Ontario will continue to provide free COVID-19 rapid antigen tests for another six months amid a “triple threat” of respiratory illnesses this winter.
Health Minister Sylvia Jones made the announcement on Thursday, flanked by Premier Doug Ford, while also discussing a new provincial investment that will pay for nursing tuition.
“This year’s triple threat of influenza, RSV, and COVID-19 has placed extra demands on the health-care system across the country,” Jones said. “We continue to encourage all Ontarians to stay up to date with their vaccines, including getting your available booster dose and your flu shot.”
“We are also extending the very successful free rapid antigen test program in grocery stores and pharmacies across the province until June 30, 2023.”
The Ontario government has been distributing free rapid antigen tests to more than 2,000 locations since February 2022. The program was previously extended and was set to end on Dec. 31.
When the program was first announced, the province said that about 5.5 million tests would be distributed each week.
CTV News Toronto has reached out to the Ministry of Health to determine if this is still the case.
The province also announced Thursday it will be providing the Michener Institute with over $4.6 million to “remove financial barriers for nurses wanting to upskill to work in critical care areas of hospitals.”
The funding will be used to provide free tuition for students and to pay for college and hospital costs. The premier said they expect close to 600 nurses to have completed their upskilling education by spring 2023.
“That is 600 more nurses ready to care for our most vulnerable in ICUs across Ontario, including our pediatric ICUs,” Ford said.
“It’s all hands on deck as we use every tool we have to get more nurses working in Ontario right now.”
The government is also investing more than $9.4 million to support accelerated critical care nursing at numerous universities and colleges.
Ontario’s hospitals, including those with pediatric units, have been struggling to manage an influx of patients dealing with COVID-19, influenza, and RSV. Patients have reported extraordinarily long wait times in emergency departments and some surgeries have been cancelled due to a lack of beds.
However, the Ontario government has been adamant there is not a nursing crisis in the province. Just a day earlier, Jones told reporters Ontario has “not seen a mass exodus of nurses” leaving the profession.