The Alberta government says pharmacies in major cities will have to wait until at least next week before they get any more free rapid COVID-19 test kits to give out.
Heavy demand for the tests plus limited supply has made the free kits of five a much sought-after tool ever since they first became available to the general public in mid-December. Pharmacies in major cities, including Edmonton and Calgary, have been out of stock since at least the end of 2021.
Heather Holmes, a spokesperson for Alberta’s jobs, economy and innovation department said in a statement Wednesday that the government was “working on a plan to resupply pharmacies, with the intent to ship tests to the urban pharmacies and rural AHS sites as early as next week.”
According to the federal government, Alberta has received approximately 18.8 million rapid tests.
Holmes said they’ve already handed out more than four million tests to schools and are in the process of shipping an additional four million. Another five million have been shipped to the public via AHS locations and pharmacies.
Through the province’s Employer and Service Provider Rapid Testing Program, about 4.1 million tests have also gone to businesses including oil and gas, construction and manufacturing, airports, essential municipal services, transportation/warehousing/distribution, utilities, retail and hospitality, she said.
The program has also given tests to post-secondary schools, long-term care facilities, AHS assessment centres, rural hospitals and chambers of commerce for distribution to businesses.
The UCP government has faced criticism for not getting more tests sooner. Saskatchewan, which reportedly started asking Ottawa for tests in the fall, has acquired about 16 million from Ottawa despite having a population about a quarter of the size of Alberta.
The NDP opposition estimates that had Alberta taken a similar route as Saskatchewan the province could have acquired an additional 25 million tests.
“Albertans went through the entire holiday season trying to avoid Omicron and see their families while frantically stalking pharmacies and paying premium prices for tests on Kijiji,” health critic David Shepherd said in a statement this week.
“It is absolutely infuriating to know that had Jason Kenney and the UCP been focused on the pandemic and not their own internal drama, Alberta would be in better shape today.”
Holmes said every province has had a different role for rapid testing in its overall pandemic response strategy and prior to December Alberta was focused on the Employer and Service Provider Rapid Testing Program.
“Saskatchewan has had broad public access to rapid tests as a more prominent part of its strategy for longer than other provinces,” she said.
At a press conference earlier this week, Health Minister Jason Copping said as of January, federal officials have said they would only give out tests based on population numbers, despite Alberta having some December backorders.
“Given concerns of that and the availability of tests, we as a government went forward to buy an additional 10 million tests ourselves and get them out,” he said.
“But there has been a challenge in some of the supply chains, we saw that over January. Some of the shipments were delayed but we are getting those out now.”