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COVID-19 test loophole at Ontario pharmacies

Last Updated Jul 25, 2021 at 2:24 pm EDT

A loophole in Ontario’s COVID-19 testing procedures could be leading to some skipping out on paying the bill when traveling abroad.

Currently the province is not offering free tests to those travelling out of the country. Free tests are only offered to people who fit certain eligibility requirements such as falling into a priority group or have symptoms of COVID-19.

CityNews has heard from medical professionals who say some people are scamming the system and pretending to have symptoms to avoid paying for a COVID test out of pocket.

With more countries accepting international travelers, many Canadians have set their sights on a vacation abroad. Crossing international borders has changed in the pandemic, and many countries now require either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

Testing for those travelling internationally is currently being offered at select Ontario pharmacies.

To receive a pharmacy test you have to be asymptomatic and go through a pre-screening process. If you are travelling internationally, it could cost you upwards of $100 to 200 for the gold standard PCR test.

“We do rely on the honesty and integrity of the person who’s going through the COVID pre screening process.” Says Justin Bates, president of the Ontario Pharmacist Association.

Bates acknowledges that people could be misrepresenting themselves to avoid paying for a COVID test. He believes making tests more accessible could close the loophole entirely.

“We have over 2,000 pharmacies that are willing to participate in a testing program.” Bates continues, “We would call on the government to expand the PCR testing program, and to also bring back travel into the public reimbursement.”

Marty Firestone is with Travel Secure, he says if people are gaming the system it’s likely because of the cost placed on COVID tests.

“When you think of a family of four, potentially $150 a test, going away,” said Firestone “Remember, you still have to get another one when you come back. That’s two sets of tests that are required. You’re looking at hundreds and hundreds of dollars.”

CityNews reached out to the Ministry of Health asking for a comment on this loophole and whether the province has seen a jump in demand for tests.

“Those attending assessment centres and community testing sites are required to meet the set of testing criteria as determined by the Ministry of Health,” read a statement. “We expect that anyone seeking a test at an assessment centre or community testing site is doing so based on the eligibility criteria outlined in provincial testing guidance from the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, which can be found here.”

“There has not been an upward trend in the daily number of tests in recent weeks,” continued the statement.

With files from CItyNews’ Erick Espinosa