The province will receive about 2.6 million rapid antigen tests by between mid-December and mid-January, according to health officials. This includes 500,000 BTNX rapid tests that B.C. has purchased and 200,000 PANBIO rapid point-of-care tests sent by the federal governments.
Of these, 700,000 will be made available at sample collection sites for people with symptoms. While PCR testing will remain available for symptomatic individuals throughout this whole time, health officials urged British Columbians not to use those sites to test prior to travelling or visiting family.
The rest will be split up into the following categories; 100,000 tests distributed by long-term care facilities for staff and all visitors; 100,000 will be used for symptomatic staff and close contacts at acute care facilities; 1.2 million tests will be used for rural, remote, Indigenous and vulnerable community testing for symptomatic individuals; 250,000 tests will expand the Rapid COVID-19 Point of Care Screening Program for businesses and organizations; and 250,000 tests will be used for case and contact management and outbreaks, as their need is determine by medical health officers and health authorities.
Provincial officials said that by mid-January, Canada will receive 84 million rapid tests. Of those, B.C. has asked for 11 million, or 13.5 per cent which will be used to provide publicly funded tests at additional locations in the community.
About seven million of the 11 million tests will be reserved for public health’s contact tracing uses and to protect the clinically extremely vulnerable and those ages 70 and up.
Half a million tests will be reserved for K-12 students and staff to support return-to-school, while 500,000 will be used by post-secondaries for rapid testing of symptomatic students, faculty, staff and students.
Another three million tests will be used to expand or replenish supply for long-term care, health-care workers, rural, remote and Indigenous communities, businesses and case and contact management.
COVID-19 booster rollout
The province will speed up its rollout of COVID-19 booster shots. Currently, just under 730,000 boosters and third doses have been administered and officials said that the program is proceeding at a 35 per cent higher capacity than initially assumed.
Starting in January, officials said that booster capacity will increase by 62 per cent – compared to initial plans announced in the fall – due to more health authority clinics and pharmacies joining the program. Under this new scenario, everyone ages 18 and up will be eligible to get their booster by the end of March 2022, two months sooner than than previously expected. So far, 67 per cent of individuals age 70 and up have received their booster shots.
This sped-up booster schedule will ensure that once an individual becomes eligible, they can get their booster within one to three weeks.
Although many mass vaccination sites have closed since the initial rollout in the spring and summer, some of them will return. The Vancouver Convention Centre will reopen for booster doses on Jan. 5 to serve the entire Lower Mainland, providing about 130,000 shots that month. In Fraser Health, a mass vaccination site will reopen in Guildford; Island Health and Interior Health are both working on securing large venues and Northern Health is securing mobile clinics.