Latest guidance and clinical guidelines on COVID-19 testing for the health sector: 28 January-3 March 2021
Kia ora koutou,
As we settle into 2021, we’ll continue our regular reviews of our surveillance strategies and testing plans to ensure they’re fit for purpose and support us in achieving our goal of keeping COVID-19 out of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Refreshed strategies, plans and testing guidance for the year ahead
We’ve taken the opportunity to simplify our suite of strategies, plans and guidance. I would like to thank those of you who have provided input into these documents, some of which we’ve renamed to better reflect their purpose.
We have updated our Surveillance strategy and introduced a new Testing Plan to replace our mid-term national testing strategy.
The new Testing Plan outlines our approach for testing nationwide at a high level, taking a systematic, risk-based approach. It outlines three settings for testing: at the border, in the community and testing for contact tracing and cluster management, when required.
We’ve also renamed the document we use to confirm our short-term focus for testing. Previously we called this document a Testing Strategy and sent an updated version to you on a regular basis, approximately every two weeks. This document is now called Testing Guidance for the Health Sector, and from this week’s edition onwards will have a slightly longer lifespan, which we’ll confirm each time we update and distribute it. This week’s edition covers a 5-week period from 28 January to 3 March.
Monitoring global developments
As 2021 gets up and running, we’ll continue to monitor global trends and, any risks posed by the new variant of the virus first identified in the UK/South Africa/Brazil. The emergence of new variants, some of which are more transmissible, underscores the need to continue to maintain strong border controls.
Focus for the next five weeks
From 28 January – 3 March 2021, our focus remains on continuing to implement a sufficient level of testing across New Zealand Aotearoa to ensure that any cases of COVID-19 are quickly identified and managed.
This includes responding to the recent positive case in Northland, and providing reassurance that the border is secure through continued mandatory testing protocols for staff in those settings, for New Zealanders returning home, and for foreign nationals with workforce exemptions.
As we learn more about the Northland case, our testing focus may change. We will work closely with you and stay in touch as the situation develops. I’d like to thank those of you who worked rapidly to implement community testing centres over the weekend.
In the community, our focus remains on:
· testing anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 in all regions
· testing regions/groups that have been underrepresented in recent data, in particular Māori communities
· testing at the border, including testing border workers and those in managed isolation and quarantine facilities
· supporting DHB readiness with local response plans for testing if there are any community cases, including locations for testing that are easy for people to get to, workforce requirements, lab capacity; and
· promoting basic public health actions – distancing, hand washing, responsible hygiene, and stay home if sick. These are things that everyone can do, and we know they work with COVID-19, including any new variants.
As advised previously, anyone presenting to hospital with an acute respiratory infection, or who develops symptoms while hospitalised, should be tested for SARS-CoV-2, irrespective of region or other risk criteria.
Summer public holiday testing
Our latest testing guidance reflects ongoing expected increases to domestic travel and socialising over the coming weeks, as the summer holiday period continues.
We’ll continue to remind people that tests for COVID-19 will be available on public holidays.
Please encourage providers in your region to ensure a plan is in place to regularly update testing location information on Healthpoint.co.nz and DHB/practice websites throughout the summer.
In addition to this, we are encouraging anyone with cold or flu symptoms to stay at home and get a test. They should stay at home until they have a negative test result, regardless of where they live in New Zealand.
Please ensure that your holiday hours and practice information is up to date on Healthpoint.co.nz throughout the summer holiday period.
We will be referring people to Healthpoint for testing location information through Ministry communications and the NZ COVID Tracer app. Healthline also uses this resource to refer people to testing sites so it’s important that your hours and services are up to date at all times.
Testing numbers, including mandatory border testing, averaged 30,000 to 40,000 a week for the three months to mid-December. Numbers dropped over the summer holiday period and have averaged around 23,000 a week for the last four weeks.
The decrease is due to fewer tests being carried out in the community, with contributors including low incidence of influenza-like illness and the absence of community cases resulting in fewer close or casual contacts needing to be tested.
The full current clinical advice for the period ending 3 March 2021 is available here.
As always, the assessment and testing for COVID-19 is at no cost to individuals.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield
Director-General of Health