Canada's hardest hit province limits virus testing as demand grows for swabs

OTTAWA/TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada’s most populous province of Ontario, which has reported more than 100 new coronavirus cases, on Saturday said it would limit testing for the respiratory illness until it can guarantee a more steady supply of swabs.

“There is in an increased global demand for viral nasopharyngeal swabs due to COVID-19,” Public Health Ontario said on its Web site. “In an effort to ensure swabs are available where most needed, the Public Health Laboratory is limiting the volume of swabs supplied.”

On Friday, Canada ramped up its fight against the coronavirus outbreak, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging Canadians against all foreign travel during a news conference held outside his home, where he is in quarantine after his wife, Sophie, tested positive for the disease.

Canada also said those who return from abroad should isolate themselves for two weeks. The foreign ministry urged Canadians to return home on commercial flights “while they remain available”.

Travis Kann, spokesman for Ontario’s minister of health, said the province is prioritizing tests for people who do not have any history of travel since everyone who has been outside the country is expected to self-isolate upon return.

“We expect to expand the testing once we’re confident in stable supply, and so we’re working, obviously, with our manufacturing and supply chain partners,” he said. “It’s our hope that we procure them as quickly as possible.”

Ontario has seen about half of the more than 220 cases recorded nationally. With a case on Prince Edward Island confirmed on Saturday, eight of Canada’s 10 provinces have reported cases. Canada has had one death.

British Columbia’s chief medical officer Bonnie Henry also said on Saturday testing would be more limited, also because of the new self-isolation guidelines for international travelers.

“We don’t need to test everyone who’s been outside of the country even if they’re mildly ill,” Henry said in an televised news conference. She said there was no supply problem, but the limits would make sure “those who need those tests get it”.

Both Ontario and British Columbia, after widespread reports of stockpiling, told people that they did not need to horde food because there are no supply problems.

U.S. President Donald Trump said he had a “nice conversation” with Trudeau on Saturday and “to coordinate closely together on COVID-19”.

“Great to hear that his wonderful wife Sophie is doing very well,” he added.

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