The Canadian military has embarked on a plan to acquire its own coronavirus testing capability, senior defense officials told a House of Commons committee today.
The plan is still in its early stages, but Rear Admiral Rebecca Patterson, commander of the Canadian Forces Health Services Group, said the Armed Forces are working to step up testing – both rapid and laboratory – for them. people in uniform.
“The Canadian Armed Forces, since the onset of the COVID crisis, have slowly but steadily acquired testing capabilities along with the rest of Canada,” Patterson told the defense committee, which is examining the impact of the pandemic on the army. .
Spread across the country, the military had to rely heavily on the public health system for testing.
Patterson told the all-stakeholder committee that surveillance tests carried out by the military itself have focused on hot spots and areas where there are confirmed cases, but are spreading.
To date, Health Canada has given the green light to more than three dozen different tests for COVID-19. Only a handful of these are considered rapid or “point-of-care” tests.
Provincial health authorities, who now have 3.8 million rapid tests at their disposal, are trying to figure out how best to use them.
The military is largely in the same boat with its limited supply. “As we deploy our Canadian capability, our ability to conduct surveillance testing is primarily focused on deployed operations,” Patterson said.
“We have deployed a test capability with the Royal Canadian Navy. We have it on the sites where people will board. [for deployments], such as [the military air base at] Trenton. Otherwise, we use testing wherever Canadian Forces members are. “
Patterson assured the committee that the military at home and abroad has access to rapid tests for the coronavirus. Currently, just over 2,000 troops, crews and sailors are on mission overseas.
The COVID-19 test considered to be the most accurate is the one performed in the laboratory; it usually takes at least a day to deliver results. Rapid tests can be processed in as little as 15 minutes no matter where the patient is, but they are considered to be somewhat less reliable than lab results.
The discussion of the committee tests was sparked, in part, by reports earlier this year that a personnel carrier, bound for Latvia, was forced to turn around after it was discovered that a security screen in Trenton had tested positive for the virus.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the Chief of Staff of the Canadian Joint Operations Command – the headquarters that oversees all operations, foreign and domestic – said procedures were in place to prevent a recurrence of such an incident .
“We have taken the necessary measures to ensure that we are not threat vectors in the areas [overseas] where we do our jobs, ”said Fortin.