due to the large scale of the number of new cases, PCR tests may be lacking in some areas.

Campaigns for mass screening, N95 face masks, early release of boosters, and rapid, strong restrictions could have helped stomp off Omicron’s blow, but our federal and provincial governments did not.


Montreal now counts rapid tests, without the need to confirm their status with a PCR, as has been the case so far:

Meanwhile in Montreal, director of public health Mylène Drouin said Montrealers who get a positive result from a rapid antigen test should assume that the outcome is good and do not have to undertake any other screening to confirm their status. “With the widespread transmission we have now, all kinds of testing are reliable,” said Drs. Drouin.

Montrealers with a positive rapid test result must isolate themselves for 10 days. They should also inform their close contacts.

Montreal registered 3,668 new cases last day, but Drs. Drouin said: “It is certainly an underestimation of reality, because many people obviously failed to get an appointment for a test.”

The city’s share of Omicron cases is 90 percent. Also, the rate of test positivity is about 20 percent, which means that one in five Montrealers screened will be infected. “That’s not to be heard,” said Drs. Drouin.


Alberta Health is now trying to save the “supply” of PCR tests:

To maintain the range of PCR tests, Alberta Health advises anyone experiencing symptoms with access to a rapid test kit to isolate and use the rapid tests instead of making an appointment for a PCR test.

“If you are symptomatic and have access to a rapid test kit, we encourage you to use that test instead of a PCR test,” Hinshaw said. Anyone who has now booked a PCR test is asked to cancel it to free up space for those at high risk.

If the rapid test returns positive, Hinshaw said the person should isolate and inform all close contacts. If the test is negative, isolate but take another rapid test within 24 to 48 hours.

Even if the test is negative a second time, Hinshaw said the person would continue to isolate until symptoms resolve.

“Because the proportion of Omicron cases is going up, it’s actually a ridiculous thing to tell someone who feels symptomatic that they probably have COVID-19,” Hinshaw said.

Vancouver Coastal Health

In the case of Vancouver Coastal Health, the health authority says they do not have PCR tests. In what appears to be a full 180-degree turn, she now advocates “using rapid testing” as an “important strategy to help record the increase in demand for testing.”

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One remains to wonder why the sudden shift, since BC has so far been very reluctant to put in rapid tests for the general public. Why use fast tests now?

The health authority, which spans Metro Vancouver, the Sea to Sky region and the Sunshine Coast, says it has begun using rapid antigen testing in addition to standard PCR tests, as the demand for COVID-19 tests increases.

It says in a statement that most people will now be offered a rapid test, while PCR tests will be prioritized for people at greater risk of severe COVID-19 disease.

What has become clear is that our leaders at the highest levels have taken a calculated risk of delayed, reactive constraints in the name of keeping the economy from sputtering. The inevitable result is worse illness, long covid, and of course more deaths.

Politicians did not want to make movements that they perceived as unpopular. Covid fatigue sets in among the population; our leaders did not want to take the political risk of doing the right thing – at the expense of the rest of us.


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