Government ‘dropped the ball’ on rapid antigen test access, GP says

Dr Api Talemaitoga

2022-01-22 04:58:18

A South Auckland GP thinks the government has dropped the ball on ensuring doctors have access to Covid-19 rapid antigen tests.

Dr Api Talemaitoga

Dr Api Talemaitoga.

An Omicron outbreak is looming and the Ministry of Health says it is hustling to ensure New Zealand has enough tests on hand, on time.

It comes as Covid-19 modelling indicates an outbreak of the highly infectious variant could see hospitalisations peak at nearly 2800 cases a day by early March.

There were 4.6 million rapid antigen tests in the country as of 18 January.

The ministry said 10m more tests were confirmed to arrive in January and February, while delivery schedules during this time period for a further 21m were being awaited.

Another 20m tests for the March to June period were also on order.

South Auckland GP Dr Api Talemaitoga was still waiting on his order of 300 tests, ahead of requesting another 500.

“I have to be honest – someone has dropped the ball. We knew this was going to happen. We follow what happens overseas all the time, but there’s not enough in the country. I keep on hearing there’s thousands arriving but I don’t know where they’re storing them, they’re not getting to frontline practice,” Talemaitoga said.

The government is still deciding how, where, and when rapid antigen tests will be used during an Omicron outbreak, but Talemaitoga said the tests should be more readily available to health providers at the coal face.

Modelling by the University of Washington in the United States suggested an Omicron outbreak beginning this month could see 2790 people in hospital each day by 10 February, with 10 deaths a day.

Otago University public health expert Professor Nick Wilson said there were uncertainties with Omicron, but he called the modelling group “one of the best in the world” and said the estimations appeared credible.

Many of these cases would only have mild symptoms – but the sheer numbers meant the health system could be overwhelmed, he said.

“It’s the impact on all the other people that have to go to hospital, or their GP. There is a risk all these parts of the health system will be under stress, especially around the peak time of an Omicron outbreak.”

Wilson did not think future lockdowns were necessary – instead, the government needed to roll out a new alert level system enforcing more mask use and increasing building ventilation, he said.

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