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Experts recommend using more rapid tests, so why is Canada so far behind other regions?


TORONTO – In some areas of the world, rapid tests, also known as lateral flow tests, have been a frequently used tool in the pandemic toolbox. But in Canada, these tests are scarce, except in some areas, leading some experts to think we’re underusing them.

In the Kitchener-Waterloo region of Ontario, a unique program is distributing a hot item – homemade COVID-19 cotton swabs, allowing people to know for sure within 15 minutes if they are infected.

The program is called StaySafe and has offered more than 400,000 quick tests over the past few months for free, provided by the Ontario and federal governments to give business owners and families peace of mind. StaySafe offers quick on-site tests as well as tests that people can take home.

The project has received support from locals, who told CTV News they are using them for school, making sure they don’t spread the virus after traveling, and using them to safer when visiting elderly relatives, among other activities.

And with children returning to the classroom and people returning to the workplace, the need is growing.

“I get emails every day from other regions and other provinces, ‘How do we get this in [region]”Ying Jiang, StaySafe Program Manager and Volunteer, told CTV News. “Whatever we’re doing in our area, Waterloo, they want it.”

But the tests are not easily available across Canada. Some hospitals are now handing out tests to school-age families, while other Canadians are paying $15-$40 per test at some pharmacies.

David Juncker, chair of Biomedical Engineering at McGill University, told CTV News that rapid tests are available here “in a fragmented manner.”

“They are not deployed on a large scale and they are very difficult to obtain, or they are very expensive,” he said. “And as a result, they’re underutilized and underused to their potential.”

Some say that Canada has been slow to approve various forms of rapid checks and that the provinces have been slow to distribute them.

Compare that to the UK, where rapid tests are widely used every day for early detection of infections. And in Germany, they only cost a few dollars a box.

Federal reports suggest that rapid trials have been reviewed.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, a federal advisory committee wrote “in the event of a COVID-19 resurgence, self-testing will be accessible free of charge and in various locations in the community. “

If rapid tests are used in workplaces and schools, they can aid in early detection of cases.

Juncker points out that with the Delta variant, many cases are asymptomatic, especially the breakout cases.

“That’s why it’s so important to get tested regularly and get quick results so that people can be isolated before they can pass the disease on to others,” he said.

Quick Check is one of many tools we can deploy at low cost to keep things up and running as Delta continues to cause problems this fall.

“We should use them to visit your grandma, you know, you have a runny nose, you want to go to college or go to school or go to work, you can even say you’ve been vaccinated, you can can do a quick test. , and to offer some reassurance,” he said.

He said that there are not many approved rapid tests in Canada, making them more scarce and more expensive, while in Germany, for example, they have about 60 approved tests.

Nova Scotia has regularly had free quick checkout pop-ups, but this hasn’t happened in other provinces.

Other regions have distributed kits to businesses through the chamber of commerce, but the StaySafe program provides them free of charge.

Juncker says one barrier is the medical community’s reluctance about rapid tests.

“Health facilities […] Junker said.

The problem is accuracy – PCR tests tested in laboratories are the gold standard for COVID-19 case confirmation, and rapid tests are not believed to be completely accurate.

But when you use them not as a replacement for PCR, but as a tool to help identify outbreaks early, they can be a valuable part of the response, experts say.

“Doctors want to know what treatment will give you, so we need a PCR test,” says Juncker. “If you want it to break the chains of infection in pandemic conditions, rapid testing is a much more effective tool.”

And studies have shown that rapid tests provide fairly accurate results, with some studies suggesting that they can be as accurate as PCR.

A study published in late July in the BMJ comparing two types of rapid antigen tests found that both were more than 60 percent accurate.

Another study in July by the National Institutes of Health found that a rapid antigen test is on par with a PCR test for COVID-19 screening when used every three days. And an August study from Austria that looked at lateral flow tests found that 95% of lateral flow tests were correct.

Whether Canada will heed recommendations calling for us to use rapid tests more widely this fall is still to be told.

But everyone in Waterloo is supporting.

One resident told CTV News: “I think this program should be available to everyone.

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