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'Don't be like Australia' — NSW Covid expert urges NZ to 'embrace science'

“Don’t be like Australia — embrace science rapidly,” a New South Wales epidemiologist has told New Zealand.

Mary-Louise McLaws, a professor of epidemiology at the University of New South Wales. Source: 1 NEWS

Mary-Louise McLaws, a professor of epidemiology at the University of New South Wales, also recommended that New Zealand should add rapid-antigen testing to its Covid-19 testing programme to help people like truckies who need to travel across the Auckland border. 

Since last week, all essential workers crossing through Auckland’s border are required to get a Covid-19 test every seven days.

McLaws said rapid antigen tests were cheap, and results are returned in about 10 to 15 minutes.

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Mary-Louise McLaws , an epidemiology professor at the University of NSW, says Delta can spread quickly if people travel beyond their suburb. Source: 1 NEWS

She said the tests could be done either at the Auckland border or at the depot. The test results, delivered through a text or a certificate, could then be shown as proof. 

“You no longer have to rely on declarations or, basically, hope that people are supposedly negative when they may not be.”

The test’s quality was comparable to that of a PCR test for checking whether or not someone was positive or negative for Covid-19, McLaws said.

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Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield made the announcement on Monday. Source: 1 NEWS

She said if rapid antigen tests were done two days in a row, it had the same sensitivity as a PCR test to identify true positives, and that it had the specificity to give someone confidence they can safely drive outside Auckland. 

The National Party is also calling for rapid antigen testing to be introduced in New Zealand. 

However, not all experts are convinced. 

Dr James Ussher told Breakfast on Thursday New Zealand's situation was unique in its zero tolerance for Covid-19 cases, and this would be sacrificed if rapid antigen testing was used.

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James Ussher says Covid-19 cases will be missed if this testing method is used by itself. Source: Breakfast

The associate professor in microbiology and immunology at Otago University was adamant cases would be missed with rapid antigen testing.

"We have to be very mindful of our situation in New Zealand."

Ussher explained rapid antigen testing is not as sensitive as current molecular tests and said rapid antigen looks at a protein of the virus, rather than its RNA genome.

"It's not as sensitive full stop in detecting Covid-19."

Rapid antigen testing misses infections early and those who are asymptomatic, he said.

If rapid antigen testing did happen to be used, Ussher said it could be used in parallel with molecular testing. 

He did not recommend it being used as a standalone test.