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Covid-19 saliva testing to be trialled with Air NZ border workers from next week

Trials looking at the effectiveness of Covid-19 saliva testing will begin next week with Air New Zealand border workers.

Air New Zealand (file photo). Source: 1 NEWS

The national airline announced today it is partnering with Crown research institute ESR to test if saliva sampling could be “an accurate, easy and acceptable method of detecting Covid-19 compared to the current nasopharyngeal swab test”.

Airline staff who are being regularly tested by the Ministry of Health as part of its surveillance testing will be invited to participate in the study.

Presently, most border workers are screened for Covid-19 by undergoing a nasal PCR test every seven to 14 days, as well as daily health checks.

The study will take place over two to three months alongside existing nasopharyngeal swabs. ESR will then compare the accuracy of both tests.

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The Ministry of Health said the nasal swab is considered the "gold standard" for Covid-19 tests around the world, and there's some debate of the efficacy of some of the less invasive rapid tests.

Air New Zealand chief medical officer Dr Ben Johnston said the trial wanted to see if a simpler and more comfortable test could be effective for crew and pilots.

“This study will bring us one step closer to looking at the effectiveness of saliva testing, which would greatly improve the experience for our people who are committed to keeping New Zealanders safe,” he said.

ESR chief scientist Dr Brett Cowan said the study would help determine whether saliva testing could be added to New Zealand’s Covid-19 response.

Last week, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told 1 NEWS the Government is considering introducing the less-effective Covid-19 saliva test to help bolster the country's battle against the virus.

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Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says it could be used in conjunction with the current nasal PCR tests. Source: 1 NEWS

"We will look at whether there are supplementary measures that we can implement at the border to see whether we can help reduce the risk further," he said.

"Other tests like saliva testing, for example, are less invasive but are less reliable.

"But it may be that we introduce other forms of testing more regularly whilst still maintaining that fairly frequent PCR test, so we are looking very actively at that."

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The Ministry of Health also indicated last week that if saliva testing was introduced, it would be in addition to the nasal swabs, rather than act as a replacement.

"It is important that any new testing methods are appropriate for the New Zealand context and fit with other initiatives to protect New Zealanders from Covid-19," a spokesperson said.

“This is most important in New Zealand where our rate of infection is relatively low compared to other countries.”