Saturday, December 4

Covid-19: officials concerned about the sharp drop in the number of tests

Auckland has been warned: test if you want to get out of level 4.

But the number of Covid-19 swabs has dropped so fast in the city that some centers closed early on the weekend.

A healthcare worker conducts a test at a COVID-19 coronavirus testing center in the Auckland suburb of Northcote on August 12, 2020.

A healthcare worker tests for Covid-19 in Auckland (file image)
Photo: AFP

There were only 2,592 tests in Auckland on Saturday, one-tenth the number a few days before closing.

The Health Ministry said it wanted to see around 7,000 tests a day to keep an eye out for any undetected Covid-19 cases that could cause the outbreak to continue.

So far in Auckland that is not happening.

Te Whānau or Waipareira CEO John Tamihere said one of their centers in west Auckland closed at 1pm yesterday because there was no one to test.

Some days in this outbreak they had been open until 9pm to get work done.

South Seas Healthcare CEO Lemalu Silao Vaisola-Sefo said they have gone from roughly 1,400 swabs a day to less than 200.

His team is puzzled by the magnitude of the fall.

“With Delta as it is, I am concerned that we do not have enough evidence, especially around Auckland, to give us the true picture of what is happening on the ground,” he said.

Auckland residents had been greatly stepped up when it came to testing in the outbreak: about 20 percent of people have been swabbed.

But Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said he couldn’t stop now.

He reminded the tens of thousands of contacts to recall their follow-up tests and said New Zealanders around the world should get tested if they have symptoms.

“Even if it’s a runny nose or aches and pains, we’d like to have a test done,” he said.

The country could not afford to be complacent with the drop in the number of cases (20 for two days in a row) and only needed to look at Victoria, who was on track to beat Covid-19 when the number of cases rose again.

Victoria’s epidemiologist, New Zealander Tony Blakely, said complacency and some frustration over the long Melbourne closures were partly responsible for the increase in cases there.

The high tests were essential to help weed out any hidden New Zealand cases, and he’s a big fan of sticking to the strict lockdown.

There was still uncertainty, including some cases that are not yet fully linked to the cluster and community exposure continues to occur, he said.

“In the last few days I have been incredibly excited for New Zealand and envious of New Zealand. You are progressing well, but you are not there yet. You have to keep that lock in place, especially in Auckland.” he said.

It was essential that vaccines keep increasing, he said.

Chief Health Officer Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said there will be more surveillance tests in the coming weeks.

That meant going out to find Covid, rather than waiting for it to show up.

Those who cross the regional border for work were included in essential workplaces and tested, especially if Auckland residents move to level 2.

They would not be tests at the border, but rather regular tests similar to what is done for border or health workers.

South Seas Healthcare was conducting surveillance tests at a church in Māngere and had a mobile clinic for contacts who were isolating themselves.

In previous outbreaks, pop-up centers have been established in supermarkets and asymptomatic tests have been included.

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