Premier Doug Ford has defended Ontario's approach to distributing COVID-19 rapid tests in the midst of growing calls to make them more widely available as cases rise and the new Omicron variant spreads.

"There's no one that's handing out more tests than we are. Matter of fact, we're doing 57 per cent of all rapid tests in the entire country. So we're handing out more tests than every province and territory combined," Ford said at an announcement in Peterborough on Wednesday. 

A spokeswoman for the province's health minister said Ontario currently has 5.75 million rapid antigen tests in its inventory, and as of Nov. 29, 33.35 million had been handed out.

By comparison, British Columbia has received 3.2 million tests and deployed 1.17 million and in Quebec, 11.7 million tests have been received and 5.71 milion have been given out, according to federal data.

"We're giving out about a million tests every single week," Ford said. "Those are staggering numbers."

However, opposition leaders and health experts say the province’s approach to distributing rapid tests does not push far enough.

"We should be making rapid tests free right now, and handing out as many as we possibly can," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. 

"This is part of the action plan Ontario needs to prevent another COVID wave. Let people take a rapid test before visiting with loved ones. Encourage people take a rapid test at the first signs of a cold."

At the moment, rapid tests are offered to businesses for free and at select pharmacies. People who have come into contact with a positive COVID-19 case can also get access to a test.

 

At some schools where COVID-19 rates are high, students who are symptomatic or considered a close contact have access to rapid tests. The government said it’s planning to hand out five rapid tests to each student in the province ahead of December break. 

"It makes sense from a scientific perspective to use rapid tests more frequently, for example, schools, in workplaces, in congregate settings, and to make rapid tests more available in this province," Dr. Peter Juni, the scientific director of Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, told CP24 on Tuesday. 

The group of science experts is set to release new recommendations on rapid testing on Wednesday.