rapid covid test

Here's where to get a free rapid COVID test in Toronto

Looking to score a free rapid COVID test (or five) in Toronto this week? Ontario just shipped millions of them to grocery stores and pharmacies across the province for distribution to anyone who might need one, completely gratis.

The provincial government announced today that it is expanding access to free rapid tests for the general public to further support the "cautious easing of public health measures" that began on Jan. 31 after the latest, Omicron-fuelled lockdown.

"As a result of the province's direct procurement, Ontario will be distributing 5 million rapid tests each week for eight weeks through pharmacy and grocery locations across the province, as well as 500,000 each week through community partners in vulnerable communities," announced the Ford government Wednesday afternoon.

"In total, the province is making 44 million rapid tests available to the public for free over the coming weeks."

The tests, which are meant for at-home use and can show results within minutes (though not with perfect accuracy), will be distributed starting today, while supplies last, with a limit of one box (five tests) per family.

More than 2,300 grocery store and pharmacy locations are participating in the distribution of these free RATs, with more expected to come in the weeks ahead. Right now, 257 stores in Toronto are giving out (or about to be) free rapid tests, and they're not very hard to find.

Locating your nearest distribution centre is as easy as visiting the province's website. You'll find a dynamic chart here with the names and addresses of all participating locations. You search by city or even keyword for the free tests in your area.

Like I said, there are more than 250 stores in Toronto alone with rapid tests available to distribute, including a host of independent pharmacies as well as most Loblaws, Food Basics, Metro, Pharmaplus, Rexall, Real Canadian Superstore, Pharma Plus, Shopper's Drug Mart, Sobeys and Walmart locations in the city.

Rapid antigen tests were in high demand when the last Omicron-fuelled wave of COVID-19 prompted a return to strict lockdown measures.

Lineups formed outside malls, transit stations, select LCBO locations and other pop-up sites for free tests ahead of the holiday season, as travellers sought out ways to confirm their COVID statuses once PCR tests were limited again to only the most-vulnerable of Ontarians.

Distributors at pop-up sites ran out within hours, forcing people to buy their own expensive tests from retailers (when in stock) or turn to the black market where some parents started re-selling the tests their kids had been sent home from school with.

Case numbers are falling and some say the worst of the pandemic is now behind us, but experts caution that everyone should still follow existing public health measures, and not rely on rapid tests to prevent the spread COVID-19.

"Providing expanded access to testing for Ontarians will support the province's cautious approach to easing public health measures," said Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health, of the move on Wednesday.

"While testing is a critical component in our response to COVID-19, vaccination remains the best defence against the virus and its variants. Over the next few months, we need to continue following the public health measures that remain in place and vaccinate those who have yet to receive their doses to protect our communities and health care system capacity."

Lead photo by

Municipality of Brockton

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