Confusion over the supply of coronavirus nasal testing swabs

The Health Ministry is being accused of giving conflicting information about our stocks of nasal swabs, which are considered the most accurate tool in testing for COVID-19. 

The nasopharyngeal swab is the most invasive swab but it's also the most effective for detecting COVID-19 because the virus replicates in the back of the nose. 

Professor David Murdoch an Otago University clinical microbiologist and Infectious diseases specialist says: "It is the preferred site. It's the sample that's going to have the greatest chance of picking it up as being positive".

The Ministry of Health's Director-General Dr Ashley Bloomfield said on Monday New Zealand had "plenty" of them but Newshub has discovered this might not be the case.

Hundreds of doctors in Auckland were told they'll need to start using something else because of supply issues. 

Comprehensive Care, which represents 600 Auckland doctors and nurses, has told its members to shift from nasal swabs to oropharyngeal or throat swabs saying "this change is due to supply".

Medinz, another group that gives official advice to doctors sent out a similarly vague message simply stating, "We're now transitioning from nasopharyngeal to oropharyngeal (throat) swabbing for COVID-19" without providing any other information about why. 

NZ Medical Association GP Council Chair Dr Jan White says there needs to be consistency in the messages the nation is receiving.

"Many of our patients listen to what the Director-General says and wonder why it's different."

"He's clearly telling us that we have plenty of swabs. Then why are the PHOs like Comprehensive giving exactly the opposite advice to their GPs and their GP clinics?

"It's not's not the right way to do things... It's very annoying and frustrating and insulting really. We don't want to be the end of the food chain."

An East Coast doctor working at a community clinic told Newshub the new swab tests aren't as accurate.

"Nasopharyngeal swabs are the most accurate viral swabs. We've run out of these… then we're told we have to do throat swabs which are incredibly inaccurate for viral PCR. Go hard, go early is an absolute joke."

But Dr Bloomfield insists community clinics should not have run out.

"Because we do have good supply chains either via the DHB or directly with other suppliers."

Just how good that supply really is, remains a point of contention. 

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