New Zealand's dramatic increase in coronavirus testing as travellers enter from overseas

There were more COVID-19 tests carried out on Tuesday than in the previous 45 days combined, the Ministry of Health has revealed.

At a press conference on Wednesday - in which it was also confirmed the number of coronavirus cases in New Zealand had climbed to 20 - Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced the ministry had carried out 620 tests.

That's 98 more tests than had been completed in the month-and-a-half prior - just 522 between January 31 and March 16, Newsroom reports.

The increase goes a long way to explaining the sudden jump from 11 confirmed COVID-19 cases to 20 in just 24 hours.

The ramp-up comes after days of criticism from Simon Bridges and the National Party, who urged the Government to widen its COVID-19 testing criteria so that anyone displaying symptoms could be tested.

However, Dr Bloomfield says increased testing is due to the ministry targeting people who have been returning from overseas.

"We've got more people coming from overseas who have come from areas where this is COVID-19 transmission in the community," he told media on Wednesday afternoon.

"Some of these people have come from Europe, some from Australia and some from the USA, so they have come out of places with wider transmission of COVID-19."

Dr Bloomfield is adamant a scattergun approach to testing is not the right one and says despite the sharp increase in positive cases, the risk of community outbreak remains low.

"It is important we test the right people. By testing the right people, we will find new cases - and we can then act accordingly," he said.

"At the moment, [the risk of community outbreak] appears to be low, but we are assessing it on a regular basis.

"Our border restrictions are intended to keep the risk low. It is something we are very, very alert for, and that is why we are wanting to do sufficient testing so that we can detect any evidence and act."

The Ministry of Health has access to 30,000 swab tests, which are currently being distributed to the places they're needed around New Zealand.

It's also introducing sentinel testing across the country, Health Minister David Clark announced on Wednesday.