Kia ora koutou,
We have undertaken our regular review of our COVID-19 Testing Guidance for the Health Sector and I’m writing to inform you that there is now an updated version of this document on the Ministry’s website, replacing the testing guidance that was in force from 15 April – 26 May 2021.
For the period ending 7 July 2021, the primary focus of the Testing Plan is testing at the border to quickly identify and manage infections in those most at risk in order to decrease the risk that COVID-19 enters New Zealand communities where it may spread undetected. The focus is on testing arrivals into New Zealand, international air and maritime crew, and border facing workers (including MIQ workers) – as mandated by the Air and Maritime Border Orders and the Required Testing Order.
The secondary focus of the Testing Plan is testing in the community to quickly test and identify any cases of COVID-19, should it be present. For this reason, the Ministry recommends testing all those who present with clinical symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
Key updates to the Testing Guidance for the Health Sector include:
- People should be tested if symptomatic, or under the border Testing Order, regardless of their vaccination status
- Testing anyone who is symptomatic is particularly important as we head into winter
- Contacts have been removed from the HIS criteria; there is separate Ministry of Health information about testing for contacts
- People in New Zealand under Quarantine-Free Travel arrangements should be tested if symptomatic. They should also be considered as part of the HIS groups that might apply to their workplace/ situation in their country of origin
- Elderly people should be tested if symptomatic
- For children, the severity of illness should not drive the decision whether or not to test. Test if they meet HIS criteria, are a contact of a case, if otherwise clinically indicated, or by parental request.
Focus for the next six weeks
For the six-week period of 27 May to 7 July, the testing approach should continue to focus on:
- Testing anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 in all regions (with the proviso that exceptions can be made for young children).
- Testing as part of any wider case or outbreak investigation. In particular, targeted testing, for example by geographic locations or for specific populations, should be considered in this setting.
The continuing need to be vigilant and to scrutinize and, where necessary, bolster our border defences has been underscored by the emergence internationally, and the arrival at our border over recent months, of new and more transmissible variants of the virus.
There is emerging evidence that the newer variants of SARS-CoV-2 can present with flu-like symptoms and muscle aches and pain rather than respiratory symptoms. For people who meet the Higher Index of Suspicion (HIS) criteria or are contacts of these people, if there is not another more likely diagnosis, they should be tested for COVID-19 if they have these symptoms.
Testing supplements infection protection and control measures already in place in border settings such as physical distancing, personal protective equipment, physical barriers, daily health checks and symptomatic people staying home. And the vaccination roll-out is another key tool we’re using to reduce the spread of infection.
As our vaccination programme ramps up across New Zealand it is important that we stay the course and remain focused and vigilant as we continue to discover new cases of COVID-19 at the border, especially from countries who are experiencing resurgences of the virus in their communities.
A key message for all New Zealanders who are required to be vaccinated as part of our border protections, is that even if they have been vaccinated, they must still continue to be regularly tested.
Under the Quarantine Free Travel arrangements with Australia and the Cook Islands, recent arrivals from those locations should be managed as if they are part of the New Zealand population, tested if symptomatic, and considered as part of the HIS groups that might apply to their workplace / situation in their country of origin.
Testing anyone who is symptomatic is particularly important as we head into winter. Anyone who is symptomatic should be tested as a priority, irrespective of region or other risk criteria, (with the proviso that exceptions can be made for young children, as noted in the updated Testing Guidance document).
To ensure that testing is equitably available for all those with symptoms, approaches should continue to be developed with Māori and Pacific communities, health leaders and health providers. DHB cultural and community liaison roles will have a key role in planning and implementing these approaches.
Overall community testing rates for Māori (as measured by test numbers per 1,000 population) are generally lower than testing rates for non-Māori in most regions, with the notable exception of Counties Manukau, but have been improving over the last three months after falling back in the fourth quarter of 2020. Testing rates for Pacific peoples are higher than for non-Pacific in most areas.
As always, I acknowledge and thank you for your continued commitment to keep Aotearoa New Zealand safe from COVID-19 and welcome any feedback you have.
The full current advice for the period ending 7 July 2021 is available here.
Michelle Branney l Manager Testing Operations l COVID-19 Health System Response l Ph 021 641 672
Ministry of Health l www.moh.govt.nz