Availability of alternate combination throat swab option for border workers

9 Oct 2020

Good afternoon,

The Ministry of Health’s Technical Advisory Committee has confirmed that a combination of oropharyngeal (throat) and bilateral anterior nasal swabs are an appropriate alternative to the current nasopharyngeal nasal swab regime for those being regularly tested who find the current nasopharyngeal swabbing difficult or particularly uncomfortable.

We’ve been working closely with employers and workers at the border who are very keen to have this combination available as an alternate testing option for those under the mandatory border testing order who have difficulty with the nasopharyngeal swab, beginning with those undergoing the highest frequency testing. Note that this alternative is not for use for MIQ/MIF guests or for maritime crew.

We have discussed this option with our suppliers and confirmed the supply and distribution arrangements are already in place for providers to order the appropriate swab kits which is a combination swab kit that enables either swabbing option using the same kit. If you do not already have these available at your border testing sites, these can be ordered as normal from Fort Richards Limited, by specifying that you require the South Korean swab kit (product code UTNFS-3B-2).

We would like to have this option up and running by Friday 16 October at the latest, as a priority for our MIQF, Auckland Airport, and Port of Auckland and Port of Tauranga workers, and by the end of October at all other locations with workers under mandatory border testing orders.

The current nasopharyngeal swabs remain the preferred option due to their higher sensitivity in detecting COVID-19 cells, however, the TAG has confirmed the throat and nasal swabs are an appropriate alternative for those undergoing regular testing and there is high interest from stakeholders in having this option in place as immediately as possible. Information on both these collection methods can be found here: https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-information-health-professionals/case-definition-and-testing-guidance-covid-19

We would like to hear from you urgently if this raises any questions or concerns and also what, if any, additional training needs/resources need to be addressed as a result.

Please note that there is also a lot of interest in the possible use of saliva samples as alternative method. This is currently being progressed by ESR, however it is expected that the soonest this option will be available will be early 2021.

If you have any question or would like further information, please contact COVID.HealthSupplyChain@health.govt.nz. We will also some frequently asked questions together shortly, please let us know if there are any specific questions or issues you would like us to cover there as well.  

Kelvin Watson
Group Manager – Testing, Immunisation and Supply
Ministry of Health