Hundreds line up again for COVID-19 rapid tests, some before 4 a.m.

Long early-morning lineups for COVID-19 rapid tests could soon be a thing of the past as the province shifts its strategy for distributing the test kits.

For the second straight morning on Thursday, hundreds of people lined up at Bayshore Shopping Centre for testing kits. Some arrived as early as 3:30 a.m.

“It seems to me that they could be dropping them off in homes and mailing them to people, the way they did the U.K.” said Tom Denison, who got there at 4:15 a.m. “That would make a lot more sense. I still question as to why they haven’t gotten that together yet here.”

Amanda Stevenson, another person in line, said the line immediately grew behind

“It’s difficult. It’s cold, it’s winter, it’s dark, it’s snowing, so it’s a little bit rough,” she said. “It’s kind of frustrating, but you gotta do what you gotta do at this point.”

The long lineups have become the norm at the province-run pop-ups since before Christmas. Sometimes the tests have been handed out either earlier or later than initially scheduled, leaving many people frustrated and empty-handed.

But Eastern Ontario medical officer of health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis suggested Thursday the tests will no longer be distrubted to the general public.

They will instead be used to preserve critical workforces facing growing absentee rates because of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

“I think there’s going to be some movement there where we will be able to provide rapid antigen tests in a more efficient manner, to circumstances that need it,” he told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Leslie Roberts.

Roumeliotis said people who work in critical services, such as hospital and long-term care workers and first responders, need the tests most because they allow them to return to work earlier.

“I don’t think the non-risk individual who’s not working in essential services requires rapid antigen tests, so I don’t understand why people are lining up at 3 o’clock in the morning,” he said.

“I think those are going to stop…and they will no longer be distributed to the general public like that. They’ll be distributed to where they’re most needed.”

The Ontario government is expected to provide an update Thursday afternoon on the deployment of rapid antigen COVID-19 tests in the province.

The update comes a day after the federal government said it will distribute 140 million rapid tests across the country this month — four times the amount handed out in December.

There are two rapid test handouts scheduled in Ottawa on Friday: one at 9 a.m. at Hazeldean Mall and another at 10 a.m. at the Rideau Centre.

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