A classic holiday errand got a pandemic-era makeover on Friday as COVID-weary Ontarians lined up outside liquor stores not for alcohol, but for antigen tests.
However, many went home empty-handed – or with a bit of booze to make the wait worth their while – as demand for test kits far outpaced the supply sent to select LCBO locations across the province.
A queue wrapped around the block at the Toronto store Alexis Gosselin staked out at 9 a.m. on Friday. She estimated a couple hundred people beat her there – and it turned out it was all for naught.
"Word came up the line and they didn't have any tests, and the line just kind of dissipated," Gosselin said. "And then I figured since I was there, I'd pop into the LCBO."
A clerk told her the store had tests on Thursday, but they were gone within an hour and employees had no idea when they’d get their next shipment.
"It’s super frustrating because we’re hoping to get together with my husband’s mom, who's 85 years old and it'd be really nice if we could take a test beforehand before we potentially infect his mother," she said.
Her two teenage kids brought home five tests each from school. The province sent a kit of five tests home with all public school students before the holiday break.
Now Gosselin’s re-evaluating her strategy.
"Do we buy some, can we find them, do we steal some from the kids?" she said. "I don’t know what we’re going to do."
Premier Doug Ford said the province is pushing out the rapid tests as fast as it can.
"I want to apologize to the people in line, they disappeared like rapid fire," he said Friday afternoon.
Ford said Ontario is pleading with the federal government to procure more rapid tests and added that the province is set to get 10 million more on Dec. 27.
The LCBO, for its part, said it was working at getting tests into stores.
"We expect most stores will receive supplies today, but cannot confirm exact arrival times at each location and do expect our limited supply to go quickly," an LCBO spokesperson said in an email Friday.
The Crown corporation ended up tweeting out locations that had run out of stock – but not ones that had kits in hand.
Stacy Peuhkurinen turned to another Twitter account as she embarked on her quest at the beginning of her work-from-home day – COVID Test Finders.
She kept refreshing the page after her first stop at an LCBO proved fruitless. The account was pushing out updates from people at LCBOs across the province, many showing long lines and what the supply situation was at each. Many stores that didn’t have test kits put up makeshift signs to dispel the hopeful masses.
Eventually, she said she decided to "camp out" at an outlet, hanging out in her parked car with a clear view of the doors.
It was 1 p.m. when she finally got her hands on a test, and only after seeing people coming out of the store with the telltale little boxes. She said the sign outside the store still said there were no tests available.
Peuhkurinen said it felt worth it to her to have the tests, because she hopes to see her dad and his wife over Christmas.
“With this Omicron, it seems like it doesn't care whether you're vaccinated or not,” said Peuhkurinen, who got her booster Thursday. “I’m just trying to be safe.”
Hazel Brown was also hoping to get rapid tests in an effort to be a little safer this holiday season while seeing her family.
The first location she tried on Thursday morning – the province is also handing tests out at certain malls and other high-traffic areas – was so packed that she couldn't even get into the parking lot.
"People were wrapped around the parking lot and down the street," she said. "And so I didn't even bother going in because I figured they would have a limited supply."
She was luckier at an LCBO on Friday, showing up before opening time for a shot at getting test kits she wasn't even sure would be there, since the store was closed when she arrived.
A half hour or so later, she said, those in line saw a welcome sight through the big windows at the front of the store: a man with three large boxes on a dolly.
"Alright!" she said. "It really does feel like you're winning the jackpot or something, it's ridiculous."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2021.
Liam Casey and Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press