TORONTO -- Ontario Premier Doug Ford has announced COVID-19 tests will be available in up to 60 pharmacies across the province starting on Friday.

Ford made the announcement in Huntsville, Ont. on Wednesday while unveiling the second part of the government's COVID-19 fall preparedness plan.

Ontarians who make an appointment and have no COVID-19 symptoms will able to get a free COVID-19 test at participating Shoppers Drug Mart, Rexall and independent pharmacy locations.

Ford said the initiative will reduce pressure on the province's 147 assessment centres, some of which have seen long line-ups in recent weeks.

The government said further locations will be added to the list in the coming weeks. 

"We need to make it easier to get a COVID test, as it is with a flu shot," Ford said. "It is easy to get a flu shot and we have to make sure a COVID test is just as easy."

Ford also announced that three Toronto hospitals - Women's College, Mount Sinai and Toronto Western Hospital - will start conducting COVID-19 saliva testing this week. 

Ford took aim at Health Canada though for not yet approving point-of-care salivia tests, which he said would help speed up the results process. 

"It is affecting the whole system," Ford said. "Just imagine if we had these saliva tests like I have been on here for a couple months begging and pleading for. We wouldn’t be in this position right now because very simply we would have these stores up and running, we would have these additional sites and we would be able to test more people."

Health Minister Patty Hajdu, however, told reporters last week that there remains issues around the accuracy of the various rapid COVID-19 testing devices and that they will not be permitted until that has been resolved.

The testing initiative is the second part of the government's fall pandemic preparedness plan.

The first piece, announced yesterday, involved purchasing millions of seasonal flu shots that the government is encouraging all residents to get.

Ford said on Tuesday a "more challenging" and “more complicated” second wave of COVID-19 is on its way.

“The flu shot helps reduce visits to our emergency rooms and doctor’s offices during the season and this will help with keeping capacity in our health-care system,” the premier said. “We need to ensure our hospitals are not overwhelmed by the next wave of COVID-19."

Ontario reported a big drop in the number of new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday after nearly 500 infections were reported just a day before.

Health officials confirmed 335 new cases on Wednesday. The number is a significant decrease from the 478 cases reported Tuesday, which was the highest daily total since May 2 when 511 cases were confirmed.

With files from CP24's Chris Fox