SAULT STE. MARIE -- The provincial government is teaming up with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce to ramp up its rapid COVID-19 testing program.

The province is opening an online portal for businesses to request rapid COVID testing kits -- and interest is high across northern Ontario.

The new online portal is designed to provide easier access to free COVID testing kits for businesses. Vic Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, said the kits will help companies protect employees and their families.

“This helps to screen for asymptomatic cases of COVID that might otherwise be missed,” said Fedeli. “So it really is meant for businesses who are open and require staff to work on site.”

Fedeli said the online portal is open to all businesses, large and small.

“Even small restaurants who are doing takeout, businesses that are doing curbside, they can contact their chamber or go on this portal,” said Fedeli.

The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce said many local companies are on board and looking forward to receiving their test kits.

“We’ve heard back from a number of our members and the general business community that there’s a significant interest in utilizing these rapid test kits to ensure the safety of their employees and also for the safety of their customers,” said CEO Rory Ring.

“We’re heading into a key time of year for tourism and we want to ensure those destinations are protecting their employees to the best of their ability. This will be a key element of ensuring that those businesses can stay open.”

Ring said the Sault chamber will begin its rapid testing campaign within the next week or so. He said the chamber will make sure all local businesses -- chamber members or not -- will have access to rapid test kits.