Some of the country’s largest businesses have put in an order for 300,000 approved rapid antigen tests for their workforce, after working at pace with the Government on a new scheme unveiled by Associate Minister of Health and Research, Science and Innovation Ayesha Verrall.
A coalition of around 25 businesses across a range of sectors has been granted an exemption by the Director-General of Health, to import and use approved rapid antigen tests.
The development comes just a week after Ayesha Verrall announced the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment is collaborating with the business community and Ministry of Health, to support and accelerate additional levels of testing for New Zealand workers.
“As we enter a new phase of our COVID-19 response, with more and more New Zealanders gaining protection through vaccinations, we can expand the tools we use to find and stamp out the virus,” Ayesha Verrall said.
“Some of the businesses in this group are already using rapid antigen tests successfully overseas, and their international experience has helped develop this New Zealand scheme. We will continue to refine, learn and iron out any issues in this first phase, before we look at how this testing can be rolled out as part of our wider COVID-19 response.
“To begin with, businesses will use nasal swabs. Rapid antigen testing can provide a result within around 15 minutes. But they tend to be less sensitive at detecting cases, so PCR tests will remain the mainstay of COVID-19 testing in most situations.”
Rapid antigen testing will sit alongside other COVID-19 testing used in New Zealand, and vaccinations, to boost New Zealand’s public health response.
“Businesses are focused on protecting the health and safety of their teams, as well as ensuring their critical work sites can continue to operate when there are cases of the virus in the community. Rapid testing is a vital added layer of protection to help identify chains of transmission and ensure workplace continuity,” Auckland Airport Chief Executive Adrian Littlewood said.
“We thank the Government, MBIE and the Ministry of Health for their quick response to our request to import rapid antigen tests, and we look forward to working with them as our essential workforces start using the tests in the days ahead.”
The coalition of businesses covers industries including manufacturing, energy, food production, telecommunications, freight, aviation and aged care. They have signed up to a charter with MBIE and the Ministry of Health, committing to work together and share insights to inform any wider roll-out of rapid antigen testing to other work sites.
“This is about supporting businesses to increase levels of testing amongst their workers, harnessing innovation, and supporting the COVID-19 economic recovery. Our priority is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders. We are committed to engaging and working constructively with businesses and communities, as we continue to swiftly identify and respond to cases of COVID-19,” Ayesha Verrall said.