Coronavirus: Doctors warn of blind spot in Government's COVID-19 response plan

Health professionals are warning there's a huge blind spot in the Government's COVID-19 response plan.

An infectious diseases doctor says we need to urgently improve our data on community spread of the virus if we want to avoid ongoing lockdowns.

Otago University infectious diseases senior lecturer Dr Ayesha Verrall says drive-thru swabs isn't enough to build robust data on the actual spread of COVID-19.

"We need to make sure we have a better idea of the prevalence of the virus in the community, and that's through systematically and consistently doing the test in the community. Not of sick people, but in the community," she told Newshub.

She's not suggesting swabbing everyone, but testing a select group who may not be sick to improve our intelligence.

And she says we must boost our lab teams and those doing the tracing.

"We can possibly just trace 50 people now. We need to set ourselves the goal of being able to trace the contacts of a thousand cases a day."

Currently, you can only get a test if you have a fever or other relevant symptoms and have been overseas, or if you have symptoms and contact with a possible case.

GPs can also use their own judgement and do a test if they want to.

"There has been, for well over a week now, an expectation or enablement for clinicians to test people who they think require testing," Ministry of Health Director-General Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.

But Newshub discovered that's not strictly correct because some doctors are being blocked from using their judgement.

A memo to GPs from the Hawkes Bay DHB states doctors must follow the criteria and "failure to do so may result in the test not being performed by the lab".

We also found issues at a testing site in Mangere. There's huge demand there, but not everyone who turns up can expect to be swabbed.

They must first meet the Health Ministry's criteria, so plenty of people are being turned away, including some who have been referred here by their GPs.

Local resident Armit Singh was denied a test, even though he was told to get one.  

"They [staff at the Mangere drive-through clinic] said you don't have to do it because I haven't travelled for the past 14 days."

Student nurse Louise Lomaz told Newshub there should "definitely" be more tests available for people.

"It should be mass testing, definitely. Just to avoid community transmission."

But the Medical Association said we don't have enough swab kits to do that.

"We don't have an unlimited supply of the sample kits and we don't have an unlimited supply of the chemicals needed in order to test those kits," NZ Medical Association Chairperson, Dr Kate Baddock told Newshub. 

Dr Baddock says the most important advice right now is even if you feel well, remain isolated. 

"In other words, do not travel, stay at home and stay locked down," she says. 

Dr Baddock says the Ministry advice to doctors to use their judgement is a “grey area” which has put GPs in a difficult position. But she advises doctors to follow the criteria where possible to ensure those that are most likely to have the virus, are tested and swabs are not wasted. 

Only then could we be in a position to break the chain of community spread.