Canada has approved a 15-minute COVID test. But the queues will go on for hours

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Health Canada has given the green light for a rapid test for the coronavirus, but experts say people shouldn’t expect the backlog of tests – and the lineups – to disappear anytime soon.

“It’s kind of sold as a reduction in the backlog,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University, of the newly approved ID Now test. “I’m uncomfortable with it. I don’t think it will significantly reduce the backlog.

“It’s good to have another tool to get people tested, but it’s probably not the testing that’s going to completely change the provincial lines for testing.

Ottawa announced Wednesday that it has approved the test developed by Abbott Laboratories, which can provide results in less than 15 minutes after a patient swab, without having to first send the sample to a lab for processing.

Neither the company nor the federal government will be more specific on when the test kits begin to arrive, other than “the weeks to come.”

The approval came a day after the federal government announced it had signed an agreement to purchase nearly eight million tests from the U.S. company, pending Health Canada approval, as well as 3,800 analyzers that process the results.

The ID Now test has been approved and used in the United States since the end of March under emergency clearance, but not without controversy. Several clinical studies have since raised concerns about its accuracy, although others have yielded more favorable results.

“If you look at some of the literature that has come out around this machine, there are a few positives missing,” Chagla noted. “From reading the American experiences, it is recommended that people who still have symptoms after a negative test have another test.

“There are limits with this machine, but it’s better than nothing at this point.”

According to an Abbott spokesperson, the test should be administered by a qualified healthcare provider.

A swab is taken either from the nose or the back of the throat, then mixed with a chemical solution capable of “recognizing a single section of the coronavirus genome, while ignoring other viruses even if they are similar strains. “Said the spokesperson. the star in an email.

“ID NOW delivers reliable results in minutes, rather than hours or days, on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic with accuracy rates as high as 94.7% compared to benchmark PCR tests in laboratory in the acute phase of the disease. “

Dr Andrew Morris, an infectious disease specialist at Sinai Health and University Health Network, called the approval of the rapid test “welcome,” but that’s no surprise. The test “has been approved in almost every jurisdiction where there has been a demand,” he said.

The question now is when these tests will arrive.

Other countries and the World Health Organization have bought them as well, and it’s not clear “where we are in the pecking order,” Morris said.

“Inevitably this will help us, but we really needed it several weeks ago to avoid our backlog,” he said.

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The province also needs to determine how the new tests will be used as part of a broader strategy, which should include “surveillance, screening and diagnostic testing.”

It’s something that “really challenged us,” Morris said. “It will increase our testing capacity, it probably won’t be used in the bigger issues, because its quality will definitely not be as good as the standard PCR test.”

While the rapid test can relieve pressure on the back-end of the testing process in labs, Chagla said people still have to go through the same check-in at COVID assessment centers and line up to get tested. .

Local health authorities should consider what their testing needs are and how the test can meet those needs.

The rapid test works best in remote areas where testing centers and laboratories are far away, for asymptomatic people, and in high-risk workplaces where routine testing is needed, said Chagla.

“We have to develop a system to determine which is best for which test,” Chagla said.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the University Health Network, said the approval “will help further” and was “a great decision” but “not a quick fix”.

It may be especially helpful in remote or northern communities far from labs, for some workplace outbreaks, or even in underserved urban neighborhoods that have been hit hard by COVID, to “remove the barriers” to testing.

The newly approved ID NOW rapid test should not be confused with antigen tests, which test for proteins on the surface of the virus. Health Canada said on Tuesday it was still reviewing them.

The goal, Bogoch said, would be a quick antigen test you could do at home, before you go to work or school, similar to a pregnancy test.

If it were positive, he said, it would trigger a more formal test at the center. But in the meantime, it would let you know not to go to work and isolate yourself, to avoid infecting others.

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Nicholas Keung is a Toronto reporter who covers immigration for The Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung
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