Newfoundland and Labrador is pushing for access to newly available COVID-19 tests, the province's health minister said Wednesday, in preparation for winter conditions that could cause delays transporting swabs to centralized labs in other parts of the country.
Health Minister John Haggie said access to rapid testing took up the bulk of a Canada-wide meeting between health officials last week.
The federal government has signed an agreement to buy more than 20.5 million of these rapid tests in the coming weeks, Ottawa announced Tuesday.
For testing outside the major centres, "there are now two kits that are available," he said — a smaller analog of what centralized labs use, and an antigen detection test announced Tuesday.
In regards to the antigen test kits, "their use is in areas where transportation of specimens to a high-tech lab may be a challenge," Haggie told reporters.
Antigen testing is faster than the polymerase chain reaction method used in labs across Canada, but it's also considered less accurate.
The health minister said the tests would be ideal for isolated communities, particularly those that rely on flights and ferries, in harsh winter months.
Haggie said he's spoken with Nunatsiavut and Innu Nation leaders, encouraging those governments to make requests for the tests through Indigenous Services.
"I think we've got a very strong case. The territories have simply used distance and isolation to get some of those kinds of machines available, and I think if we're all singing from the same song sheet, it will help."
Haggie said the tests would mainly be used to quickly identify positive cases, giving rural communities an added layer of protection in case results from centralized labs are delayed.
As of now, the tests would not supplant isolation policies, he said.
"The challenge is that even a test at point of entry would not preclude isolation. I think the problem a lot of people have in their minds is that somehow, if you're tested when you come home, and it's negative, it means you can be unleashed on the world, and you can't," he said.
"There is no test that will satisfy that."
The tests have been certified by Health Canada as point-of-care tools that can confirm or disprove a diagnosis in 20 minutes and be used by an array of health-care professionals — meaning walk-in clinics and pharmacies could provide them.