The Manitoba government said it is unable to order a rapid test for COVID-19 due to a ban put in place by the federal government.
Manitoba's Central Services Minister Reg Helwer made the announcement at a news conference on Friday. He said within 24 hours of Health Canada approving the Abbott ID NOW rapid test, the province attempted to place an order with Abbott.
But, Helwer said Manitoba health officials were informed the Government of Canada is blocking the sale of this test directly to provincial and territorial governments.
“This is a completely unacceptable action by the federal government,” Helwer said.
The minister noted Ottawa has secured its own supply of the tests, and the federal government said it will decide how the supply will be allocated across Canada.
“Provincial government are the frontline providers of healthcare in this country,” Helwer said.
“We are the ones who are best able to determine our own needs.”
Helwer noted there has been a series of events in which the federal government disregarded provincial needs.
He said earlier in the year the province placed an order for more than two million masks, which was blocked by the U.S. government and redirected to Ottawa. Hewler said Manitoba ultimately only received a fraction of the masks it was entitled.
“We’ve also seen this cancellation of federal funding for a program to improve fibre-optic access in northern Manitoba. Something that is even more important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic as more people work from home,” Helwer said.
The minister said the federal government needs to respect Manitoba’s needs and respect that provinces know their own needs best.
He added that Premier Brian Pallister has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to express the province’s disappointment over the federal government blocking access to the rapid COVID-19 test.
“We are calling on the prime minister to immediately relieve Abbott of any prohibitions on the sale of the ID NOW rapid test,” Helwer said.
“This will enable our government to make immediate arrangements for the purchase of a sufficient number of testing machines so that we can actively and effectively deploy this resource here in Manitoba.”
At a news conference in Ottawa, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the federal government’s objective isn’t to block provinces from getting supplies.
“I think it would in fact be to work collaboratively with provinces and territories to ensure all Canadians and all orders of government have the necessary supplies to keep Canadians safe,” he said.
LeBlanc said he was on the call on Thursday evening when Pallister raised these concerns to the prime minister and “anything that would improve the safety and security of Manitobans is something that we share Premier Pallister’s concern around.”
He added the federal government is working directly with the Manitoba government.
“The prime minister reassured Premier Pallister that we would be there to support the needs of Manitobans and his government, ensuring they are safe, but that of course applies right across the country as well to every other province and territory,” LeBlanc said.
He said this call was the first time he has heard this concern from Pallister and the federal government will follow-up with the appropriate health authorities about the particulars of this case.