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Ontario, feds roll out COVID-19 rapid testing for small and medium businesses

Friday, May 07, 2021 @ 4:06 PM | By John Schofield

Employees of small and medium-sized businesses across Ontario can now receive rapid screening for COVID-19 through a new program launched jointly by the provincial and federal governments and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

Under the COVID-19 Rapid Screening Initiative, more than 760,000 free rapid antigen test kits have already been shipped to 28 local chambers of commerce for distribution to interested businesses, according to a May 7 Ontario government news release. Fifty other chambers have expressed interest in participating.

The program is designed to protect workers and their families and to keep businesses operating by enabling them to screen for asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 that might otherwise have been missed, said the news release. It is based on the StaySafe Rapid Testing Pilot that was initiated in Waterloo Region in April.

A test using the BD Veritor Plus System, manufactured by global medical technology giant Becton, Dickinson and Company, can detect COVID-19 proteins in about 15 minutes. The federal government ordered 7.6 million of the tests last November.

“By supporting the use of rapid antigen tests by more businesses, our government is helping to provide an additional layer of protection for workers and their families,” Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott said in the news release.

Since April 30, it noted, Ontario has delivered about 7.6 million rapid testing kits through the Provincial Antigen Screening Program to almost 1,500 workplaces in key sectors such as manufacturing, warehousing, mining, construction and food processing. That includes nearly 200 essential industry sites — most of them in hot spot areas, the release said.

However, a recent CBC News report quoting federal government data said that just over 1.3 million rapid test kits have actually been used, meaning more than six million are potentially sitting idle.

Still, the Ontario government announcement was welcomed by some health-care and business leaders.

“Delighted to see increased support for rapid testing of essential workers from both federal government & Ontario,” Dr. Irfan Dhalla, vice-president, physician quality for Toronto-based Unity Health, said on Twitter.

Ryan Mallough, director of provincial affairs, Ontario, for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, called the announcement on Twitter “long, long *long* overdue.” “Hopefully Ontario,” he added, “will now shed some light on what it will take to reopen businesses and finally put an end to lockdowns.”

However, Ontario’s opposition parties say Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government is still not fully delivering on its promises to support small businesses.

In a May 6 news release, Toronto NDP MPP Jessica Bell said a survey of businesses in her riding of University-Rosedale found that 85 per cent of eligible business owners that applied for the government’s small business grant program have yet to receive funding.

Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said in a May 7 news release that government “arbitrarily closed” applications for its Small Business Support Grant on April 7, even though the current provincewide stay-at-home order is in effect until at least May 20. Schreiner called on the government to fix delays, provide a third round of small business funding and to triple the grant each business can receive.

“Small business owners are hanging on by a thread, facing over $200,000 in average debt and uncertainty about the future,” said the Ontario Green Party release.

On May 7, Ontario reported 3,166 new COVID-19 cases and an additional 23 virus-related deaths, but cautioned that the data was incomplete. One of the deaths involved a person aged 19 or under. The rolling, seven-day average of new cases edged down again, reaching 3,266, compared with 3,369 on May 6.

Toronto and Peel Region each saw one-day declines of about 10 per cent, with Toronto posting 876 new cases and Peel Region 817.

The number of patients in intensive care units on May 7 stood at 858, 611 of whom were breathing with the help of a ventilator.

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