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Alberta’s rapid test kit program gets off to rocky start


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The roll-out of Alberta’s rapid test kit program is off to a slow and rocky start as people across Calgary are reporting long waits and long lines at their local pharmacies.

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Premier Jason Kenney announced earlier this week that the province would be making rapid test kits available for people to take home at select pharmacies and health centres beginning Friday morning. More than 500,000 kits of five tests designed to be taken every 72 hours by symptomatic individuals would be handed out to Albertans on a first-come, first-serve basis. The kits are also expected to be expanded to more schools and vulnerable populations.

However, a number of Calgarians lined up outside their local health centres early Friday morning to learn that test kits were either not delivered or tracking systems were not working properly.

Allison Glydon went to the Shoppers Drug Mart in Silverado shortly after 8 a.m. She said there were about 10 people in front of her when she arrived and she expected to be quickly in and out with a kit each for herself and her daughter. She ended up waiting about an hour before seeing one or two people get their kits. Then she said an employee told everyone waiting there was an issue with the computer system and a short while later they took everyone’s name, phone number and health care number and said they would call them later.

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“It just feels like a waste of time,” said Glydon. “It’s frustrating to have wasted like an hour of your day and I have to go back later.”

Glydon said she felt bad for the employees at the pharmacy as it did not appear to be their fault or the stores fault that customers could not receive their tests. She said it is frustrating to watch other provinces that have test kits readily available for some time now while Alberta has struggled in several roll-outs relating to the fight against COVID.

Albertans also dealt with long lines and hour-long waits when vaccines were first rolled out in the spring. Call times to book vaccines also had long wait times.

“It’s just disappointing, it’s not the end of the world, like we’re lucky that we get them for free and we’re lucky to live in a place that we’re able to do that but it’s also like come on, you can’t get this right,” said Glydon.

Glydon said she went to her local grocery store after leaving the pharmacy and saw a long line there as well before she went home.

Early Friday morning Glydon appeared to not be the only one struggling to get their tests, several people took to social media to express frustrations over not being able to get their rapid antigen test kits. Former City Councillor Druh Farrell posted a tweet saying she initially visited a Shoppers Drug Mart where they did not have authorization to hand out the kits. In a subsequent tweet she said she had tried several locations to no avail.

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“Beware before you brave this weather, we tried several listed pharmacies so far. The ones we tried, the tests haven’t been delivered by AHS. Lots of very frustrated, very cold people,” wrote Farrell.

Alberta Health spokesperson Lisa Glover said the department has not had significant distribution issues to pharmacies and that the roll-out was proceeding as announced.

“There will inevitably be some variance in delivery arrival time at individual pharmacies or other clinical settings, given new products are being delivered to hundreds of locations across the province,” said Glover in an email. “Deliveries to specific locations depend on many factors, including weather and road conditions on a given day.”

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Glover said she Alberta Health was pleased to hear that there was a high demand on the first day tests were available. She said if certain locations do not have tests available, Albertans should go online to find other participating locations.

By 10:30 a.m. the roll-out appeared to be going smoothly at several SW Calgary pharmacies. The line-up at Shoppers Drug Mart in Chinook Mall was about 12 people long as it took people 15 to 20 minutes to get their tests.

Deanna Langel said the mall location was the third store she had been to that morning. She said she went to a pharmacy and a grocery store in her home community earlier that day with each having long lines.

“I went and did some other stuff, I had kind of given up and then I happened to come to the mall for like the opening at 10 o’clock and walking by here I thought oh, well, let’s, let’s see if they’re if they have any here and it was it was pretty slick,” said Langel.

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Down the road at Guardian Pharmacy in Sloane Square, employee Hala Shokry said that there had been a line-up of about 17 people when they first opened. She said since the initial rush, there had been a steady number of customers.

Shokry said they had gone through half a box of kits but said they still had about 80 per cent of their initial supply. A few blocks north at Pharmedic Pharamcy on Macleod Trail, Owner Mubeen Sadiq said he expected to run out supply by Sunday and hoped the government would be providing more next week.

“I have three pharmacies, I received (supply) only at two pharmacies, one pharmacy didn’t get it,” said Sadiq. “One of my friends, he called me, he didn’t get his supply. So not sure what’s the criteria. But I’m happy they sent to two pharmacies. They say that my other pharmacy will get (supply) next week. Let’s see.”

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Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she had heard of the issues around the roll-out that occurred Friday morning but said that it is encouraging to see so many Calgarians wanting to get the take home tests.

“I think the most positive sign we can see is the Calgarians are lined up to get these kids because they want to keep themselves and their family members and their friends safe over this holiday season. I’m sure it will work itself out. But it’s been a tough morning,” said Gondek.

Alberta Health Services’ South Zone tweeted that due to high demand, AHS sites in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Pincher Creek and Coaldale had run out of kits. They said more will be available next week.

dshort@postmedia.com 

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