WINNIPEG — The federal government is preventing provinces from buying new rapid COVID-19 tests directly from their manufacturer, and is instead forcing the provinces to await a federal allotment, Manitoba's central services minister said Friday.
Reg Helwer said the federal government should not control the supply of ID Now tests from Abbott Diagnostics.
"Provincial governments are the front-line providers of health care in this country," Helwer said.
"We are the ones who are best able to determine our own needs."
Health Canada approved the ID Now tests earlier this week. The tests can deliver results within 13 minutes of a patient being swabbed, without having to first send the specimen to a lab for processing.
The federal government also signed a deal to buy nearly eight million of the tests, as well as 3,800 analyzer units that process the results.
The tests are less accurate than standard COVID-19 lab tests, which can take days to turn around.
They are most likely to be sent to rural and remote communities that have limited access to testing labs, or high-risk locations like schools and long-term care facilities where being able to test a lot of people quickly is effective and helpful.
Helwer admitted that the tests are not likely to be available in Canada for a couple of months, and would not say how many tests Manitoba is looking to get.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister raised the issue Thursday evening in a conference call with other premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Ottawa's approach will ensure all provinces get the number of tests they need.
"Our objective is not to block provinces from accessing supplies," LeBlanc said Friday in Ottawa.
"It would in fact 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 the federal government will follow up on Manitoba's concerns, but did not commit to any specific action.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters Friday he welcomed the federal government's move to approve the new tests
"They're doing everything they can in moving these tests forward," Ford said in Toronto.
— with files from Paolo Loriggio in Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2020
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press