15 Apr 2020

DHBs urged to increase Covid-19 results to inform lockdown decision

7:08 am on 15 April 2020

With just a week to go before a decision is made on lifting lockdown, District Health Boards are being told to hurry up and ramp up their testing.


The data is still lacking to make a judgement call on if community transmission has been quashed.

Next Monday, the prime minister and Cabinet will have to make a judgement call on whether to lift the country out of the level 4 lockdown.

But epidemiologist David Skegg questioned whether they would have all the information they need during the Epidemic Response Committee meeting.

He wanted to know if rapid contact tracing would be in place and community testing done to find out if the disease was widespread.

"Will sentinel surveillance studies be carried out, completed and reported this week, so that we have a better idea of community spread?"

"If the answer to those questions is no, I would submit we are asking the Cabinet to play russian roulette with the health of New Zealanders," he said.

The prime minister agreed more needed to be done on contact tracing.

"We had Dr Ayesha Verrall come in and undertake that audit around our contact tracing for that very reason, there is more work for us to do off the back of that, because it will continue to be a critical part of our response, she said.

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said to date, testing analysis showed good spread across the regions, but there were lower rates in some regions such as Whanganui and Tairāwhiti.

"What I've said to them and to all DHBs just have a really low threshold, so anyone with respiratory symptoms, whether upper respiratory, which could just be a sore throat or runny nose, just test them anyway."

In the Tairāwhiti area, the number of people confirmed with the disease has gone from one to three and as of yesterday, 461 people had been tested in the region.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

DHB head Jim Green wanted to lift testing figures.

He said mobile dental trucks had been repurposed and staff were taking them out to remote communities.

The DHB was also zeroing in on essential workers, who are more exposed to the coronavirus.

"The symptoms that they may see as mild, actually might be quite significant, so we want to find those people and offer them a test," he said.

In Whanganui, DHB spokesperson Mark Dawson said the percentage of people being swabbed when they turn up at community-based assessment centres had gone from about 30 percent to between 60 and 80 percent.

"These aren't particularly huge numbers that we're getting in, but we are just testing more, so we have been more liberal in our interpretation of the case definition and broadening it out to get more people in," he said.

Dawson said as of yesterday employers of essential workers have been given contact sheets to encourage any staff with symptoms to get tested.

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