Walmart to offer free, in-store rapid tests after Ford criticizes mandatory purchase policy

By Lucas Casaletto

Walmart says it’s reversing its policy and will no longer require that customers pay a minimum of $35 to secure a rapid antigen test kit following backlash from Ontarians and the Premier.

The province announced a plan to expand access to rapid COVID-19 test kits, revealing that free RATs will be available at grocery stores, pharmacies and other settings starting Wednesday.

Retailers participating in the program include Shoppers Drug Mart, Metro, Rexall, Loblaws, Sobey’s, Longo’s, and Walmart.

CityNews first received a tip from a concerned shopper who alleged they needed to make a purchase at Walmart to obtain a rapid antigen test kit. On its website, Walmart says that customers “must have a minimum order value of $35 before taxes.”

“Customers who place a Grocery Pick-up order on will receive one free COVID-19 rapid antigen test kit with their order at the point of pick-up,” they wrote.

The retailer also stated that for stores not offering offer Grocery Pick-up, customers could place a Walmart Pickup order on to receive one free rapid antigen test kit “for a limited time” and “while supplies last.”

“The $35 is the value of goods — not a service fee,” Walmart’s website reads.

However, a spokesperson for Walmart says that it will alter its policy and start offering the kits for free.

“Along with other retailers, we are proud to partner with the Ontario government to help get these tests into the hands of the general public,” a spokesperson said in an email to CityNews.

“Our intention of distributing the kits through our online grocery pick-up service was to avoid long lines in our stores and to offer them to our customers in a safe, efficient and equitable manner. However, we’ve heard the concerns raised today and will make the kits available in our stores for free.”

Premier Doug Ford addressed the circumstances on Wednesday following reports that Ontarians were being informed they needed to make a mandatory, minimum purchase at some grocery stores to receive what is supposed to be a free rapid antigen test.

Bhutila Karpoche, an MPP for Parkdale-High Park, caused a stir after she tweeted that Walmart required a $35 minimum purchase to secure a RAT, also claiming Loblaws is asking for “same-day receipts.”

A spokesperson for Loblaws denied that, saying: “Tests are handed out on a first-come, first-serve basis, and no purchase is required at Loblaw locations.” Karpoche responded by showing a screenshot of an email from a constituent, alleging a Toronto-based Loblaws made them provide a receipt that proved they had made a purchase that day.

A representative for Loblaws replied by apologizing, saying that should not have happened and they were looking into the matter.

Ford angrily addressed the retailers on Twitter, saying “free means free.”

“We’re providing #RapidTests free of charge, and all participating partners are expected to honour that — no minimums or mandatory purchase,” the Premier said in a tweet. “If they don’t, we’ll give them to retailers or pharmacies that will.”

Health Minister Christine Elliott said that individuals could pick the tests up in person or order online, depending on the retailer.

“…Retailers will decide how to distribute the tests to best serve their communities, including appointment, checkout or online orders,” Elliott said.

There will be a general limit of one box of five tests per household per visit, but officials said some consideration would be made for people living in larger households.

The wider availability of rapid tests is intended to give people “another layer of protection” as the province reopens, Elliott said, helping people rule out infections before seeing immunocompromised family members and friends, for example.

“(It’s) not just to go out and get a test because you want to go to a party,” she said. “This is intended to be used to protect vulnerable people in our community.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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