Hajdu says some provinces 'chose to deny' federal government's COVID-19 testing guidance

Health Minister Patty Hajdu is defending the federal government’s national testing strategy as a critical tool for fighting COVID-19, but she says some provinces chose to ignore that guidance as many Canadians who want to get tested are simply unable to.

“I think the thing Canadians can ask themselves is when is the last time they went to the federal government to get a test or to get a medical procedure? Never,” Hajdu told CTV’s Power Play on Friday.

Hajdu said the provinces and territories have the jurisdiction to deliver health care, and that the federal government has provided both the money and national guidance on a testing strategy.

“Some provinces chose to deny that, even though they had participated in creating that guidance, they chose to take a different path,” she said.

The federal government continues to advise anyone who thinks they may have COVID-19 to contact their local health authority about testing.

Hajdu did not identify which provinces she was referring to. But several provinces have limited testing to only people with COVID-19 symptoms, and asymptomatic people who need a test to go back to work or school have been unable to get one.

“Some provinces have not had the same struggles as other provinces,” Hajdu said.

In September, Ontario changed its COVID-19 testing guidance so that assessment centres would revert back to testing only symptomatic individuals, those who’ve come into contact with a case and those who work in high-risk settings. Ontarians without symptoms can still get tested at 60 pharmacies across the province, which are taking appointments.

Ontario’s decision was an abrupt change from its earlier message that anyone who wanted a test could get one.

The about-face was met with mixed reaction from health experts. Some said the move was in keeping with the latest science, while others saw the move as the province’s latest mistake in its handling of the pandemic.

In Quebec, which has bore the brunt of Canada’s caseload, people with symptoms, people who’ve had close contact with someone with COVID-19 or people who’ve been asked by a public health authority are required to get tested.

In British Columbia, people without symptoms “generally” do not have access to a test, including routine testing for employment or school.

Hajdu also responded to a suggestion from U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this week during the presidential debate that a COVID-19 vaccine was around the corner. She says she can “see a light at the end of the vaccine tunnel” but refused to commit to a timeline, saying that’s up to the scientists.

“The challenge is it’s based on science and research,” Hajdu said.

“There are some very optimistic people who feel that we may have a vaccine of some variety or another within the first quarter of 2021. But I’ll just say this: we in Canada will ensure whatever vaccine is approved by Health Canada has gone through the rigours Canadians would expect on safety.”

Cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, with the second wave outpacing the first wave. On Friday, 2,588 more people tested positive for the virus.