PCR testing backlog predictable

A report out today shows the backlog of PCR testing was foreseeable and Ministers should take responsibility for a lack of action, National’s Covid-19 Spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“In the first quarter of this year, 9000 PCR COVID tests were sent to Australia and 32,000 samples were nearly destroyed after laboratories in New Zealand were unable to cope with the demand.

“Today’s COVID-19 PCR Testing Backlog report, which has finally been released by the Government, says the backlog in PCR testing that emerged in February 2022 ‘should have been and was to some degree predictable.’

“The Ministry of Health has been found wanting at critical times during the pandemic.

“Last year, Sir Brian Roche’s Continuous Improvement Group made repeated recommendations to improve the functionality of the Ministry, while the Testing Technical Advisory Group also made a series of recommendations around testing capacity.

“In the first quarter of this year Omicron was already prevalent in other countries and as today’s report notes, ‘opportunities to learn from international experience were substantial, particularly in relation to the speed at which positivity rates increase and the impact on pooling’.

“But Ministers failed to act, instead relying on assurances from officials that New Zealand had enough testing capacity.

“A lack of testing capacity had real consequences. As the report notes, without an accurate forecast date when PCR testing capacity would be exceeded, there was no deadline for when the RAT roll-out was required. New Zealand was slow on the uptake of RATs because it was assumed PCR testing capacity would suffice. It didn’t.

“National spent most of the latter part of 2021 calling for a quick roll-out of rapid tests. It was obvious to many that once Omicron took hold in the community, PCR testing would struggle.

“Why weren’t Ministers listening to independent experts who were saying this publicly. How much better would things have been if National’s calls for rapid tests were listened to?

“National has also argued for over a year that saliva testing capacity can and should be used. Saliva testing was outside the scope of today’s report, which says it all.

“The Government has consistently and wilfully ignored the potential of saliva testing to test for COVID-19. It beggars belief that the Government excluded saliva testing from the scope of the report; presumably on the basis that the report would be even more critical than it already is. Instead of utilising saliva testing properly the Government rammed a law through Parliament giving itself the power to confiscate the assets of saliva testing companies like Rako Science.

“Two years into the pandemic, Ministers should stop blaming officials for basic errors and start taking responsibility. The buck stops with them.”