Three million rapid antigen tests (RATs) are in New Zealand, and 20 million more have been ordered, as the Ministry of Health ramps up preparations to combat an outbreak of the Omicron Covid-19 variant.
Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay told 1News she was confident “we will have enough RAT tests in the country for when we need them” after a week of “intense planning”.
McElnay's comments come as a number of Australian states battle large Omicron outbreaks, with Victoria and NSW reporting almost 100,000 cases between them on Saturday.
The number of cases across the Tasman has clogged the PCR testing system and resulted in a shortage of rapid antigen tests, with Australian prime minister Scott Morrison being criticised for not providing free tests.
New Zealand has "three million rapid antigen tests in the country at the moment, we have an order in place for just over 20 million more tests”, McElnay said.
“We’re expecting them to arrive in batches, so over the coming weeks we’ll get more and more coming in.
“We have been doing more intense planning this week to look particularly as part of our preparation for Omicron, what our extra needs would be for those rapid antigen tests would be. We will be placing additional orders next week.”
McElnay said Aotearoa had an advantage over Australia because RATs were being used as part of some of the travel requirements in New Zealand.
“What’s been really useful for us is to have close communication with Australia, we’ve got regular contact with officials over there so we’ve got the advantage of learning the experiences they’ve gone through,” she said.
“It’s not just about the number of tests you have, it’s also about how you use those tests and that’s what we’ve been working on all week and we’ll finalise next week, what the plan would be for the use of rapid antigen tests, as well as PCR tests, as well as how we manage an Omicron in relation to our other protocols."
The Ministry of Health was also working on a digital system where people can self-report a positive case online, McElnay said.
If people are testing themselves at home and do test positive, there will be a digital way for them to notify health authorities that they’ve tested positive, she said.