The Ministry of Health has released an update on Rapid Antigen Testing for businesses in New Zealand. The COVID-19 Testing Strategy for Aotearoa New Zealand published on 26 November supports a move to a minimisation and protection strategy under the COVID-19 Protection Framework (CPF). The new testing strategy provides a roadmap to help the country navigate it’s way through the presence of COVID-19 in the community.

Broader use of testing technologies and adoption of innovation is a key part of the new strategy and the use of Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) plays an important role in the testing approach, particularly for surveillance testing.

Following completion of the MBIE Business Charter Pilot, the Ministry is supporting the rollout of Rapid Antigen Testing to the wider business community. Findings from these trials have been valuable in informing processes necessary to support a wider rollout within the country’s broader surveillance strategy. The Ministry is now moving to phase 2 of the rollout and businesses wishing to use RATs in their workplaces can source approved kits directly from authorised suppliers.

The Ministry of Health’s website has been updated with the following documents to guide businesses in the use of RAT in their workplace:

• Rapid Antigen Testing: Guide for Businesses
• RA testing requirements and processes
• Protocols for general staff management following a positive RAT result

See guidance documents here.

These protocols are to protect the workforce while ensuring continuity of business operations. RATs are a medical device and need to be completed under the supervision of a person that has reviewed and understands the instructions (written and video) provided by suppliers. Training materials are available for each approved RAT kit on the supplier’s website.

RATs require a higher quantity of the virus to be present in the sample than other COVID 19 testing methods. As a result, RATs are less sensitive at detecting cases, especially in asymptomatic people or people who are early in their infectious period. A positive result in any RAT requires a confirmation test by RT-PCR swab undertaken by a healthcare professional. The advantage of RATs is that they give a result quickly (often in less than 15 minutes), which assists with rapid risk assessment and reduces the amount of time a positive individual is active in the community.

Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) are not:
• as accurate at detecting COVID-19 as nasal and saliva PCR tests (a positive RAT result must be followed up with a second RAT, and if positive it must be confirmed with a PCR test as soon as possible)
• used for diagnosis of people with COVID-19 symptoms
• a replacement for existing nasal and saliva PCR tests
• mandatory for businesses
• acceptable for mandatory surveillance testing under the Required Testing Order (RTO)
• a replacement for vaccination.

The next phase of the Ministry of Health’s response supports management of the virus in the community, in an environment with less widespread restrictions. The Ministry will continue to review and adopt innovations in testing technology. This includes the evaluation of saliva-based RAT kits. It will provide further updates as new kits are approved for use by the Ministry.