Quebecers who have been hounding pharmacists for rapid antigen tests will have to wait until next week before the stock is replenished.
About 3 million at-home COVID-19 tests will be distributed to the province’s 1,900 community pharmacies sometime next week.
Quebecers 14 and older are eligible for one kit, containing five free tests, every month.
About 7 million Quebecers are eligible to receive tests, but so far demand has outstripped supply, said Hughes Mousseau, general manager of the Quebec Association of Pharmacy Distributors.
The rush for testing kits has increased now that the province has scaled back PCR testing for the general public.
Some drugstores require customers to book appointments to get kits. Others are distributing the tests on a first-come, first-served basis or are reserving the kits for regular customers.
Most of the tests are shipped from Toronto to several distribution centres in Quebec, then delivered to pharmacies in the greater Montreal region within hours.
The supply of rapid tests is becoming slightly more stable, but the province is still short millions of tests to meet current demand, Mousseau said in an interview.
The federal government shipped 4.5 million tests to Quebec pharmacies in December and another 6 million so far this month. Tests have also been distributed to primary schools, daycares, health-care workers and essential service workers like police officers.
About 3.7 million tests are being distributed to schools and daycares starting this week.
Although some people are miffed that they can’t get their hands on tests, pharmacists are giving priority to customers who are immunocompromised or at risk of becoming seriously ill if they develop COVID-19.
Mousseau hasn’t picked up a box of tests from his local pharmacy because his children are being provided with tests from school.
Most drugstores in the Montreal area are out of tests, said Benoit Morin, president of the Association québécoise des pharmaciens propriétaires.
Many pharmacies have been able to clear long waiting lists and the new lists are shorter, he said.
Overall, Quebec is scheduled to receive about 31.5 million of the 140 million tests Ottawa has purchased so far.
An ideal situation would be for every family to have one box of five tests at home. Morin recommended that adults take a rapid test prior to visiting an elderly parent if they have visited a grocery store or other busy stores.
People visiting the elderly should continue to wear a mask and practise social distancing, even if everyone has been boosted, he recommended.
“The vaccines provide partial protection against infection,” he said.
Pharmacist Fatima Farhat said it was mayhem when rapid tests were first rolled out before Christmas.
“The phone was ringing off the hook and the lineup was out the door,” said Farhat, who works at a Jean Coutu pharmacy on Côte-des-Neiges Rd. “It’s less busy now.”
The pharmacy still has a few dozen test kits available for walk-ins, she said.
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