Rapid COVID test plan needed for omicron

“The Government must get ready for the transmission of omicron in the community by ensuring we have enough supply of rapid tests in New Zealand and making them available to vaccinated and unvaccinated people through pharmacies and supermarkets, says National’s COVID-19 Response Spokesperson Chris Bishop.

“Rapid antigen tests are widely available for the public to buy and use overseas, allowing in-home testing with results available in as little as 15 minutes. But public use of these tests are effectively banned in New Zealand – that needs to change.

“The Government accepts that omicron is likely to make its way into the community at some point. The evidence from overseas is that omicron spreads incredibly quickly - and it is likely that it will very quickly overwhelm our standard PCR testing and contract tracing system, which struggled to keep up even with delta.

“During the delta outbreak in August some people queued for up to 12 hours for nasal PCR tests, and many tests still take longer than 48 hours to be returned.

“Quick and effective identification of people with COVID will be vital when omicron hits New Zealand and this means New Zealanders need ready access to rapid antigen tests in a wide variety of settings including pharmacies and supermarkets.

“Rapid antigen tests are still effectively banned in New Zealand and the government has shown a real reluctance to use them. As the government’s own expert Professor Murdoch noted, we have been too slow to adopt tools like saliva and rapid tests.

“Banning rapid tests when elimination was the goal at least made some sense. Banning them under a suppression strategy and with omicron on our doorstep makes no sense.

“Widespread availability of rapid COVID tests must be part of the toolkit alongside nasal and saliva based PCR tests. Under omicron, testing will be more important than ever.”

“We mustn’t get into a situation like Australia, where there are reports of shortages of rapid tests in various places.

“It appears we dodged a bullet a few days ago with DJ Dimension but, like delta, omicron will be back. The Government must use this time to get ready – and make sure we have a good stock of rapid tests in New Zealand and it needs to liberalise the rules around their use.”