New Zealand Government

10/07/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/06/2021 19:52

Government to pilot antigen testing with private sector

The Government and businesses are working together to pilot the use of rapid antigen testing in workplaces, Associate Minister of Health and Research, Science and Innovation Ayesha Verrall announced today.

This follows the introduction of rapid antigen testing at Middlemore Hospital. It will start within the next few days at Auckland City and North Shore hospitals, and be used as a point-of-arrival test in the self-isolation pilots in Auckland and Christchurch from 30 October to Wednesday 8 December 2021, with final travellers exiting self-isolation on 22 December 2021.

"Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have used a range of methods to contain and control the virus - to protect New Zealanders and their livelihoods," Ayesha Verrall said.

"As more people gain protection through vaccinations, our tool box is changing. Testing is critical in identifying cases quickly and responding effectively to any outbreaks, and we want to harness testing innovation amongst the business community to boost our public health response."

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment is working closely with the business community and the Ministry of Health, to support and accelerate additional levels of testing for New Zealand workers.

"I've been in talks with business leaders, and will meet with them tomorrow to discuss the next steps for safely incorporating rapid antigen testing into our COVID-19 response.

"While this technology provides a result quickly, rapid antigen testing tends to be less sensitive at detecting cases - especially in asymptomatic people, or those who are either very early in or towards the end of their infectious period.

"That's why we must ensure a robust system is in place so we don't miss cases. Any people who test positive will be verified with further testing, and managed appropriately - including being linked with healthcare," Ayesha Verrall said.

Today the Government is also releasing a review into its Covid-19 testing, carried out by the Ministry of Health COVID-19 Testing Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

"We want to ensure our COVID-19 testing has adapted and evolved to support New Zealand's pandemic response and reconnection plan.

"We asked Professor David Murdoch and his team to review the coordination of COVID-19 testing, and the processes by which tests and testing innovations are assessed and adopted. We also asked them to identify opportunities to ensure ongoing sustainable and fit-for-purpose Covid-19 testing within New Zealand.

"One of the key themes in their report is how we adopt and use testing innovations," Ayesha Verrall said.

Recommendations from the rapid review include a future-focused COVID-19 testing strategy to assist planning, and the creation of a dedicated testing approach to facilitate innovation and the implementation of new tests and testing strategies in a timely way.

"Work is already underway within the Ministry of Health to consider how rapid antigen testing can best be used to identify new infections, support outbreak investigations through screening, and monitor disease trends," Ayesha Verrall said.

Rapid antigen testing is in use in four approved health programmes, to assess their suitability in the context of New Zealand's COVID-19 prevalence.

Auckland hospitals in areas deemed as 'high-risk' settings are using this technology to:

  • detect cases early in patients presenting symptoms of COVID-19
  • manage hospital capacity
  • ensure the safety of visitors
  • inform clinical decision making

"Our priority is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders. We are committed to engaging and working constructively with businesses and communities as part of our ongoing COVID-19 response," Ayesha Verrall said.

A copy of the full report is attached.