Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is blasting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after his family’s frustrating experience with COVID-19 testing and calling on the federal government to greenlight rapid methods being used in other countries.
O’Toole revealed this week he and his family were in self-isolation after a staffer with whom he had recently travelled tested positive for COVID-19. He released a statement Thursday saying his family was “turned away” from an assessment centre in the Ottawa Public Health Unit, after waiting in line for hours, because the centre had reached capacity.
O’Toole, his wife, and two children were tested Thursday morning at a facility in Gatineau, Que., where the House of Commons makes testing available for MPs and their families.
“The Trudeau Liberals have created this mess by refusing to approve other testing methods - despite all our allies having, for months, multiple tests including much faster and less invasive methods,” O’Toole said in the release.
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“I stand with the thousands of Canadian families who are waiting in lines today for tests. It has been seven months, Justin Trudeau must answer for why we do not have access to more of the tests our allies are using.”
O’Toole said he and his family will remain in isolation. His office would not tell HuffPost Canada if the Tory leader will be in attendance for next week’s throne speech.
Though provinces are responsible for COVID-19 testing, O’Toole’s release made no mention of the Ontario government, which is pledging to tackle the issue of long lineups at centres.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott suggested to reporters Tuesday that the hours-long waits reported in certain cities this week, including Toronto, were linked to a spike in demand for testing as children go back to school.
“We did anticipate an increase in the lineups but perhaps not to this extent,” Elliott said Tuesday.
Ontario Heritage Minister Lisa McLeod tweeted Thursday the province will help open three pop-up testing sites in Ottawa this week.
Tory health critic Michelle Rempel Garner also released a statement that put the blame squarely on Trudeau’s government, saying other countries have “outpaced” Canada on this issue.
“The UK has been offering free at-home tests. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had given the go ahead on a home test kit back in April. Germany also has commercial tests available online,” Rempel Garner said.
“If other countries can do it, what is delaying Canada? What reason does Trudeau have to block these tests that other highly developed economies do not? To me, it seems like the answer is crass politics and Trudeau wasting time to read the political tea leaves.”
Since May, the U.S. has approved two rapid antigen tests that can deliver results 15 minutes after a swab is taken. Canada currently uses molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, where swabs are sent to laboratories and it can take more than 24 hours to get results.
The federal government has said PCR tests are the “gold standard” for accurately detecting the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
“Trudeau needs to do his job, get off his rear, spur Health Canada bureaucrats to overcome the inertia of bureaucracy and immediately work to find a safe solution. Enough is enough,” Rempel Garner said.
‘We’re just not there yet,’ federal health minister says
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters Wednesday that Health Canada is reviewing rapid testing devices but will not make approvals until it is confident results will be accurate.
“The last thing I would want to see as a federal health minister is a test that only had, let’s say, 50 per cent accuracy and people are accessing a rapid test and then assuming they’re COVID negative, but in fact they’re positive, and having that false sense of assurance,” she said.
Hajdu said Health Canada will not approve a test that endangers Canadians’ health.
“We’re just not there yet,” Hajdu said. “We have not had a test submitted to Health Canada for approval yet that satisfies the regulator’s concerns around accuracy.”
Asked how it was possible cities such as Toronto and Ottawa didn’t have enough testing in place to deal with the demand, Hajdu said the question was “probably best directed to the province of Ontario.”
She noted the so-called “safe restart agreement” between the federal government and provinces and territories transferred more than $19 billion to those jurisdictions “so that they could be ready for fall to deal with an anticipated surge.”
With files from The Canadian Press