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Community testing must continue long-term, say GPs

Testing was carried out at the Port of Tauranga last week. Image: John Borren/SunLive.

As the government races to test 70,000 people in seven days, GPs are warning it must get community testing back on track long-term.

Nearly 200,000 people have been swabbed in the latest outbreak, with the final flurry an attempt to try to ensure the cluster is contained.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins says a new target of an additional 70,000 tests across the country was in place for next seven days, with 70 per cent to be of community testing to be in South Auckland.

Before the Auckland outbreak, the government struggled with testing numbers and could not reach the 4000-a-day national average it was calling for.

Otara GP Maryann Heather says it was time to start thinking about how to keep testing numbers up when the alert levels went down.

Testing border workers is crucial but more groups should be targeted for good quality community surveillance, she says.

"Frontline workers in hospital, in GP practices because we're high risk because we're testing all the time. I think its something that needs to be consistent and we do it on a regular basis so we can pick up community transmission."

Manukau doctor Api Talemaitoga says the government and the Ministry of Health had to combat Covid complacency.

"I personally feel we went a bit too relaxed - everything relaxed...but we need to keep our game up going back down levels."

Both he and Maryann were dismayed when some South Auckland community testing centres closed - against the wishes of local doctors - just two weeks before the latest outbreak was discovered there.

The Ministry and DHBs must keep making testing easily accessible long after the current flurry, they say.

Part of the problem had been confusion among people - including some doctors - about who should be tested.

Apart from high risk people, most community surveillance was for people with symptoms.

But those symptoms are the same as for other common illnesses and the message when to test had not always been clear.

Papakura GP Matire Harwood says it is time sort that out because the Covid threat would be around a long time.

"Let's actually be a bit more proactive, have some plans in place so there isn't this confusion."

Api says Covid-19 tests carried considerable red tape for GPs, should become routine for anyone who sees their doctor for a respiratory illness.

"Like we do swabs for sore throats, for strep throats, we should get into that habit."

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says he had been talking with GPs and there was now more clarity about who should be tested.

Auckland's DHBs say even when they closed community testing centres, they retained mobile clinics and will continue to do so in the long term.

Rowan Quinn/RNZ.

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