26 Aug 2020

Community testing must continue long-term, GPs warn

5:30 am on 26 August 2020

As the government races to test 70,000 people in seven days, GPs are warning it must get community testing back on track long-term.

Ōtara Covid-19 Testing Station 13 August

A testing station in Ōtara, Auckland, 13 August Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Nearly 200,000 people have been swabbed in the latest outbreak, with the final flurry an attempt to try to ensure the cluster is contained.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said a new target of an additional 70,000 tests across the country was in place for next seven days, with 70 percent to be of community testing to be in South Auckland.

Before the Auckland outbreak, the government struggled with testing numbers and could not reach the 4000-a-day national average it was calling for.

Otara GP Maryann Heather said it was time to start thinking about how to keep testing number up when the alert levels went down.

Testing border workers was crucial but more groups should be targeted for good quality community surveillance, she said.

"Frontline workers in hospital, in GP practices because we're high risk because we're testing all the time. I think its something that needs to be consistent and we do it on a regular basis so we can pick up community transmission," she said.

Manukau doctor Api Talemaitoga said the government and the Ministry of Health had to combat Covid complacency.

"I personally feel we went a bit too relaxed - everything relaxed...but we need to keep our game up going back down levels," he said.

Both he and Heather were dismayed when some South Auckland community testing centres closed - against the wishes of local doctors - just two weeks before the latest outbreak was discovered there.

The Ministry and DHBs must keep making testing easily accessible long after the current flurry, the said

Part of the problem had been confusion among people - including some doctors - about who should be tested.

Apart from high risk people, most community surveillance was for people with symptoms.

But those symptoms are the same as for other common illnesses and the message when to test had not always been clear.

Papakura GP Matire Harwood said it was time sort that out because the Covid threat would be around a long time.

"Let's actually be a bit more proactive, have some plans in place so there isn't this confusion."

Talemaitoga said Covid-19 tests carried considerable red tape for GPs, should become routine for anyone who sees their doctor for a respiratory illness.

"Like we do swabs for sore throats, for strep throats, we should get into that habit," he said.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said he had been talking with GPs and there was now more clarity about who should be tested.

Auckland's DHBs said even when they closed community testing centres, they retained mobile clinics and will continue to do so in the long term.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs