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Winding down of free COVID-19 rapid test kit access in N.B. 'an abdication of what public health is supposed to be,' says epidemiologist

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The New Brunswick government is winding down its distribution of free COVID-19 rapid test kits.

The province’s Department of Health says it will stop offering free rapid tests at public libraries and other designated pick-up sites when its current supply runs out. According to the province, that will likely happen by the end of June, with tests expiring in September.

Dr. Yves Léger, New Brunswick’s acting chief medical officer of health, was not made available for an interview and the department didn’t provide information about how many tests were still in stock, as of Tuesday.

Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island’s Department of Health didn’t provide a current estimate for its stock of rapid tests, nor any details about future distribution plans.

Prince Edward Island’s government did confirm its inventory of rapid tests would expire in October.

The federal government has spent roughly $5 billion on acquiring and distributing rapid testing kits to provinces and territories, signalling its plans for no further deliveries. The federal government’s inventory of tests is set to expire by the end of the year.

“I was expecting the federal government to want and get out of the rapid test procurement business,” says Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Toronto. “They don’t do health care usually and I think the acute crisis phase has long passed.”

“Since I was expecting that, I’m not surprised that provinces are finding a way to not pick up the slack.”

Furness says decisions by provincial and territorial departments of health to move away from free rapid test access will create a public health divide, with single test swabs beginning at $7 each.

“We know that COVID-19 is not an equal-opportunity disease, we’ve known this for four years,” says Furness. “COVID tends to have a disproportionately high impact on people who are lower on the socio-economic ladder; people who don’t have the luxury of working from home, people who are doing essential work, people who because of their income are living in more crowded conditions. These are all risk factors and they’re all socio-economically tied. So to say, ‘Yeah, there’s this tool that will keep you safe if you have enough money to pay for it,’ I think is an abdication of what public health is supposed to be, which is public.”

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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