18 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: Covid-19 testing ramps up with $5m health funding

10:36 am on 18 March 2020

The government is spending an additional $5 million on increasing the testing capacity of Covid-19 as part of its $500m spend to tackle the impact of the virus on the health system.

 A researcher works in a lab that is developing testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

A researcher works in a lab that is developing testing for the Covid-19 coronavirus. Photo: AFP

Later this week, the capacity for testing will jump from 1000 to 1500 tests per day.

National Party's health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said while the government was spending big on the economy, that was not extended to testing.

"We are spending billions because of the effective closures of our borders for the next weeks and months and yet we are nickel and diming the testing regime," he said.

Woodhouse said it was no use the capacity being there if it was not being used.

"Doctors are saying they are being stopped from testing and the criteria are far too narrow [of] close contact and symptoms, I have and the leader of the opposition have said that close contact is enough," he said.

To meet the definition of a suspected case, someone would need to be displaying symptoms and travelled overseas, or been in contact with a suspected, probable or confirmed case.

However, Minister of Health David Clark said doctors could also use their own clinical judgement to decide if someone should be tested.

First Post Cabinet press conference of the year - Tues 28th January 2020.  PM Jacinda Ardern announced election date 19th Sept 2020.  Joining her was Health Minister David Clark and Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

Minister of Health David Clark. Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

"Some of the cases we had early on, it was that clinical judgement that was critical even before a case definition was updated, clinicians were able to say this is something I should be testing for, they have done that and of course the testing is ramping up," he said.

Five-hundred Covid-19 tests taken yesterday are due back today, almost matching the number of tests carried out up to now.

Dr Clark rejected Woodhouse's claims that there had been insufficient testing and the criteria was too stringent.

"There is no constraint on the amount of tests that we can do, there hasn't been a constraint up until now and frankly this is not a time for politics, it is a time to let our clinicians to do the job that they are there to do," he said.

Anyone with flu or fever-like symptoms are being told to phone first, instead of going straight into a medical practice or emergency department.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

The College of GPs president, Samantha Murton, told Morning Report that DHBs were working on plans to set up testing centres.

Some will have a separate centre, others may be in a designated clinic, and some already have a facility that can cater to testing, she said.

Dr Murton said there may be a limit in the labs on how much testing could be done a day, but GPs would test people who had flu-like symptoms that meet the criteria of Covid-19.

"If they come in with those symptoms, then they'd ask them about whether they've travelled or been in contact with someone and then they would be testing appropriately."

Dr Murton said while there were some issues around protective gear for those who work at clinics, Primary Health Organisations were in discussions with GPs about where they can send people to and how to get more supplies.

"The College and the rural GPs are very concerned about making sure that all those practices where there are a limited number of doctors or nurses involved that they are protected as well as they can be, but also they deliver services to people who are often in rural areas or places like that - they are remote and finding a separate service for them is quite tricky."

She said they were all working out ways of keeping practices as clean as possible and protecting the workforce while still delivering care.

Canterbury's first Covid-19 testing clinic will be set up near Christchurch Hospital this week to deal with referrals from GPs and the ED.

Minister of Health David Clark said it would be up to individual DHBs to decide if they want to set up these clinics, but money would be available through the $500m health package.

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