Government announces raft of new Covid-19 support measures

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The Government has announced a raft of new Covid-19 supports including $204.1 million to support people self-isolating, $300 million for Pharmac to buy new Covid-19 medicines and making rapid antigen testing widely available.

Health Minister Andrew Little.

It's part of the Government's new Covid Care in the Community model which the Government says provides the framework for how end-to-end community support will be provided as case numbers rise.

Under the new Covid Care and Community model Health Minister Andrew Little says most people who test positive for Covid-19 will receive initial contact from a healthcare provider within 24 hours, a support pack within 48 hours and regular health checks.

"Delta is here so we are changing our strategy for how we deal with the virus. Supported recovery at home and greater access to medicines to stop people getting very sick are the cornerstones of the Care in the Community model," he said.

"The vast majority of people who get Covid will have mild to moderate symptoms and won't require hospital care, but we need to make sure those recovering at home have the support and medicine they need to recover safely, and that others in the household are safe as well," Little said.

Welfare support for those self-isolating

With a change in strategy that will see more people who have Covid-19 self-isolating at home, the Government says it wants to make sure people get the support they need to isolate and recover safely.

Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni has announced $204.1m will be provided for region specific and locally led responses.

"Whether you are in Westport or West Auckland we want to ensure welfare support such as food, financial assistance, and connection to the right services is available for you and your whānau," she said.

Now, when you get a Covid test you will be provided with information on how to proactively access welfare support if you need it, she said.

If you test positive you will be contact by someone who will assess your needs and the Ministry for Social Development (MSD) will coordinate the support you need with local partners, providers and community groups.

"MSD's regions will work with partners, including iwi/Māori and local providers to deliver this support and provide funding where it is needed. They will also work with Health, HUD, Kāinga Ora and MBIE to find suitable alternative accommodation if someone who has tested positive and can't isolate at home.

"A dedicated 0800 Covid-19 welfare support helpline will also be available to support those in isolation throughout their recovery."

National testing strategy

Rapid antigen testing will be more widely available for both businesses and the general public from December 1 as part of a new national testing strategy.

While nasopharyngeal PCR tests will continue to be used as the primary diagnostic test, it will be supplemented by saliva-based PCR testing, rapid antigen testing and rapid PCR tests.

The strategy is hoped to provide greater protection for high-risk groups, Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall said.

"When we were pursuing an elimination strategy we relied on highly sensitive PCR tests because the cost of missing a case was too high.

"With more and more New Zealanders gaining protection through vaccinations, we can now introduce a wider range of routine testing options that provide other benefits such as accessibility, convenience and speed."

Businesses will be able to directly source approved rapid antigen tests from authorised suppliers from December 1.

"Rapid antigen tests will also be available to the general public at pharmacies from December 15, with tests to be administered under the supervision of pharmacy staff. A PCR test will be required to confirm any positive results," Ayesha Verrall said.

Work is underway to expand capacity to 60,000 PCR tests per day by early next year, she said.

Symptomatic and surveillance testing in high-risk settings will be the focus of regions in red and orange under the new traffic light system while surveillance testing will be the focus for those in green.

"We have also stood up a new national telehealth case investigation service, and are training 475 investigators by the end of this month. This will add significant new capacity on top of the excellent work of our Public Health Units. There is a focus on recruiting Māori and Pacific staff, to ensure we can respond to these communities."

Funding boost for Covid-19 treatments

Health Minister Andrew Little has announced a $300 million boost to Pharmac to buy new medicines to treat Covid-19.

"Medicines are being rapidly developed and can stop most people getting so sick they need to go to hospital," Little said.

He said vaccinations are still the first and best line of defence against the virus but the Government wants to make sure people who test positive can access new treatments as soon as possible.

He said New Zealand is at the front of the queue for these medicines.