14 Oct 2021

Covid-19: Businesses given green light for rapid antigen tests

2:03 pm on 14 October 2021

Some of the country's biggest businesses have been granted an exemption to import and introduce rapid antigen tests for Covid-19 on work sites.

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Photo: 123RF

A coalition of 25 firms went to the government last week, pleading for clearance to import the quick tests immediately.

Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said the Director-General of Health had given clearance for the businesses to bring 300,000 rapid antigen tests into the country.

As part of the agreement, the group has agreed to share insights to inform any wider rollout of rapid antigen testing to other work sites.

Verrall said businesses will use nasal swabs to begin with.

"Rapid antigen testing can provide a result within around 15 minutes. But they tend to be less sensitive at detecting cases, so PCR tests will remain the mainstay of Covid-19 testing in most situations."

Rapid antigen testing will sit alongside other Covid-19 testing used in New Zealand, and vaccinations, to boost New Zealand's public health response, Verrall said in a statement.

"As we enter a new phase of our Covid-19 response, with more and more New Zealanders gaining protection through vaccinations, we can expand the tools we use to find and stamp out the virus," Verrall said.

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Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The Abbott PanBio Covid-19 Ag Rapid tests are being sourced for import by EBOS Healthcare and will cost about $3 million.

They are expected to start arriving New Zealand from 21 October and will be distributed to the businesses taking part.

The companies include Auckland Airport which will initially focus on daily testing for essential employees working on critical infrastructure projects, such as airfield safety officers overseeing upgrades to the fuel pipeline on the airfield, the company said in a statement.

Chief executive Adrian Littlewood said the tests would help ensure critical work sites could continue to operate when there were cases of the virus in the community.

"Rapid testing is a vital added layer of protection to help identify chains of transmission and ensure workplace continuity," he said.

Littlewood told Nine to Noon after after having no Covid among any of its staff since for 20 months, since the start of the pandemic, the airport had two positive cases from community transmission in only two days.

"That meant we had to shut down critical fuel line upgrades because they were overseeing works there. So that's a great example of where that can have quite consequential impacts."

Mainfreight managing director Don Braid said the company had successfully introduced rapid testing in worksites in 26 countries around the world.

"We intend to replicate regular testing across our 83 sites in New Zealand, in the interests of our people and customers."

Genesis chief executive Marc England said the tests would boost protection of staff at power plants such as Huntly.

The coalition of businesses covers industries including manufacturing, energy, food production, telecommunications, freight, aviation and aged care.

They have signed up to a charter with MBIE and the Ministry of Health, committing to work together and share insights to inform any wider rollout of rapid antigen testing to other work sites.

Companies taking part in the trial: Mainfreight, Foodstuffs North Island, Genesis, Hynds Pipe Systems, Mercury, Summerset Group, Wellington Airport, Christchurch Airport, Sky NZ, Queenstown Airport, Spark, Vodafone, The Warehouse Group, ANZ Bank, Contact Energy, Fulton Hogan, Countdown/Woolworths NZ, Fletcher Building, Carter Holt Harvey, Meridian Energy, DHL Express NZ, Air NZ and Auckland Airport.

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