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Locals say drugstores are price gouging COVID-19 rapid tests. B.C. health officials weigh in

Is over $125 too much to pay for five testing kits?

B.C. health officials say they can't control the price of rapid coronavirus tests on the private market but that there is a global supply shortage of the testing kits. 

British Columbians have expressed frustration on social media about the lack of rapid tests in B.C. drug stores over the past few months, particularly when other provinces have provided people with free testing kits. While the kits are free at testing clinics, many locals have reported extremely long wait times to access them. Additionally, B.C.'s top doctor has encouraged people with mild illness not to get tested in order to free up space for individuals who are at a high risk of developing severe disease. 

A Pharmasave in Vancouver confirmed with Vancouver Is Awesome Tuesday (Jan. 25) that it is selling COVID-19 rapid tests. The drugstore is selling Rapid Response COVID-19 Antigen tests manufactured by BTNX Inc. A kit comes with five tests and costs $124.99. 

Locals may also order the rapid tests through various companies online, such as through The Canadian Shield or Rapid Test & Trace Canada. However, the products cost significantly less through these online suppliers. 

In a press briefing on Tuesday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters that she couldn't comment on the steep price of testing kits in local drugs stores. With this in mind, she noted that there is a "global shortage of rapid tests." 

"We look to our neighbours to the south...where they've been trying to get large numbers and it affects the amounts that we've been getting [in] Canada," she said. "So I expect that has something to do with it as well."

Public health will continue to make rapid tests available in settings where they are most useful first, Henry noted. "And if and when we get to that place where there is a limited supply, we are my aim is to make sure that everybody has access to them as much as possible."

Health Minister Adrian Dix added that the province expects to receive 10,800,000 rapid tests from Jan. 25 to the middle of February. Priority will be given to long-term care facilities, acute care settings, schools, and certain businesses. 

While B.C. will receive over 10 million tests, Dix emphasized that this works out to roughly two tests per British Columbian. As a result, the province is working on areas where they can be used most effectively first. 

But the health minister added that "no one wants to see anybody gouge" and the issue is "something to look at" although it is outside of the healthcare system.