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Saliva testing rolled out to all border workers

Image: RNZ.

Saliva testing is being rolled out to all frontline border workers, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

Hipkins and Joint Head of Managed Isolation Megan Main are holding a Covid-19 briefing at the Beehive.

Hipkins says the saliva testing will start in mid-August for those who were already on a seven-day testing cycle, then roll out to the remaining 13,000 active border workers.

He says the saliva testing will be an optional full replacement for the nasal swab testing for those staff, and could be done at their workplace.

A prototype is already under way in Canterbury.

"This will help boost uptake of saliva testing as a testing option for those who have to do it regularly," Hipkins says.

"By offering this an alternative, we're helping border workers who have frequent testing and find having a swab inserted in the nose very uncomfortable and hard to tolerate."

He says most workers would not need to be tested outside normal shift patterns, and the Health Ministry had provided assurances that the saliva testing provider could handle demand.

Hipkins says saliva testing will be "not just a complement ... but actually an alternative" to nasal cotton bud swabs.

He says he's sure the option will be welcomed by those frontline workers.

"Public health science and clinical advisors will continue to monitor and regularly review our approach as we undertake a phased rollout of saliva testing ... it will be a useful new addition to the toolkit."

He says the advice from the ministry has previously recommended that saliva testing could be a complement to a fortnightly nasal swab as well.

"Now that it is an alternative, the feedback we've had from those workers is that there'll be more enthusiasm for it and we're also expecting that the rollout to a much larger number of sites will happen quite quickly."

He says the approach was changed from complementary to alternative on the advice of the technical advisory group.

This is for surveillance testing at the border, but the advice is it's best to keep using nasopharingeal swabs for diagnostic testing.

"The Ministry of Health themselves acknowledge that we're going to need to move a bit faster as new testing technologies become more readily available and become more reliable."

He says the government wants to be in a position to be able to quickly assess new testing methods for reliability.

"The technology around rapid testing is certainly evolving quite quickly."

Main says that if someone arrives in New Zealand who does not meet the quarantine-free travel requirements, they must go into managed isolation for 14 days.

"The only exceptions to that are where a medical officer of health makes a determination," she says.

She says there are a total of 60 people in MIQ at the moment who have breached one of the requirements.

Hipkins says he will check if there is any inconsistency about the advice provided for people on the Covid-19 website compared to the Ministry of Health website and advice he has provided in the regular 1pm briefings.

-RNZ.

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