Doctor says the expansion of COVID-19 testing criteria should have happened weeks ago

An Auckland doctor says the decision to widen the testing regime for COVID-19 in New Zealand should have happened weeks ago.

After taking advice from a technical advisory group, on Tuesday Prime Minister Jacinda Adern said the criteria for testing would be widened, so "anyone" with symptoms of the virus could get a test.

She said GPs and testing stations would be notified of the changes over the next few days.

"I do expect the number of people tested in New Zealand to grow - and it needs to grow," Ardern said.

But Auckland GP and Primary Health Organisation clinical board member Dr Garsing Wong says the decision to start testing in the community is "better late than never", but believes widening the criteria for testing should have happened weeks ago.

"I feel that as soon as we knew that COVID-19 possibly had community transmission, we should have started at that time," Dr Wong told Newshub.

The Health Ministry has stated community transmission has only been in 2 percent of confirmed cases it's recorded.

But Dr Wong says that the figure isn't reliable.

"I believe that yes it is an underestimate at the moment because we have not started testing widely in the community."

Until now, people could only get a swab if they meet the following criteria:

  • If you had a fever or other relevant symptoms like shortness of breath and had been overseas.
  • Or if you have symptoms AND had contact with a probable or confirmed case
  • GPs could also use their own judgement.

Now "anyone with COVID-19 symptoms" can be tested, regardless of having a history of overseas travel.

This decision to change track on testing came on the same day a leading epidemiologist warned the Government's claims about the extent of community spread have unintentionally been "very misleading".

Professor Sir David Skegg from Otago University told a Parliamentary select committee: "The actual number of people who have been infected will be far higher - and we have no idea of the extent of community spread".

GPs have been told by the Government to "test, test, test".

But last week Newshub found multiple cases of patients being referred by GPs or Healthline to get a test and then being rejected at testing stations.

People like Titirangi local Luke Doig, who's frustrated and worried. He'd taken up to six domestic flights prior to the lockdown to see his mother who was sick and has since passed away.

On return to Auckland, he felt unwell. Concerned about his newborn, his partner and wider family, they contacted Healthline.

Healthline recommended Doig get a test and referred him to a testing site in Henderson. However, after arriving Doig was told his risk was very low, and as he had not been overseas, he did not qualify for a test.

Doig told Newshub he was "turned away pretty much immediately". That was almost 10 days ago.

Then, on Monday night, health officials called him to say he'd been on a plane with a confirmed case, something Doig said was "frustrating".

Doig said it had been "confusing for everyone" including health professionals.

"I'm pretty angry really given we tried to do the right thing and then you get turned away, and now we're just anxious about what is going to happen next," he told Newshub.

New Zealand can now do more than 3000 tests a day - and that will be needed as wider testing in the community gets underway immediately.