Grounded Russian planes make Canada scramble for Covid tests


Canada is rescheduling 11 planeloads of rapid tests this month that were due to be delivered via Russian cargo jets.

A Russian-owned cargo plane successfully delivered a shipment of tests to Canada Sunday morning at the Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Hours later Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Canada was closing its airspace to all Russian aircraft, effective immediately, in response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and that plane remains grounded in Toronto.

Eleven more shipments of rapid tests were to be delivered this month on Russian planes but have all been cancelled.

A spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi says most have found new planes already, though the Russian planes can typically carry more and a small number of the deliveries have yet to find space on a cargo plane that can land in Canada.

Since January 1, 300 million rapid tests have been delivered to the federal government, which is buying them mainly on behalf of provincial governments.

Legislation to approve $2.5 billion in funding to Health Canada to buy and distribute the tests received royal assent Friday. That was on top of $1.7 billion approved in the fall fiscal update also for rapid tests.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said at her weekly briefing Friday that the easier access to rapid tests will help Canada in the event of another wave of COVID-19.

Early in the Omicron wave access to rapid tests became a massive problem, as infection rates soared and public health systems couldn’t keep up with demand for PCR tests in person.