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Hipkins 'looking very actively' at new types of Covid-19 tests to ramp up border worker monitoring

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the Government is considering bringing in other, less effective Covid-19 testing for border workers 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

The classification of "border workers" includes those working at managed isolation and quarantine facilities, as well as airline and airport workers, and those working at the ports. 

Presently most border workers are meant to undergo a nasal PCR test every seven to 14 days as well as daily health checks, to ensure they haven't caught Covid-19 while interacting with international arrivals.

The Ministry of Health says the nasal swab is considered the "gold standard" for Covid-19 tests around the world.

There's some debate of the efficacy of some of the less invasive rapid tests, which Hipkins says could be used in conjunction with the current testing procedures.

"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 says. 

"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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A Ministry of Health spokesperson told 1 NEWS they're working with the ESR to see if saliva PCR testing could be introduced in the country.

They echoed Hipkins' comments that it would be in addition to the nasal swabs, not replacing them altogether.

"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," the spokesperson says.

That includes making sure whatever testing methods they do use, are sensitive enough to effectively detect the virus.

"This is most important in New Zealand where our rate of infection is relatively low compared to other countries," the Ministry of Health says.

As well as considering new testing measures, the Ministry of Health says it's reviewing its PPE requirements in managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

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The considerations come after new, highly infectious strains of Covid-19 were discovered in the UK and South Africa.

Nineteen cases of the UK variant have been detected in New Zealand so far and one case of the South African variant. All are in managed facilities.

The Ministry of Health says the managed facilities "already operate to an extremely high standard" when it comes to infection protection control - preventing infection.

"However the Ministry is continuing to review the evidence regarding the new strain to determine if changes to IPC measures are required," it says.

At this stage, the current measures and protocols are considered appropriate, the Ministry of Health says.