Increased surveillance testing in healthcare, border, quarantine and essential workers is a key focus to help stamp out Auckland’s Delta COVID-19 outbreak, Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield said today.
COVID-19 testing at the beginning of the outbreak focussed heavily on those who had contact with cases, were symptomatic or who had been in locations of interest, New Zealand’s top public health official said.
“Now that the situation is changing, so is our approach to testing,” he said.
“We are seeing that in the falling testing numbers. Today’s testing numbers of 4,750 tests processed is our lowest figure since the outbreak. Fewer new locations of interest and the lockdown’s impact on effectively stopping the spread of all respiratory illnesses have greatly reduced demand for testing.
“At this stage in the outbreak, our goals are to improve our confidence there is no undetected community transmission and to protect the rest of the country from possible COVID-19 leakage from the Auckland region.”
There are three key actions that will support achieving these goals, Dr Bloomfield said.
“First, health services will maintain a network of testing sites available across Auckland to ensure timely access for treatment, including for our Maori and Pasifika communities.”
“Auckland DHBs will continue to move some of our testing centres to areas where we’ve seen cases in the previous few days – particularly in South and West Auckland.
“Let me reiterate the most important thing for anyone in Auckland, and of course particularly anyone who is travelling out of Auckland, is to stay home if they have any COVID-19 related symptoms and get tested,” he said.
The Ministry of Health will be working closely with relevant employers to support their essential workers in not coming to work if unwell and waiting for a COVID-19 test result, Dr Bloomfield said.
“Second, there will be more regular surveillance testing for healthcare workers who’ve cared for or worked in units with COVID-19 patients. This will involve both immediate testing and ongoing surveillance testing.”
In addition, there will be a move to twice weekly testing for all workers in Auckland quarantine facilities.
“And third, government agencies will also be working closely with employers who have workers who are crossing the Auckland boundary to put in place weekly testing of these workers.”
“This is part of our overall efforts to fully control and end this Delta outbreak over the next few weeks. The Ministry has started working with its partner agencies on engaging with employers and industries whose workers are affected.
“Because this is surveillance testing, people will not be required to stand down or stay at home while awaiting their result – unless of course they have symptoms. There is no cost for essential workers who get a test for this purpose.”
While the Ministry of Health, and partner agencies, are still working through the details, the key point is that essential workers crossing the Auckland border will be expected to have a test each week and be able to show proof of this, Dr Bloomfield said.
Health and partner agencies are finalising how proof of testing will be provided to essential and other workers, which is likely to be an email or text message confirming that a person has had a test in the last 7 days.
There will be spot checks at the border to ensure people are getting the weekly test done, he said.
There are around 3000 essential workers crossing the Alert level boundary every day out of an estimated 220,000 essential workers in Auckland.
This additional testing will provide the assurance that travel is being done safely and prevent leakage of COVID-19 virus out of Auckland, Dr Bloomfield said.
“Finally, we will continue to adapt and target our wastewater testing to complement our other measures,” said Dr Bloomfield.
“That includes increasing the catchment size of the sampling; making more regular much of the sampling and concentrating on any sites where cases have been detected – as we should get negative results once all cases have been moved to quarantine facilities.”
These measures will start from 11.59pm Thursday 9 September, leaving time for people to get or arrange testing over the next two days.
“I know we’re asking a lot of Aucklanders at the moment, and I recognise that these additional testing requirements might be inconvenient and indeed unwelcome for many.”
“I want to reiterate how important it is, and that the sole purpose is to ensure that we stamp out this Delta outbreak and Auckland can move down Alert Levels as quickly and as safely as possible.
“Thank you to Aucklanders for everything you’ve done to date – it is making a difference, so let’s see it through,” he said.
Nasopharyngeal swab testing is available at community testing sites around Auckland or at GP practices and urgent care clinics. Go to the Healthpoint website for testing locations in your area. Saliva based testing will become available as an option over time.