24 Jun 2020

High demand at Covid-19 testing centres as cases cross the border

10:21 am on 24 June 2020

A Whangārei GP says the city ran out of Covid-19 swabs yesterday as a result of increasing demand.

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(File image). Photo: 123RF

The region's Medical Officer of Health, Dr Jose Ortega, sought to ease fears yesterday by issuing a public statement that there are no active, confirmed or probable cases of Covid-19 in Northland.

Whangārei GP Geoff Cunningham told Morning Report that most doctors around the country were seeing a surge in viral respiratory tract infections.

"We've been given a directive that these patients are to be given a Covid swab which is putting a large increase on our practice load."

"We're all pretty flat out around the country I think.

"We're swabbing people who are genuinely symptomatic and we're not swabbing anyone who just wants to have a Covid swab, people do have to have symptoms."

He said they had run out of swabs yesterday and were still waiting on more to arrive from Auckland today, with bookings already made for tests today.

The city's community-based assessment clinic was also getting overwhelmed, Dr Cunningham said.

"For the two days it's closed, the Tuesday and Thursday, the GPs are picking up that load," he said.

However, Dr Cunningham does not believe the directive to swab those with viral respiratory symptoms was "unreasonable", given they overlapped with Covid-19 signs.

Nonetheless, it still put a huge load on primary care, he said.

He said it would provide more relief if the assessment clinic was able to open for longer or more days, and had more staff.

"We're busy enough as it is, especially post-Covid, we've got a bit of a catch up going on and to have this extra load put on us is a bit of a struggle."

Testing centres across country experiencing high demand

There had been huge queues at some Auckland testing centres since new cases of the virus began arriving from overseas last week.

Staff at a COVID-19 coronavirus clinic conduct a test on a man inside his car outside a COVID-19 coronavirus clinic in Lower Hutt, near Wellington, on April 20, 2020.

Staff at a Covid-19 testing centre conduct a test on a man inside his car in Lower Hutt. Photo: AFP

In the week to 21 June, 17,247 people in the region were swabbed for Covid-19, a spokesperson for the region's DHBs said.

That was just shy of its biggest week ever, 17,921. That was the week ending 10 May, just before cabinet was to decide whether to move to level 2.

Other centres were also facing high demand as anxiety over the new cases grew, and the winter cold and flu season meant more people had symptoms.

Canterbury's Pegasus Heath, which runs Covid-19 community assessment centres said seven were still operating, but most GPs were also swabbing.

The chief executive, Vince Barry, said its testing facilities were "under significant pressure" because of increased demand.

Wellington was keeping its centres open longer than expected to meet the need.

There were no longer community assessment centres in many smaller regions, with general practices picking up the work.

That included the Bay of Plenty DHB which said it had since had a significant increase in demand and was supporting practices to cope.

The director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said the country may need to "surge up" it's testing facilities.

Under the Health Ministry's latest plan, district health boards will have to show they are keeping up with national testing rates and ensure they are reaching all communities.

The health minister, David Clark, said some of that would include random testing of people without any symptoms, especially those working at airports or isolation hotels.

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