rapid test ontario

Ontario's free rapid COVID test program is extended and here's where you can get one

With Ontario deep into a sixth wave of COVID-19, the need for free rapid antigen tests seems greater than ever.

The program to provide the free tests, known as RATs, in pharmacies and grocery stores started on Feb. 9 and was initially intended to last eight weeks.

There were to be 500,000 tests available each week with a total of 44 million rapid tests distributed by April 6.

Offering free tests came after people waited in huge lineups outside malls, transit stations, select LCBO locations and other pop-up sites for RAT kits ahead of the holiday season in December.

Now that cases of BA.2, a highly-transmissible subvariant of Omicron, are making the rounds and Ontario's mask mandates have ended along with the vaccine passports, COVID-19 seems to be on the rise again.

So, Ontario Minister of Health Christine Elliot announced that the rapid antigen tests will continue to be free and available to pick up at grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals and more until at least July 31, 2022.

A complete list of where to find the free tests in Ontario is on the provincial website and has been updated as of March 31. The province suggests calling the store or pharmacy to check availability before heading out.

COVID Test finders is another resource for those looking for tests as they can be out of stock at times.

Although PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are considered more accurate than rapid tests, there aren't any plans to bring back the wide-spread availability of those tests now. Currently, a handful of people are eligible to get the PCR tests including health care workers, first responders, community care workers and pregnant women.

The availability of tests is good news, but with rising case counts, some people would like Ontario to bring back protections.

"To paraphrase Dr. Juni, this most current surge is not due to a new variant but by premature lowering of public health measures and reckless behaviour," one person wrote.

Lead photo by

Karen Longwell

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