Message from the Director General of Health - Ashley Bloomfield - 29th June 2020

29 Jun 2020

Kia ora koutou

Last week was a big one for us as a sector as we've strengthened processes at the border and had some of our biggest days of testing since we began responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have one of the strongest border quarantine systems in the world, with people coming to New Zealand required to stay in managed facilities for 14 days. The addition of testing twice during that period further strengthens our system.

More than 20,000 people have come through our managed isolation facilities since that regime was implemented on 9 April, with no evidence any of them have transmitted the virus to anyone in the community.

Testing strategy and case definition update

As part of the Government's ongoing COVID-19 elimination strategy we’re making changes to both our testing strategy and the supporting case definition.

The testing strategy has been updated to reflect the current situation in New Zealand, where our greatest risk of re-introduction and spread of COVID-19 is from people travelling to New Zealand, and those working around the border and managed isolation facilities.

We are prioritising testing for those at greatest risk. There will still be testing of people with cold or flu-like symptoms as part of our ongoing community testing and surveillance for the virus, and on the advice of the clinician.

Not everyone who is tested will need to self-isolate while they are awaiting their test results – only those who have acute respiratory symptoms and have had one or more of the following in the last 14 days:

  • Contact with a confirmed of probable case
  • International travel
  • Direct contact with someone who has travelled overseas
  • History of working on an international aircraft or shipping vessel
  • Cleaning at international airport or maritime ports or areas frequently visited by international visitors.

Our updated approach to testing also includes testing everyone in managed isolation twice during their stay whether symptomatic or not, and surveillance testing of people working in managed isolation facilities and around the border, based on health monitoring information.

Information on assessment and testing, as well as the new case definition can be found on our website.

Pre-departure COVID-19 testing

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Zealand has played a key role in assisting our Pacific neighbours to keep COVID-19 from their countries. We continue to take this responsibility seriously as a gateway to the Pacific. Increasingly there is a request for pre-departure COVID-19 testing of those returning to the Pacific Islands. We are also aware of requests for exit testing for travel to other countries (non-Pacific) to meet entry requirements.

From Monday 22 June, exit testing can be facilitated for people travelling to countries with COVID-19 pre-departure testing requirements; however, travellers must pay for their test. The test must be negative before they can depart New Zealand and travellers will need written confirmation of the negative result to present at the border to be cleared to board.

We have asked DHBs, local laboratories and primary care networks to work together to determine the full cost for testing and how individuals can pay for it. This includes the swab being taken, any PPE use, the medical assessment by a clinician, provision of a medical certificate, the lab processing cost, provision of a copy of the test result.

Travellers seeking COVID-19 testing for this purpose should be told of the cost by their local primary care provider and confirm payment options in line with typical private laboratory testing purchasing arrangements.

Advice for travellers is available on our website.

Minister of Health Volunteer Awards now open for nominations

The 2020 Minister of Health Volunteer Awards are now open for nominations.

These awards are a great way of recognising and celebrating individuals and teams of volunteers for the supportive work they are doing in our hospitals and communities. Quite simply, health volunteers make extraordinary contributions to an extraordinary number of people in an extraordinary number of ways. It's been a privilege for me to attend previous awards ceremonies at Parliament, meeting recipients and hearing their stories. It's a humbling and quite emotional experience.

Because of COVID-19, there are some changes to the way the awards are being run. This doesn't make them any less of a priority. Nominations have opened later than in previous years, the nomination period is shorter than it has been, and instead of having one presentation ceremony at Parliament's Grand Hall, recipients will be recognised in a series of local settings for the great work they've been doing.

If you know people who would be worthy recipients of an award, or have contact with organisations that provide volunteer services in the health and disability sector, please encourage nominations. There's more information, including the nomination form, on https://www.health.govt.nz/new-zealand-health-system/minister-health-volunteer-awards, or email volunteerawards@health.govt.nz. Nominations close on Friday 17 July.

Ngâ mihi nui
Dr Ashley Bloomfield
Director-General of Health