Helping Canadians manage their health and reduce the spread of COVID-19

COVID-19 rapid tests showing control line

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Canada has been committed to providing Canadians with the tools they need to help control the virus. These tools have allowed us to manage our individual risk and support the health of our communities.

Initially, the federal government procured personal protective equipment that helped keep us safe and reduced the spread of the virus.

More recently, rapid tests have become a critical tool in the battle against the virus.

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), on behalf of Health Canada, has purchased over 700 million COVID-19 rapid tests as of September 2022. The federal government continues to ensure there is an adequate supply of rapid tests for current needs and in case of future outbreaks.

Securing the tests hasn’t always been easy, given global competition, tight timelines and transportation hurdles. It has required planning, flexibility, expertise, and flight tracking.

January 2022: An urgent need

As the highly contagious Omicron became the dominant COVID-19 variant in the winter of 2021 to 2022, governments around the world raced to procure sufficient quantities of rapid tests for their populations.

Canada was well-positioned to obtain an initial 140 million rapid tests by the end of January because of the groundwork laid by the federal government.

As early as March of 2021, PSPC invited qualified companies to submit proposals to supply the federal government with rapid tests. If Health Canada approved their products, PSPC could then issue them a standing offer, which is a type of agreement that allows Canada to repeatedly purchase goods or services from particular suppliers, if and when required.

So, when the intense pursuit of tests began in the winter, PSPC had several standing offers in place and was able to start negotiating quantities and procuring rapid tests for Canadians.

Still, some extra effort was needed to secure the required quantity of tests in time. “It was really challenging. Every country in the world was competing for the same products,” says Daniel Fitzpatrick, with our Pandemic Response Sector. “Our procurement experts really stepped up by communicating with the suppliers daily.”

Securing the rapid tests wasn’t the only obstacle to overcome. Most of the products are manufactured abroad, and global shipping networks were stretched. “Demand for flights was through the roof, so our rapid test suppliers struggled to find planes,” says Fitzpatrick.

Shipments of boxes coming off an airplane

Fortunately, PSPC had an existing pandemic response contract with an international logistics firm offering services such as product shipping and warehousing. We leveraged this contract to support rapid test suppliers seeking air transportation to bring their products to Canada.

“It’s a well-established logistics firm, with good relationships within the industry, which is how we succeeded in finding flights,” notes David Lord, another team member in our Pandemic Response Sector. “The company went the extra mile to ensure our flights were fully packed with tests, so we were able to bring a lot of tests over at once in a cost-effective manner.”

The PSPC team coordinated the activities and made sure all the parties were on the same page. Lord explains some of what this involved:

We had to make failproof arrangements with the rapid test suppliers because, if we booked flights to bring tests, then they had to deliver those products before the plane departed. We also worked closely with other federal departments to obtain permits and clearances. I remember a lot of phone calls, negotiations, and checking flight schedules.

Even for the seasoned PSPC Pandemic Response Sector, it was a big responsibility, meeting an ambitious supply goal with the eyes of all Canadians on them. “This was a very high profile procurement,” notes team member Amanda Assi, who has plenty of experience with the demands of obtaining pandemic-related goods. “We knew Canadians needed these tests and were waiting for them, and we were proud to be able to deliver.”

Looking ahead

PSPC continues to respond to orders for additional tests from Health Canada.

From the start, the approach to procuring the tests has been as flexible as possible. It provides companies offering new rapid testing technologies with an opportunity to supply them to the Government of Canada once their device receives Health Canada authorization.

With supply pressures easing, PSPC has also been able to incorporate socioeconomic criteria into the procurement process. The result is that a standing offer was issued to an Indigenous supplier of rapid tests. “Initially, we didn’t have the opportunity to focus on the diversity of our supply chain. We needed to get what we could get. But, as soon as we had the ability to include social criteria to expand and diversify the supplier list, we did,” points out team member Michel El Hajj.

At present, there are 33 standing offers in place for COVID-19 rapid tests, and PSPC’s procurement experts are prepared to meet emerging pandemic challenges.

Learn more about Canada’s procurement of COVID-19 rapid tests, or visit Public Services and Procurement Canada for details about all our procurement services. You can also see Our stories for articles about PSPC people and projects making a difference in the lives of Canadians.

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