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Lack of testing won’t lead to undetected COVID surge: Dr. Tam

Despite a national shortage of tests, Canada’s chief public health officer isn’t worried that future waves of COVID-19 could go undetected as a result.

“In Canada, we will not miss an entry of this variant, or its spread in the community,” Dr. Theresa Tam said Wednesday. “There’s enough testing to detect that.

“We are doing more daily tests than (in) any other period during this pandemic, (so) if you’re tracking the trajectory of this virus, we’ll be able to (see) the trends,” she said.

Tam’s comments coincide with Ontario’s decision to restrict tests to people who are at high risk of severe disease or who work in high-risk settings.

Canada’s rolling seven-day average of completed tests the highest ever.

On Jan. 4, a seven-day average of 143,325 tests were completed. In the last weeks of December, the average surpassed 150,000.

The previous record was in spring 2020, when the rolling seven-day average reached about 130,000.

“The provinces are not testing every case, but there are so many tests being done that I (don’t think we’ll) miss waves going through the community,” Tam said.

Other ways of detecting COVID, such as looking for it in wastewater, will be useful to public health authorities in the absence of robust testing, she said.

Tam was also careful in her response to the province cutting mandatory isolation time in half last week, from 10 days to five days.

“We’re still learning about the Omicron virus, (including) things like the incubation period, or the period during which people can be infectious,” she said.

Prolonging isolation is the “most precautionary approach,” while also “recognizing other realities of keeping society going,” Tam added.

“Five days of isolation, is that long enough? Well, if you want to be very precautionary — and some provinces are at the moment — you may take a longer isolation period, but this is a balancing of the risks versus the need to protect your critical infrastructure,” she said.

“Those are the difficult decisions that provinces have to make.”

Tam’s comments come on the heels of Ottawa announcing it’s getting 140 million rapid tests in January.

In December 2020, the federal government procured and distributed 35 million of them.

The tests will be distributed based on the provinces’ populations, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said.

Therefore, Ontario will get more than 53 million tests; Quebec over 32 million; B.C. about 17 million; Alberta just over 16 million; Manitoba and Saskatchewan about five million each; Nova Scotia and New Brunswick around three million each; Newfoundland and Labrador about two million; P.E.I. just over 500,000; and around 160,000 for each territory.

The above breakdown might not be exact, however, as the federal government is reserving “certain stockpiles for vulnerable populations and specific usages,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But the “vast majority of rapid tests will be sent to provinces and territories for them to distribute in the best way to serve their citizens,” he said. 

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