Manukau Courier

The Ministry of Health behind the eight ball

- ArenaWilli­ams ManurewaMP, Labour

As we get used to living with widespread Covid, microbiolo­giest Siouxsie Wiles is calling for a new way to track how much of the virus is in the community and what variants. She says in the UK they regularly test a representa­tive sample of people, which more effectivel­y monitors the virus. Should we introduce this instead of the current long queues for rapid antigen tests? An MP from each side of the House gives their views.

Throughout this pandemic, the Government has continued to adapt our public health approach to safeguard the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders based on the expert advice of medical and science profession­als. When Covid-19 changes, we change.

Testing has played a central role in our response. We have worked hard to ensure that testing has been free and available for those who have needed it – and many of us have, either because we have been a contact or symptomati­c.

The efforts of our testing and contact tracing workers, as well as those in our labs, cannot be overstated.

An incredible number of tests have been taken and processed. And, as country, we have been a pioneer in genomic sequencing.

Until Omicron, we were sequencing every test – not just a sample.

To these workers, Iwant to say thank you. Your efforts have helped to keep us all safe.

Testing remains a cornerston­e of our approach, but with widespread Covid-19 in the community for the first time, we needed to adapt. Rapid antigen tests are now our go-to testing tool. These perform best when case numbers are high, and can give a quick result without drawing on lab systems.

Rapid antigen tests are available for free to people who need them, and others who just want to be tested for peace ofmind can purchase them from places such as pharmacies.

People with symptoms and their households can order free tests online or over the phone. Once you place the order, you’ll be able to collect it at a local collection point listed on the Health website. We are standing up more collection points every day.

I know that Covid in the community can be stressful but it’s disappoint­ing to hear so many stories of workers at testing sites copping abuse.

Please be patient with those on the front line. There are plenty of rapid antigen tests to go around.

To date, population wide surveillan­ce testing hasn’t been necessary in New Zealand, as prior to this Omicron outbreak the percentage of our population with Covid-19 has been very small. However, it is certainly something to consider as another tool in our toolbox now thatwe have more widespread infection.

We will continue to engage with experts about what future surveillan­ce might be appropriat­e.

But for now, the most important thing is: if you need a test, you can get a test.

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