Saliva testing alternative to be rolled out to NZ border workers

Border works will be able to be tested for Covid-19 by a saliva test, rather than a nasal swab, the Government announced today. 

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The Ministry of Health says saliva testing is increasingly accurate so is being rolled out here. Source: 1 NEWS

Currently regular nasopharyngeal testing is required, with optional saliva testing available on top for a small number of workers. 

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said "saliva testing is an increasingly viable and reliable method for public health surveillance purposes".

"The workers - many of whom are on rotating shifts - will also be able to undertake the testing directly at their workplaces, making access even easier," he said. 

Saliva testing. Source: 1 NEWS

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

It would begin from about mid-August and be expanded over months to be available to the workforce. 

The Government was urged last year to roll out saliva testing for border workers in the Roche/​Simpson Report, told to bring it in as soon as possible. 

Leaked emails showed some border workers were desperate for saliva testing replacements, suffering from nose bleeds and anxiety with the regular nasal swabs. 

Experts say the saliva test had a similar accuracy rate to nose swabs and was offered voluntarily in MIQ facilities, but as of last week figures obtained by 1 NEWS showed in the last two months, only 38 saliva tests were conducted.

"Regular saliva testing can shorten the time between someone contracting the virus and it being picked up meaning we can get on top of managing it much more quickly," Hipkins said. 

"Extending saliva testing to more border workers is a key part of our overall approach to help keep our borders, and frontline border workers and their families safe.

"By offering this 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."

National's Chris Bishop said that in May, Hipkins said "saliva testing would commence 'as part of a phased roll out beginning in June'."

"Today, the Minister announced that saliva testing will actually start from mid-August and will be expanded over several months."

"Today’s announcement is another attempt to give the appearance of progress on saliva testing when the truth is we still don’t have a timeline for a proper roll out. By the time it starts in mid-August it will have been nearly a year since the Roche/Simpson report recommended it start as soon as possible," he said. 

"Saliva testing at our border is a no-brainer."