Members of the public will be able to get a rapid antigen test for Covid from pharmacies from December 15, the Government has announced.
It's one of a suite of new measures announced by the Government on Thursday in what's styled as a $1.5 billion package.
Here are the announcements starting with Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall:
A new national testing strategy will provide better protection for high-risk groups as New Zealand transitions to the COVID-19 Protection Framework, says Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall.
“Delta is here, so we are ensuring we have the tools in place to support the transition to the new framework, and to help minimise the spread of COVID-19,” Ayesha Verrall said.
“Our testing strategy has worked well to date. New Zealand has amongst the highest number of tests per positive case in the OECD and our border testing has stopped potential incursions.
“When we were pursuing an elimination strategy we 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, we can now introduce a wider range of routine testing options that provide other benefits such as accessibility, convenience and speed.
“With more COVID-19 cases appearing around the country, testing, tracing and quickly isolating cases and their contacts will be all the more important for protecting whānau and communities.
“We will focus surveillance testing and contact tracing where it’s most needed, to find and minimise COVID-19,” Ayesha Verrall said.
Nasopharyngeal PCR tests will continue to be used as the primary diagnostic test, but this will be supplemented by saliva-based PCR testing, rapid antigen testing and rapid PCR tests.
“From 1 December, 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, with tests to be administered under the supervision of pharmacy staff. A PCR test will be required to confirm any positive results,” Ayesha Verrall said.
Under the new framework, 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.
“We have also stood up a new national telehealth case investigation service, and are training 475 investigators by the end of this month. This will add significant new capacity on top of the excellent work of our Public Health Units. There is a focus on recruiting Māori and Pacific staff, to ensure we can respond to these communities.
“Under the new strategy there will be more ways to test people with faster results, providing greater certainty and reassurance – and less disruption to our everyday lives.
“No country has managed to eliminate delta completely, but we have protections in place to minimise its impact,” Ayesha Verrall said.
And Health Minister Andrew Little:
The Government is increasing the support for New Zealanders who test positive for COVID-19 through the rollout of the COVID Care in the Community model and a $300 million funding boost to Pharmac to purchase new medicines to treat the virus, Health Minister Andrew Little announced today.
“Delta is here so we are changing our strategy for how we deal with the virus. Supported recovery at home and greater access to medicines to stop people getting very sick are the cornerstones of the Care in the Community model,” Andrew Little said.
“As we move to the Traffic Light System, reduce restrictions, and remove the Auckland boundary, people will be travelling around the country in the months to come and we will see more cases across the country.
“The vast majority of people who get COVID will have mild to moderate symptoms and won’t require hospital care, but we need to make sure those recovering at home have the support and medicine they need to recover safely, and that others in the household are safe as well,” Andrew Little said.
The COVID Care in the Community model provides the framework for how the end-to-end community support will be provided as cases increase throughout the country, and sets out the expectations of health and welfare providers.
For someone with COVID-19 who can isolate at home, Care in the Community will include:
·An initial contact from a healthcare provider within 24 hours of a positive result notification, to discuss any health, accommodation and wellbeing requirements. Household contacts will also need to isolate, they’ll be supported with health advice and getting tested as well.
·A designated point of contact, most likely from a local healthcare provider, who will be responsible for looking out for the person’s health and wellbeing needs, including making a plan for checking in regularly while the person is infected.
·A health pack tailored to the individual’s health needs delivered within 48 hours to help the person manage recovery.
·Ongoing clinical monitoring over the duration of the isolation period to make sure the person is coping with symptoms and is safe to continue being cared for in the community.
·A health assessment at Day 10 to determine whether the person can safely end time in isolation.
At this point, household contacts will need to stay at home for at least 10 days, to make sure they remain free from the virus. The households’ dedicated health contact will continue to check in on them during this time.
Everyone can also do their bit now to help themselves and their loved ones by using the Readiness Checklist to plan and prepare.
COVID-19 MEDICINES FUNDING
As part of the shift to Care in the Community, the Government is providing $300 million for the national drug-buying agency Pharmac to buy more new medicines to treat COVID-19.
“Medicines are being rapidly developed and can stop most people getting so sick they need to go to hospital,” Andrew Little said.
“Vaccinations are still the first and best line of defence against the virus, but we want to make sure people who do contract COVID-19 have access to new treatments as soon as possible.
“New Zealand is at the front of the queue for these medicines. We were one of the first countries in the world to secure supplies of the new anti-viral drug molnupiravir for treating people with mild-to-medium COVID infections, and Pharmac is talking to other pharmaceutical companies about their medicines.
“Cabinet has agreed to provide an extra $300 million so the purchase of COVID drugs doesn’t affect Pharmac’s ability to keep buying medications and treatments for other conditions.”
And Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni:
Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni has announced $204.1m will be made available to support individuals and whānau who contract COVID-19 and need to isolate at home.
“As we enter a new phase in our response to COVID-19 which will see more people isolating at home, we are changing our strategy to ensure everyone gets the support they need in order to isolate and recover safely,” Carmel Sepuloni said.
“Supporting the welfare needs of individuals and whānau is central to how we will manage COVID-19 in the community from now on.
“Each region in New Zealand has different community supports and groups available to them, therefore the Government is providing $204.1m for region-specific, locally-led responses.
“Whether you are in Westport or West Auckland we want to ensure welfare support such as food, financial assistance, and connection to the right services is available for you and your whānau.
“For those who need to isolate, we’re making the process as simple as possible. When you have a COVID test you will be provided with information on how to proactively access welfare support if you need it.
“If you receive a positive test, you will be contacted by someone who will assess your needs. If you need welfare support, then MSD will act as the coordination point for local partners, providers and community groups to deliver the support you require.
“MSD’s regions will work with partners, including iwi/Māori and local providers to deliver this support and provide funding where it is needed. They will also work with Health, HUD, Kāinga Ora and MBIE to find suitable alternative accommodation if someone who has tested positive and can’t isolate at home.
“A dedicated 0800 COVID-19 welfare support helpline will also be available to support those in isolation throughout their recovery.
“During the response to Delta, the Government provided $38.15m in funding for food support and community connection services to help whānau access the immediate support they need. We have seen some excellent work being carried out by our community providers, particularly by Māori and Pacific focused organisations in Auckland.
“As we move to the traffic light system and ease restrictions across New Zealand, we know that we will need to take a locally-led approach specific to each region and community. This funding will support this approach by empowering our local partners and organisations to deliver welfare support.
“Our high rates of vaccination mean New Zealanders are in a strong position as we move to ease restrictions and open back up. But we also know there are many for whom getting COVID-19 will not only be dangerous for their health but also challenging for their situation. This package is about making life as easy as possible as people recover.
“We will continue to monitor the needs of the community and respond if more support is required,” says Carmel Sepuloni.