Tuesday March 1

With 19,566 new cases of Covid-19 across Aotearoa today, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield apologised for Covid-19 test result delays, announcing there was a backlog of around 32,000 samples.

This comes as the country is in phase three of its Omicron plan and there has been a shift to Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) as the main form of testing for Covid-19. 

Of these new cases, 329 are in Northland,12,530 are in Auckland, 1812 in Waikato, 1185 in Bay of Plenty, 376 in Lakes, 168 in Hawke's Bay, 260 in MidCentral, 45 in Whanganui, 165 in Taranaki, 88 in Tairāwhiti, 42 in Wairarapa, 691 in Capital and Coast, 355 in Hutt Valley, 196 in Nelson Marlborough, 740 in Canterbury, 37 in South Canterbury, 529 in Southern, 17 in West Coast and 1 that hasn't been assigned to a district health board area.

Hospitalisations and vaccinations

There are 373 people in hospital, with 9 of those people in intensive care or high dependency units.

The average age of people currently in hospital is 52. 

In the Auckland region, the average length of hospital stays was quite short at 2.2 days, Bloomfield said. 

“We have good capacity and hospitals are ready for this.” 

Hospitals could also look after people with different illnesses and Bloomfield encouraged people to seek help if they needed it.  

“At the moment, our hospitals are about at 80 percent occupancy.” 

96.5 percent of New Zealand's eligible population have had the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and 95.1 percent have had a second dose.

23,465 booster doses were administered yesterday, bringing the total to 2,371,552 or 70.9% of those eligible. 

Delays in testing

Speaking to the media at 1pm on Tuesday, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield apologised to people whose test results have been delayed. 

Around 32,000 testing samples had been delayed and Bloomfield reassured those people that they would get a result. These tests were mostly in Auckland and some in the Bay of Plenty. 

Text messages had been sent out to those people, Bloomfield said. He encouraged those people who still had symptoms or forming symptoms to get a test. 

So far 12,000 of those people had gotten another test.  

Bloomfield had asked for an external review into the testing delay and officials were working with labs to discuss gaps. 

Staff vacancies, delays to new machines arriving and delays with reagents also contributed to processing tests. 

“Emerged over last week, became obvious late last week - to see what opportunities were to respond to backlog” 

With thousands of new cases each day, Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) became useful and appropriate, he said.  

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests had served New Zealand well but PCR testing capacity was not keeping up with demand. 

PCR testing is when a small cotton-bud on a long stick goes all the way to the back of your nose. The result time varies but usually takes 24 to 72 hours. These tests are done by a health official in a clinic or testing centre. 

The PCR samples are usually tested in a batch or sample pool of up to 10 other tests.

But it now becomes less feasible to pool these tests as positive test rates rise, he said.  

“We overestimated the number of tests that labs could process once Omicron took off and take off it did,” Bloomfield said.  

About 9000 tests have been sent to Queensland to help with the delays. 

Laboratory workers were working incredibly hard throughout the pandemic and officials were working to address the situation, he said. 

Bloomfield was confident this delay would not happen again due to increasing lab capacity and the use of RATs. 

During the shift to phase three of the country’s Omicron plan, the use of RATs have made an immediate impact on the testing process, making it more manageable, he said. 

 “We’re seeing a strong uptake of RATs and expect over 16 million to arrive this week. The challenge is distribution.”  

Keep doing the basics  

The next few weeks would be tough, Bloomfield said.  

“Where we can be an exception [compared to how other countries have dealt with Omicron] is how we minimise the spread of the virus. What has helped us out so far is doing the basics well,” he said. 

“Wear a mask to protect others, socially distance and stay home - don’t go out if you’re unwell. Be considerate of those who are vulnerable.” 

Click here for a list of updated locations of interest.

Top image: Unite Against Covid banners in a New Zealand testing center. Photo: Getty Images 

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