A new national testing strategy will be introduced with the start of the Covid-19 Protection Framework system, it will provide better protection for high-risk groups as New Zealand transitions to the traffic light system.

The new testing and tracing strategy supplemented by rapid antigen testing and saliva-based PCR testing will provide more ways to test people with faster results, providing greater certainty and reassurance — and less disruption to our everyday lives. 

When pursuing an elimination strategy the Government relied on highly sensitive PCR tests because the cost of missing a case was too high. With more and more New Zealanders gaining protection through vaccinations, a wider range of routine testing options that provide other benefits such as accessibility, convenience and speed can now be introduced.

From 1 December 2021, businesses will be able to directly source from authorised suppliers approved rapid antigen tests for use within their workforce. These tests will be more widely used across our health system, including aged residential care. Rapid antigen tests will also be available to the general public at pharmacies from 15 December 2021, with tests to be administered under the supervision of pharmacy staff. A PCR test will be required to confirm any positive results.

Under the new traffic light system, in regions at Red and Orange there will be a focus on symptomatic testing and surveillance testing in high-risk settings. Regions at Green will see a greater focus on surveillance testing, to quickly find any new clusters of cases. Targeted testing will provide greater capacity for laboratories to process priority testing as part of our efforts to protect vulnerable and high-risk communities. Work is underway to expand capacity to 60,000 PCR tests per day by early next year.

Also a new tracing strategy lead by a telehealth case investigation service has been stood up and 475 investigators will be trained by the end of this month. This will add significant new capacity on top of the excellent work of  Public Health Units. There is a focus on recruiting Māori and Pacific staff, to ensure we can respond to these communities. Read more here.