8 Feb 2022

Testing under Omicron needs to be more targeted - lab experts

From Checkpoint, 5:36 pm on 8 February 2022

It's time to ditch the government's test, test, test mantra in favour of a more targeted message; according to the scientists processing those tests.

Lab workers say they have been operating on the edge of their limits for nearly two years and simply won't manage the demand for PCR testing when the Omicron outbreak takes off.

And there will need to be more widespread use of rapid antigen tests.

Terry Taylor, president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science, told Checkpoint processing 50,000 tests per day is their limit.

"Just to reassure people, we're going to try our best but we can't keep that up for any period of time and it will really start to affect other services that we provide," he said.

Taylor said once that limit was reached there would need to be a shift to rapid antigen tests, with PCR tests only for those who really need them.

"The lessons from overseas are clearly that they were often in several situations testing a lot of the worried well," he said.

"And they do clog things up for us so the message does need to be stronger from our leaders that really we've got to save the testing for those that really need it."

Medical staff member with mask and protective equipment holds Coronavirus nasal swabs test tubes at drive-through testing point in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

File photo Photo: 123RF

Taylor said the varied predictions from modellers are not helpful for lab workers who were working under stressful conditions.

"You know we'll give it our best shot and we'll try our best but I don't think it's helpful just to throw all these expectations on a workforce that's really already under stress," he said.

 Lab workers were currently processing around 20,000 tests a day, he said.