COVID-19 testing system ready for next phase

Media release

08 May 2020

New Zealanders can be confident our COVID-19 testing capability and planning is up to the task of detecting and quickly containing the disease if it re-emerges when we move down alert levels and begin moving outside our bubbles, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says.

“Testing is an essential part of New Zealand’s elimination strategy and is the key starting point for identifying and containing the spread of the virus,” Dr Bloomfield says. 

“In order to continue moving down alert levels, New Zealanders need to have confidence that our testing strategy is working.” 

“We need to maintain our focus on ensuring all those who have symptoms are tested, cases are isolated and any close contacts identified and quarantined.”

The Ministry’s testing plan throughout Alert Level 3 and into Alert Level 2 aims to: 

  • quickly identify all new cases of the virus in order to isolate them and trace and quarantine their contacts; 
  • ensure that testing is accessible to all groups fairly; 
  • identify any undetected community spread in New Zealand; and 
  • monitor for COVID-19 in people at higher risk of exposure.

District Health Boards are submitting updated plans on how they will continue to test not only people who fit the case definition, but also contacts of cases where the source of infection is unknown, and asymptomatic people at high risk of exposure. They will also ensure all cases and contacts in high-risk settings are tested and isolated or quarantined to prevent further spread of COVID-19. 

“To make sure that there are no cases of COVID-19 circulating in their communities, DHBs are offering testing to specific communities that are potentially at higher risk of being exposed to COVID-19. That includes health care workers, those in aged residential care, essential workers and vulnerable groups,” Dr Bloomfield says. 

 

“We’re in regular communication with DHBs about their testing and we’re working with them to ensure they are undertaking systematic testing of asymptomatic people in key places such as rest homes, and others such as police and health workers.”

Border, isolation facility and airport staff in Auckland have been tested, as have around 270 staff at Middlemore Hospital. This testing identified one previously undetected case of COVID-19, which was likely linked to travel prior to New Zealand going into lockdown. 

Additionally, this week asymptomatic testing has been offered in the remote rural communities of Reefton and Springs Junction on the West Coast, and in the Maori community of Arahura. Southern DHB has tested people at Bluff and Murihiku maraes. MidCentral DHB has been testing staff of 10 aged care residential facilities across the district.

Dr Bloomfield says such testing has not identified any unknown pockets of infection around the country to date. 

"That's the way we want to keep it. The next phase of our testing plan means DHBs will include further mobile and outreach testing services for priority groups such as Mâori and Pacific people, and smaller rural and remote communities. Ensuring everyone is able to access testing is important.

 

“This next phase of testing is possible because of our world class network of laboratories, skilled scientists and technicians, and the strong ongoing supply of testing kits we’ve secured over the last three months,” Dr Bloomfield says. 

 

“The first COVID-19 test was completed in New Zealand by ESR on the 1st of February. Now we have the capacity to perform up to 12,535 tests per day. Already, more than 175,000 tests have been completed in New Zealand. 

“This shows how quickly our health services were able to adapt to fight COVID-19. I’m confident we can adapt further as required to keep New Zealanders safe. 

“Our testing positivity rate is now below 1% - sitting at 0.85% and we’re continuing to test widely. According to global statistics site Worldometer, New Zealand has the second lowest positivity rate of all those countries who’ve done 50,000 tests or more,” says Dr Bloomfield.”  

 

If you have any cold or flu-like symptoms, however mild, seek advice straight away on getting tested. Acting quickly makes it easier to stop the chain of transmission and stamp out cases of COVID-19. 

For advice on getting a test call your GP, iwi health provider, or Healthline for free on 0800 358 5453. 

Take the time to check your phone contact details are up to date with your GP practice as that helps if they’re needed for contact tracing.

Media contact

Charlotte Gendall 

Phone: 021 500 947