More than 3 million Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) have been distributed across New Zealand for workers who keep New Zealand’s critical services and supply chains moving, and those in our community most at risk from the effects of COVID-19, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says.
The deliveries follow the opening of the Close Contact Exemption Scheme and the move to Phase 2 of the Omicron response strategy.
Dr Bloomfield says the RATs have been sent to sites including District Health Boards, Healthcare and Emergency Service workforces, testing facilities, GP clinics, aged care facilities and community health providers.
‘The Ministry has also provided RATs directly to organisations, including businesses that are currently affected by outbreaks, to make it easier to test their workers who are contacts and keep their organisations running.
‘Although there are still significant global supply constraints, we have secured the delivery of enough RATs to help New Zealand through a widespread Omicron outbreak in the coming months.
‘There are currently 7.3 million RATs in the system with around 22.5 million expected by the end of the month, including 9.2 million due to arrive by the end of next week.
‘On the first day of the scheme around 200 orders were received and we expect these numbers to go up rapidly which is why we will be scaling up in line with demand.
‘There are collection sites in every DHB around the country, with nearly 100 collection sites ready to go across New Zealand. This number will increase in line with demand as cases rise during the outbreak and more critical workers become close contacts.
‘We are also working with around 1000 community health providers to help those we know experience poorer outcomes, higher death rates and increased health, economic and social inequities from the effects of COVID-19.
‘These providers have demonstrated in previous outbreaks that they can deliver local and regional approaches that help people access testing when they need it.
‘So if you have cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms you should still contact your health provider to get a PCR test, and if you don’t have symptoms then you don’t need to get a test.
‘It’s still important to keep up with the basic healthcare prevention measures – stay home if you’re sick, get a booster if it’s been three months since your second shot, wash your hands, wear your mask, scan in and maintain social distancing where possible,’ Dr Bloomfield says.
Background questions and answers
Who are getting RATs?
Under the public health response RATs are being prioritised for three groups:
• The Healthcare and Emergency Service Workforce including those who work in District Health Boards, GPs, Pharmacies, Aged Residential Care facilities, Police, Corrections, FENZ and Managed Isolation Quarantine Facilities who have been identified as a close contact and need a test to go to work will be given RATs by their employer.
• Priority populations, who are at heightened risk when symptomatic, will be able to get a supervised RAT from their GP or community provider, who will record the results.
• Asymptomatic critical workers who are fully vaccinated, have been identified as a close contact and need a test to go to work can get RATs from a collection site as part of the Close Contact Exemption Scheme.
Where do they get them from?
Collection sites are listed on Healthpoint and in many cases are existing facilities.
How many sites are there?
There are nearly 100 RATs collection sites ready to go and more will be added as demand increases due to increasing numbers and spread of cases and close contacts.
At this stage RATs are only available at collection sites for asymptomatic critical workers who are fully vaccinated, have been identified as a close contact and need a test to go to work as part of the Close Contact Exemption Scheme.
What do workers need to provide at a collection site to collect RATs?
Workers must be vaccinated to be eligible for the Close Contact Exemption Scheme, so as well as their vaccine pass, workers will need to show:
• A letter from the Critical Services Register,
• Their critical worker authorisation letter from their employer to prove they are a critical worker in a critical business,
• Personal ID like a Driver’s Licence to prove who they are, and
• The text message confirming they are a close contact and therefore eligible for a test.
Should unwell workers use collection sites?
People should not turn up to a collection site if they are unwell. They should call their health provider or Healthline, and they should still get a PCR test.
Can an employer collect RATs on behalf of their workers?
Yes, they just need to provide the above information.
What happens if a site gets multiple close contacts as a result of a case?
In some cases, there may be large number of contacts at a specific work site/location.
The local DHB and Public Health Unit will work with the site to supply a quantity of RATs directly to the business.