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No endless supply of rapid tests: Haggie

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Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Dr. John Haggie says anyone who thinks there’s a bottomless supply of rapid antigen tests in the province is sadly mistaken.

“There seems to be a myth out there that there’s some warehouse, like in the movie Indiana Jones, which goes on forever, full of rapid test kits,” he said, referring to an expansive storage facility first portrayed in the film “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

“That is not the case.”

Not only is there a global and national shortage, he said, but the province has already allocated hundreds of thousands of the tests for specific uses.

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“We need somewhere around 335,000 kits a month to deal with our policy around schools, when they reopen. We need a similar amount to deal with points of entry, Some days we have 500 visitors, some days we have 1,500, and each of them need five.”

He says about 60,000 a month are allocated for daycare operators, and long-term care and congregate living are expected to use up about 200,000 a month.

He said the province has not yet received its share of a promised 140 million tests from the federal government. That would amount to about two millions tests.

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And the province is sourcing more than 500,000 tests on its own.

“We keep a small reserve for Public Health to use in outbreaks,” he said.

“If we had ‘em, we’d give you them. But at the moment, we’ve got to be careful that we leave ourselves a little pile in case there’s an outbreak somewhere where Public Health would find them incredibly useful, and also deal with schools and daycares and points of entry.”

Meanwhile, Haggie said Monday the province will stay at Alert Level 4 for at least another week, but he’s encouraged that hospitalizations in the province are still well below the national average.

As of Monday, 15 people were in hospital, three of them in critical care, out of 5,325 known active cases.

“This rate of hospitalization, however, is actually the lowest in Canada, and the reason for that is the game-changer that has occurred because of your efforts to take the vaccine” he said. “We have had an excellent uptake. We lead the country in vaccination rates for first and second doses.”

The province also leads in first doses for 5- to 11-year-olds.

“That number is as low as it is because of everyone’s hard work with the vaccine and now with the boosters.”

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Haggie said the province is staying at Alert Level 4 not only to see where hospitalizations end up, but also to make sure the decreasing daily case counts are not misleading, since the criteria for testing has left out many positive cases.

“We need to be sure that we aren’t just lulling ourselves a little bit,” he said. “So we’ve switched emphasis to hospitalizations.”

So far, the province still plans to open schools on Jan. 24, and Haggie said that will offer some advantages in terms of vaccinations.

“One of the easiest places to vaccinate children is actually in the school that they go to, which is currently not open.”

He also said Public Health hopes a larger proportion of boosted staff and teachers will offer a broader degree of safety.

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