Rapid Covid tests will be widely available in NZ - Ardern

Source: 1News

Rapid antigen testing will be available more widely in New Zealand, and will be used as part of the Government's Omicron response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Thursday.

Ardern said there are currently 4.6 million rapid antigen tests (RATs) in New Zealand, and there were “10s of millions on order”.

It comes as Cabinet has reviewed the country’s Covid-19 testing rules, in preparation for an Omicron outbreak.

Ardern said RATs perform best when rates of Covid are high, such as during the peak of transmission, exemplified by other countries with experience of the variant.

“We will have higher case numbers than we are used to seeing or have experienced before.”

Until now, PCR testing has been the Government’s primary mode of testing.

“We’ve the capacity to undertake 40,000 tests (PCR) a day,” said Ardern.

“With wider spread this system will need to change though.”

The Prime Minister said rapid testing would be free for the community, and there would be more details released next week on how they would be distributed.

"We're preparing to introduce RATs much more widely into our system," she said.

Ardern’s announcement on RATs was not enough for the opposition, however.

National leader Christopher Luxon said the revelation that there were 4.6 million rapid tests in the country equalled “less than one per person”, and deemed the rollout “appallingly slow”.

“New Zealand has been slow on boosters and slow on vaccines for 5–11-year-olds and now we’re being appallingly slow on rapid tests,” he said.

“To make matters worse, the Prime Minister still can’t outline how they will be used, when they will be available, and what isolation rules will be in place. She even thinks our current contact tracing system will work against Omicron.”

David Seymour questioned why only the Government could distribute rapid antigen tests.

“Why can’t private citizens or businesses just buy one themselves. What is the logic of continuing the ban on Kiwis buying their own tests?,” said the ACT leader.

“What they should have said is this: The Government is committed to ensuring there are enough rapid antigen tests for those we deem high need, but you are also free to buy any of the 67 approved by Australia’s TGA.”

At present, RATs are available in some New Zealand pharmacies, but only for asymptomatic, unvaccinated travellers aged over 12.

Ardern said the Government is also doing work to ensure essential services are able to keep operating in a high transmission environment by using frequent testing, similar to health care settings.

Testing in the future would be focused on people who were symptomatic, vulnerable, essential workers or close contacts.

“We are preparing a graduated system for case management for different stages of the pandemic.”