8 Jul 2020

Covid-19 testing rates drop: 'People can fall into a bit of complacency'

7:34 am on 8 July 2020

Doctors are backing government calls to keep doing thousands of Covid-19 tests each day to ensure the community's free of the virus.

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 coronavirus clinic conduct a test on a man inside his car outside a Covid-19 coronavirus clinic in Lower Hutt. Photo: AFP

But finding that many volunteers a day may be an uphill battle while the virus is under control.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins has set a target for 4000 tests a day, but that number has only been achieved once in the last week. Yesterday only 1641 tests were reported, however, this may have been made up of some tests from the weekend which often has a reduced number.

Some New Zealanders seem relaxed enough about the threat of coronavirus that going into full stadiums and malls is barely given a second thought.

Hardly anyone is scanning Covid-19 tracing codes either. The seven-day average is just 9600 scans per day.

It seems this level of comfort that there is no Covid-19 in the community is also contributing to lower testing rates, according to some members of the public at Westfield St Lukes shopping centre in Auckland.

"I think people are feeling generally less anxious about the whole situation. I would get tested if I had symptoms, but I haven't seen the need to do that at the moment. If it was very much encouraged by the government I don't see why not," one said.

"A lot of people are not too concerned in New Zealand but there's no need to be complacent either, said another.

"We've had incredibly leadership here. So if they want me to be tested, I will, for the team of five million."

At the time of the border bungles there was a sharp spike in demand for testing.

People queued for hours, and more than 10,000 tests were processed one day.

That was less than two weeks ago, but numbers have been falling since.

Hipkins said: "The number of tests that you will have seen processed in recent days does not meet the government's expectation around the rate of testing that is required".

He stated 4000 tests a day was the aim. If these tests were spread out around the country it would be enough to pick up any case that crept into the community, Hipkins said.

Otago University Professor Nick Wilson.

Nick Wilson. Photo: Supplied / Otago University Wellington

Nick Wilson, a public health professor, had a very high level of confidence that there was no undetected community transmission. He agreed lots of testing would be nice but he did not think it was essential.

"I'd probably be happy now with just a few thousand tests a day, it may not be necessary now to get up to this 4000 a day. There is an opportunity cost, that doctors and health workers are spending time doing this," Wilson said.

Bryan Betty, the medical director at the College of GPs and practising GP himself, said we needed to remain vigilant with cases at the the border, and it was critical around 4000 tests a day - and 4000 people being willing to be tested - continued.

"I've had a lot of anecdotal evidence from around the country of patients refusing to be tested, because they don't see the need because there is no community spread at the moment," Dr Betty said.

Dr Bryan Betty of Porirua Union and Community Health.

Bryan Betty, the medical director at the College of GPs. Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

"We've been very successful in shutting down Covid, and having no community spread, but the converse to that is people can fall into a bit of complacency about the need to test."

The criteria for testing was not quite precise enough, Dr Betty said, and with flu season around there was an argument that anyone with those similar symptoms should be swabbed.

Dr Betty said the government and ministry may need to be more prescriptive about testing, in order to get numbers up to a better level.

"Certainly something has to be done about how we maintain surveillance testing not just over the next week or two, but actually over the next few months, until we have a resolution to the whole Covid situation."

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