2 Mar 2022

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins on RATs: 'We don't want people stockpiling'

2:08 pm on 2 March 2022

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says there is no need to stockpile rapid antigen tests (RATs) because "they are literally arriving all of the time".

Watch Hipkins speaking here:

Hipkins confirmed there were 22,152 new community cases, with more than 400 people in hospital.

He urged people to be patient while trying to access testing, as there is a lot of demand.

But he said there was no need to stock up on rapid antigen tests.

"Two million arrived last night, another five million this morning, they are literally arriving all of the time," he said.

They do also expire, becoming less accurate as they get older, "so we don't want people stockpiling".

He said there will be plenty to go round.

Asked about the overestimation of testing capacity, Hipkins said Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield spoke about it at length yesterday, and the information the government was drawing on came from the Ministry of Health.

"I think he's acknowledged that they didn't get that right. What the government has had right the way through the response are quite regular reviews of the advice that we've been getting from the Ministry of Health including a technical expert advisory group on the issue of testing.

"It's clear in this case that the advice that they provided to us and to the public didn't stack up in terms of what the labs were ultimately able to deliver.

"We get quite a range of advice coming in and there's all sorts of motivations for that sometimes. The critical thing for us now is that we want to make sure the rollout of rapid antigen tests is as smooth as possible and that remaining backlog is cleared within the next few days."

He said he did not want Dr Bloomfield to resign over the error.

The ministry had been "probably the most scrutinised entity in the entirety of the Covid-19 response", he said

He said at last count there had been about 1600 recommendations made over the reviews of the ministry's advice.

Asked why it was Dr Bloomfield apologising yesterday and not a minister, Hipkins says he was available but was not asked to apologise.

"Otherwise I would have been here."

He said he did not have an update on the exact number of cases linked to the protest at Parliament.

'Now's the time to go home'

Police have a major operation underway to clear the Parliament grounds and nearby areas of protesters, who have occupied the area for 23 days in a bid to get Covid-19 vaccine mandates removed.

He said his message to the protesters is that Covid-19 is real and, while some don't believe that, when some of their own friends who they have been standing alongside at the protest have fallen ill from it's "surely that might be pause for thought for some of them".

"Now's the time to go home. Whatever point that they were trying to make was lost a long time ago, and so my full support to the police for a difficult job that they're doing out the front and to the protesters: go home now. They have undoubtedly been exposed to Covid-19, go home and stay home, look after your own health."

MIQ changes

He said Cabinet will make decisions in the next week or two about the future of managed isolation and quarantine.

From this afternoon, MIQ will return to the previous self-service model for the allocation of rooms. This applies for unvaccinated people but they should not have difficulty with it because the demand will be much lower, he said.

"New Zealand has been very fortunate in the sense that we have had a very low mortality rate and a very low case rate and that is because of the hard work of the people that have been working at our border and have been working in our managed isolation facilities.

"And as many of them find that work is coming to an end, I want to acknowledge once again the personal toll that has taken.

"As Minister for Covid-19 Response, MIQ has been one of the most difficult parts of this job for me over the last 18 months and it has involved hearing from workers the sort of thing that they have been subject to including personal abuse. They've often been ostracised in their communities, excluded from sports clubs, abused in public, and they have continued to go to work every day to keep the country safe."

He said he also assured them they will be treated fairly as MIQ begins to wind up.

He also acknowledged the New Zealanders who have wanted to return to the country but have been unable to, as well as those who aren't New Zealanders but have friends and family here and have wanted to visit them.

"My message to them is ... not long to wait now, and haere mai."

On the sports field

On school sports and school activities, Hipkins says more detail will be provided soon, but young people who are participating in a school-organised activity do not need to be vaccinated, including sports teams competing against other sports teams.

"If it is organised by the school, then vaccination is not required. That of course does not apply to adults who are coming to spectate or coming to support those school activities - the same requirements that have been in place will continue to apply to them."

Hipkins said the government had seen evidence that some of the rules around schools and sporting activities have been interpreted very narrowly, such as games being stopped bang on 3pm when school ends for the day, when there is no harm in the same players continuing to play.

He said the rules are being changed to make them much clearer.

He acknowledged there will be more cases seen in schools and early learning centres, and urged parents whose children get symptoms to keep their children at home.

Earlier today, Hipkins told Morning Report he was not satisfied with the information he was given about PCR testing capacity as labs experience a backlog of 32,000 tests that are at least five days old.

He also said the country was now in a phase where it was likely to see an increase in Covid-19 hospitalisations.

Data modeller Michael Plank said hospital numbers were doubling roughly every five days and if that continued, the number of people in hospital on 6 March could be close to 800.

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