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No northern Ontario sites for pop-up holiday testing blitz

NDP says Ford 'shouldn’t be making families wait for an important tool to keep them safe'

The province has released the list of sites for its pop-up holiday testing blitz, but so far Northern Ontario hasn't made the cut. 

From now to mid-January, Ontario is providing free rapid antigen tests in high-traffic locations such as malls, holiday markets, libraries and transit hubs. The tests are for people who do not have COVID-19 symptoms and who have not had a recent exposure. Take-home tests will be available or people can do a free test on-site.

A list of 29 locations for the holiday testing blitz was revealed today. There are no locations in Northern Ontario on the list. The government is expected to also make take-home rapid tests available at LCBO stores, however, those locations have not been confirmed.

After the provincial announcement, NDP MPPs released a joint statement saying Northerners should not have to wait for the free rapid tests. The statement includes Timmins MPP Gilles Bisson, Mushkegowuk-James Bay MPP Guy Bourgouin, Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP John Vanthof, Sudbury MPP Jamie West, Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas and Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha. 

"COVID is an immediate threat to all Ontarians. Northern Ontario has been facing higher numbers of COVID cases, yet Doug Ford has left out Northerners from provincial plans for free rapid COVID tests.  Ford’s decision to ignore us during the rise of the Omicron variant means risking the further spread of COVID in northern communities," reads the statement.

"The Ford government should be doing everything in their power to help northerners stop the virus.  They shouldn’t be making families wait for an important tool to keep them safe.  New Democrats are calling on Doug Ford to act now to ensure that northern families get easy access to free COVID tests right away.

Omicron is spreading quickly and we need to stop it now.” 

Today, Ontario reported 2,421 new COVID-19 cases. In Northern Ontario, the Sudbury area and Algoma have been particularly hard hit by rising case numbers recently. The Timiskaming Health Unit also has a number of active outbreaks, including one in a hockey association, and one of its schools has moved to virtual learning due to the number of students absent after an exposure.

The Ontario Science Table also released new projections today, saying a "circuit breaker" is needed to blunt the impact of the Omicron variant.

The list of holiday testing sites is available here. The province says additional sites will be updated weekly.