25 Nov 2021

Rapid antigen tests available from pharmacies from next month

5:57 pm on 25 November 2021

DIY Covid tests will be available in pharmacies from mid-December, while businesses will have access to them from next week.

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Rapid antigen tests take about 15 minutes to process. Photo: 123RF

Rapid antigen testing has been approved for use in the community as part of a shift in how the government deals with the Covid-19 virus now it accepts it is here to stay.

They take about 15 minutes to process but are less accurate than the PCR test currently used in testing centres.

Initially people will be able to buy them but will have to use them in front of a pharmacist.

Pharmacy Guild chief executive Andrew Gaudin understands customers will eventually be able to take tests away to use these at home if that is what they prefer.

Those who wanted to be supervised by a pharmacist or who needed to be for public health reason would still be able to, he said.

Nearly 30 businesses had already been using the rapid antigen testing as part of a trial, including Mainfreight.

Mainfreight chief executive Don Braid said the trial had gone really well.

There were many different types of rapid antigen test, and the one he had used was really easy to use, and less invasive than the PCR swab, Braid said.

"You take the swab and roll round the inside of your nasal passages, shallow nasal so enough to make your eyes water or make you want to sneeze," he said.

The sample was then put into a solution and onto a pregancy-test style stick, 15 minutes later two lines indicated a positive result.

People buying testing in pharmacies will need to pay for them in most cases- but associate health Minister Ayesha Verrall would not be drawn on how much that would likely be.

Mainfreight said it paid between $10 and $12 a test.

However, people using them for public health reasons won't need to pay, Verrall said.

That would include aged-care settings or for Māori and Pacific providers working with vulnerable or very rural communities, she said.

All that extra testing meant a lot more work for laboratory technicians already under stress.

The government would employ more workers and build more lab infrastructure to increase daily capacity from 16,000 tests a day (outside of surge times) to 60,000.

The Rapid Antigen tests were less accurate and mainly for surveillance testing, finding hidden or unexepected cases.

Verrall stressed anyone who had Covid symptoms would still need a PCR test from a testing centre and any positive rapid test would need to be confirmed with a PCR.

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