OTTAWA — Health Canada has approved a new rapid nasal swab for COVID-19, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that “in the coming weeks,” Canadians will be able to access the new test that can deliver results within minutes.
“In the coming weeks, the Abbott ID NOW rapid test will be deployed to help Canadians across the country with rapid testing,” said Trudeau in response to questioning from Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner about how long it will take to see these new devices on the front lines of the public health crisis.
The new rapid tests will be deployed to the provinces to increase surge capacity and help avoid more backlogs as the pandemic continues to worsen, the prime minister said. The approval was issued under an interim order related to importing devices to be used in the COVID-19 fight.
“From the very beginning, we’ve worked with all the provincial authorities, all Health Canada experts to ensure that the products we’re approving here in Canada are done quickly, but are also safe for Canadians,” Trudeau said.
On Wednesday, the federal government announced plans to purchase 7.9 million of these point-of-care tests and 3,800 test analyzing devices from Abbott Rapid Diagnostics, pending Health Canada’s sign off.
That approval has now been granted by the federal health agency. It is not the first rapid test to be approved by the regulator, nor is it the first quick test the federal government has procured, but it is the largest to-date.
The deal to procure the new testing devices came amid considerable pressure for the federal government to provide a faster form of testing to address what’s become hours-long lineups and days-long waits for results in some cities.
On Tuesday, the federal government published new advice for companies looking to get Health Canada approval for rapid COVID-19 tests, with officials expressing caution about the faster testing options still not being effective enough to be cleared for use in Canada despite them already being implemented in other countries.
“Health Canada is reviewing a range of simpler to use and faster tests. As the regulator, Health Canada is responsible for ensuring the safety, effectiveness, and quality of all tests, which is crucial for disease management,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam. “For example, an underperforming test could result in a high number of false negative results, where people think they aren’t infected when they are, leading to unintentional exposures. This is why the review process is so important, and why no corners can be cut.”
The Abbott test was one of approximately a dozen rapid tests awaiting approval by Canada’s federal health agency.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said that Health Canada is aiming to review tests and grant approvals within 40 days of an application, and that as those evaluations continue: “you can anticipate more approvals.”
In a statement about the new approval, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that he’d also like more information about when these rapid tests will be deployed to where they are needed most, including remote and Indigenous communities and long-term care homes.
“We would expect them to be delivered as quickly as possible. We don’t have a moment to spare as cases continue to rise,” Ford said, calling on further approvals of other similar devices. “The more types of tests we have access to the better we are able to identify cases and stop the spread of COVID-19.”
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