25 Jun 2020

Ministry of Health reintroduces high risk criteria for Covid-19 testing

8:11 am on 25 June 2020

Covid-19 testing for every person with a cough or cold symptom has been dropped by the Ministry of Health.

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Testing site in Henderson, Auckland, in April Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Under new Ministry of Health testing guidelines, doctors and testing clinics, are urged to instead focus on those at highest risk.

For the past several weeks, anyone with even a sniffle had been told they can be tested for Covid-19.

But that will no longer be the case unless they fall into a high risk group or their doctor advises it.

The high risk group includes anyone who have recently:

  • Had contact with an infected person
  • Been overseas
  • Had direct contact with someone who had been overseas
  • Worked on an international aircraft of ship
  • Worked at an airport or isolation facility

Other people with a cold or flu symptom could still be tested but it will not be a requirement.

The move is expected to put an end to the huge demand for tests in some areas over the past week as cold and flu season hit.

Northland GP Geoff Cunningham was so busy he ran out of swabs.

He was relieved to see the change.

"It would be unsustainable if we were to continue swabbing every minor respiratory tract infection," he said.

Leading public health doctor Nick Wilson, said the change was the right thing to do because there was no evidence the virus was transmitting in the community.

"When you recognise that situation and the fact that we are going into winter when there is a lot more cold and flu, we do have to probably tighten these criteria so we're not wasting a lot of health worker time and resource on inappropriate testing," he said.

A GP registrar at Papakura Marae's health centre, Julea Dalley, said the clinic would most likely still remain very careful because they were near the airport and likely to see a lot of airport workers.

She welcomed the change, saying she hoped it would mean people who had been avoiding the clinic would make an appointment.

And the clinic still wanted people to turn up with sore throats, because of the risk of rheumatic fever, she said.

What the national Māori pandemic group says

Dr Papaarangi Reid, a specialist in public health medicine and co-leader of the national Māori pandemic group, said the organisation was comfortable with the changes.

Its focus for Covid-19 was areas with the risk - the border and those with contacts.

"We've got no evidence of transmission. We have had some issues with managing the border [but] I think we have some level of confidence that everybody at the border has managed self-isolation or quarantine. We have some level of confidence that there is testing, and that is improving."

However, the national Māori pandemic group was focused on other issues, Reid said.

"We are less concerned about community spread, we are far more concerned with issues about the restart, people missing rheumatic fever, prisoners still on remand ... people staying away from healthcare facilities and not getting their health checked like they would have normally ... we are concerned in terms of Māori health."

Border issues were not on the group's "worry list", she said.

And she called for politicians to be responsible with their messages about Covid-19.

"We are in election season ... and we have to make sure it is not caught up in electioneering. And that's problematic when the politics are causing community worry and community anxiety.

"Politicians have to play a fair game here of managing their messages as well."

They needed to strike balance and consider the impact on the wider public, she said.

As for what people should do if they were worried they had the novel coronavirus, Reid said: "If someone shows signs and symptoms of Covid, doctors will send them for a test.

"I think most GPs are operating on the fact that you can ring in and have a conversation and discuss your symptoms and whether or not you should come in and get a test."

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