B.C. should use stockpile of rapid COVID-19 tests before it's too late, MP says

A longtime MP from British Columbia is urging the province to use its stockpile of more than a million rapid COVID-19 tests before it's too late.

Dr. Hedy Fry, who has represented the Vancouver Centre riding for decades, said it's frustrating that tests provided by the federal government free of charge are "continuing to sit in warehouses and on shelves across the country."

"The federal government is buying these things and sending them to the provinces gratis, and they're going to expire," Fry said. "What a waste of money."

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested Ottawa may begin sending the rapid tests directly to pharmacies rather than see them go to waste.

The federal government sent some 1.3 million rapid COVID-19 tests to B.C. last year, and as of January, the Ministry of Health indicated only 230,000 had been put to use.

Provincial health officials have cautioned that rapid tests aren't reliable enough for widespread use, despite pleas from the long-term care industry and some medical experts that they can make a difference.

Researchers at Simon Fraser University recently released modelling that suggested as many as half of the COVID-19 deaths recorded last year in B.C.'s long-term care homes and assisted living facilities could have been prevented with the use of rapid tests.

Health Canada didn't approve its first rapid test until October 2020, however, meaning the province couldn’t have used them in care homes before then.

Fry noted that B.C. isn't the only province sitting on much of its rapid test stockpile. She said Alberta, which received about 1.9 million rapid tests, has only used 17,000 so far.

"The provinces have made a decision that they will do what they think is best," the MP said.

"At the end of the day, this is just not business as usual, this is a pandemic. And I think we need to recognize if we can catch one person with a rapid test, it's one person more than we had before."

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Penny Daflos