Voluntary Covid-19 saliva testing will be offered to border workers in quarantine facilities from Monday.
This will be offered in addition to the regular weekly testing.
The Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced that testing will be rolled out at the Jet Park Quarantine facility in Auckland starting on Monday 25 January, and then to other dual-use Managed Isolation and Quarantine facilities in Wellington and Christchurch.
“This new precautionary measure is in response to higher rates of infection overseas and the more transmissible variants of Covid-19, and is the latest in a series of added protection measures at the border,” he said.
Hipkins said this method of testing was less invasive, but saliva tests have a lower sensitivity than the nasal swab test.
“[It] won’t replace our ongoing gold standard diagnostic testing methods already in place at the border and in our community.”
“They will be offered as an additional screening tool for our highest risk border workers.”
The new testing option could mean that any positive cases among workers at quarantine facilities were picked up faster, offering an extra layer of assurance, he said.
“They are among the most tested people in the country and perform a critical role in keeping CVovid-19 out of New Zealand communities.
“Their ongoing safety is a top priority.”
He said the role and effectiveness of saliva testing continues to evolve, with the Ministry of Health set to report back with findings on the testing in March.
Professor Michael Plank, Te Pūnaha Matatini and University of Canterbury, said it was a good move to bring in the saliva tests.
“It’s likely these new tests are not as sensitive, meaning they will miss some cases, particularly in the early stages of infection. A negative test result isn’t a guarantee that you don’t have Covid-19. So it’s important that the new tests are an addition to existing test requirements, not a replacement.
“But, the advantage of saliva tests is they are easier and less invasive, which means they can potentially be done more often. Modelling shows that introducing regular saliva tests for quarantine workers, in addition to a weekly nasopharyngeal swab, means that cases are more likely to be detected before they can pass the virus on. This will reduce the risk of a community outbreak.”