‘Missed email’ led to Yellowknife Airport running out of tests


Yellowknife’s airport had no rapid Covid-19 tests for four days not because supplies ran out but because an email was overlooked, the territorial government said on Saturday.

The NWT wants people entering the territory to use rapid tests on arrival, but travellers reaching Yellowknife Airport between December 30 and January 3 said the tests were nowhere to be found.

On Tuesday, Premier Caroline Cochrane said the airport had no tests because of a “distribution issue.” Asked to elaborate at the time, Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola said: “At that particular point on December 30, they had run out of supplies.”

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Neither Cochrane nor Dr Kandola mentioned a miscommunication, but the Covid-19 Secretariat now says the airport in fact ran out of tests because an email requesting more went unnoticed for days.

“On December 30, the Yellowknife airport ran out of tests to hand out to travellers arriving at that location. An email was sent from Covid Secretariat staff at the airport on the evening of December 31 to request replenishment of testing kit supplies,” spokesperson Richard Makohoniuk said by email on Saturday. Why staff waited a day to send that email was not explained.

“Unfortunately, this email was missed. However, when it was caught and our logistics team was made aware of the situation (January 3), they immediately arranged for the tests we had on hand to be delivered from the warehouse to the airport and test distribution resumed,” Makohoniuk wrote.

The oversight, over the new year’s holiday weekend, illustrated the challenges the territory faced in hastily implementing a testing regime over the festive season as a new variant spread.

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The clarification about how the airport came to be devoid of rapid tests at a key point – with hundreds of people returning from holiday travel as the Omicron variant took root across Canada – arrived as the Covid-19 Secretariat tried to clear up a seemingly cryptic reference from the chief public health officer.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Kandola had implied the involvement of a third party in restocking Yellowknife’s airport with rapid tests.

She told reporters: “We were connected to an individual on Monday that could… we were able to find more supplies and provide it to the airport distributors.”

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Asked which individual this was and what role they played, the Covid-19 Secretariat on Saturday said: “There is no mystery individual. Dr Kandola was referencing a public servant, a GNWT employee, who arranged for delivery of the testing kits to the airport.”

Travellers who came through Yellowknife Airport but couldn’t access a rapid test were given a chance earlier this week to return to the airport – if they were able – and pick one up.

Makohoniuk said 91 test kits were distributed to people who couldn’t get one the first time around.

The email mix-up explains a discrepancy related to the number of rapid tests the federal government says the Northwest Territories has received.

On its website, Ottawa states the NWT had been given 249,000 tests as of December 31 and had used 49,500 of them by December 10.

Even allowing for the period since December 10, had the airport actually run out of tests with no more supplies available, questions may have arisen about how some 200,000 tests had been used in the past month.

The territory has now begun offering rapid test kits at its highway borders as well as airports, an expansion that suggests supply of rapid tests is considered stable.