A health-care worker gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

First antigen rapid test for COVID-19 gets Canadian approval

Health Canada will distribute both tests to provincial and territorial governments

Procurement Minister Anita Anand says Canada is buying more than 20 million of the rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 approved by Health Canada today.

Abbott Rapid Diagnostics in Germany got the green light from Health Canada to sell its Panbio antigen rapid test in Canada this morning.

Canada has also signed a contract with Abbott that will see the company ship 20.5 million of the ruler-sized test devices to Canada.

This approval comes a week after Health Canada authorized the use of another rapid test from Abbott Diagnostics in the United States.

That test, the ID Now kit, can provide results in as little as 13 minutes on the spot where the patient is tested. The ID Now test looks for the genetic material of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The Panbio test uses antigen technology, and can produce results in less than 15 minutes. Antigens are unique molecules found on the outside of a particular virus.

Canada is buying 7.9 million of the ID Now tests, and another 3,800 of the analyzer boxes that are needed to run the results. The Panbio test does not need an analyzer box, and looks somewhat like a pregnancy test, with a little window on a stick that shows positive or negative results.

Health Canada will distribute both tests to provincial and territorial governments through an allocation agreement that is supposed to ensure equitable distribution that takes into account each jurisdiction’s need.

Health Canada will not say how many of each test will be sent to which province or when. About 2.5 million of the ID Now tests are expected by the end of the year, with the first delivery to take place next week.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said in the House of Commons Monday the government promised rapid tests six months ago, hitting a recurring theme in Tory questions to the Liberals.

“Their slow response is impacting millions of Canadians,” he said. “In Quebec, it is the long lineups. In Ontario, it is the labs that are stretched to the limit. In Manitoba, it is confusion over buying rapid tests. When is the prime minister going to take the help of Canadians seriously and roll out a real plan for rapid testing?”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said she too wants to see more rapid tests in this country.

“I share the member opposite’s view that rapid testing is absolutely essential to our health,” she said. “It is absolutely essential to our economic recovery.”

The ID Now tests came under some scrutiny in the United States over the weekend when it was revealed they were used at the White House to test staff almost daily.

Dr. Supriya Sharma, the senior medical adviser to the deputy minister of health, said in an interview that in Canada the tests are approved only for use on patients who are showing symptoms of COVID-19, and only within the first seven days after symptoms appear.

She said Health Canada is confident in the studies that show ID Now tests accurately diagnose a positive case 92.9 per cent of the time, and that negative results are accurate more than 98 per cent of the time.

Abbott’s website says the Panbio test is accurate with positive results 93 per cent of the time, and negative results 99 per cent of the time.

Panbio is the fourth test approved by Health Canada that can be completed without sending specimens to a laboratory and is the second that can provide results in 15 minutes or less.

The other two tests are Hyris’s BCube, which takes about 90 minutes to deliver results, and Cepheid’s GeneExpert, which provides results in under an hour.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


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