Saturday, April 13, 2024

Health Minister: We are ready for case surge

New Zealand’s PCR testing capacity can be increased by nearly 20,000 tests per day to deal with a surge in cases, Associate Minister of Health, Ayesha Verrall (pictured) has announced.

“We have continued to adapt our public health response to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders throughout this pandemic. This includes ensuring we have the best tools and technology in place to detect and help minimise the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant,” Dr Verrall said.

“Our labs have already processed 5,906,843 tests to date and our highest testing day so far was 24 August 2021 where 49,736 tests were completed.  

 “With Omicron cases now in the North and South islands, testing, tracing and quickly isolating any COVID-19 cases and their contacts will be all the more important for protecting whānau and communities.”

The Minister said a rapid rise in case numbers would require a shift from identifying all infected individuals to being more targeted to those most at risk and those needed to maintain critical infrastructure. 

“To do this, testing remains a cornerstone of our response,” she said.

“Nasopharyngeal PCR tests will continue to be used as the primary diagnostic test in our initial phase of dealing with Omicron in the community, but this will be supplemented by wider use of rapid antigen testing.

“We have made significant progress to refine our approach since the review undertaken by the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Testing Technical Advisory Group (TAG), led by Professor David Murdoch in October last year.”

“From December 2021, businesses have been able to order approved rapid antigen tests direct from importers for use with their workforce. These tests are also used across our health system, including aged residential care.

“Rapid development of testing capability and capacity, using various testing modes which respond and adapt to changes in the virus has been a core aspect of our testing strategy. We have combined this with scientific, public health, human behaviour and operational considerations to establish robust testing regimes for different stages of the pandemic,” Dr Verrall said.

Further detail on how New Zealand will manage Omicron through the various phases of community spread will be announced on Wednesday.

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