Testing expert group slams Government response

The Government’s own independent technical advisors on testing have slammed the Government’s inaction on using saliva testing and rapid antigen testing, says National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop.

“In September last year the Simpson/Roche report called on the Government to roll out saliva testing as a priority, but now, more than a year later, it is only just getting going and Rako Science’s efforts to partner with the Government for surge capacity surveillance testing have been rebuffed.

“Rapid antigen testing has been effectively banned in New Zealand by Government fiat, with a trial only recently starting at hospitals in Auckland.

“The Government’s inaction on using different testing techniques has been disgraceful and this has been confirmed by the government’s independent technical advisory group on testing.

“Professor David Murdoch said explicitly today that New Zealand ‘could have been better prepared’ for using new and different tests like saliva tests and rapid antigen tests.

“It is good to see the Government belatedly moving on saliva and rapid antigen testing. National’s ‘Opening Up’ plan contains detailed recommendations for the use of saliva and rapid testing and we encourage the Government to pick them up immediately.

“Saliva PCR testing should be rolled out daily for border workers, for residents in MIQ facilities, and for surge capacity resource in an outbreak like we are seeing right now. Saliva testing is being used at private hospitals in Auckland right now and we should be doing the same in public hospitals.

“We had the capacity to do thousands of saliva tests during this most recent outbreak and yet the government said no. All this at a time when people lined up for 10-12 hours at a time and many people gave up altogether.

“Rapid antigen testing should be being used for all essential workers including healthcare workers, aged care support staff, supply chain (transportation, ports and airports), emergency first responders, and high-risk customer-facing roles such as in supermarkets, schools and universities.

“Recently, a truck driver tested positive for Covid after visiting Palmerston North. He was tested on October 1 and before that on September 24. He is considered to have been infectious since September 28. If he was required to do a daily rapid antigen test, there was a good chance he would have been picked up earlier than he was. This is a perfect demonstration of where rapid antigen tests can help with our response.

“The Government’s belated activity in this area is good news but has come way too late for New Zealanders suffering through this extended lockdown.”