A sign at the Yellowknife Covid-19 drive-through testing site in April 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The NWT government says delays in the production of recently purchased Covid-19 tests, designed to give much faster results, won’t derail plans to gradually ease pandemic restrictions.
Spartan Bioscience’s new tests have a problem with the specially designed swab that accompanies the kit. Health Canada says the tests can’t be used to diagnose patients until that is resolved.
On Monday, Spartan said it expects to be able to mass-produce corrected versions of the kits by this summer.
Spartan’s tests are supposed to provide results within an hour.
The NWT’s chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola, had said the Spartan device was part of a plan to ramp up testing with a view to declaring some parts of the territory Covid-free and easing the current pandemic restrictions.
For example, though restrictions at the NWT’s border are likely to remain in place for months, rules prohibiting gatherings could be at least somewhat relaxed.
The territorial government says despite Spartan’s problems, other units – Xpert Xpress devices, part of a system named GeneXpert – “will be sufficient to carry out a significantly expanded community surveillance program.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services said the GeneXpert tests alone would still give Dr Kandola “a good idea of how, or whether, Covid-19 is moving within our territory quite quickly.”
The GeneXpert tests will be carried out at Yellowknife’s Stanton Territorial Hospital, where the equipment is already understood to be in place. Last week, territorial officials said there were issues acquiring some of the supplies needed for the tests, meaning some patients may still be reliant on the older tests – with four-day turnarounds at an Alberta lab.
“We are certainly disappointed by these developments with the Spartan system,” said NWT government spokesperson Mike Westwick by email.
“However, this isn’t a significant setback in the context of our overall strategy.
“We hope the concerns with the swabs will be sorted out in the medium term as the portability of the Spartan system was its key selling point – one we hoped to eventually use in non-traditional locations like boundary crossings.”
Spartan has recalled all of the units sent out to date. The NWT said it had ordered seven and had yet to receive any at the time of the recall.