Coronavirus: Ministry of Health stands by not testing all new rest home residents

The Ministry of Health is standing by its decision not to test all new rest home residents for COVID-19, saying it's only "one of a number of things" that can be done to keep people safe.

It comes after the Aged Care Association had its proposal rejected again by the Government that called for testing on all new residents before admission to facilities.

The association's chief executive Simon Wallace told Newshub he had asked the Government in early March to prioritise testing for people entering rest homes in the hope it would prevent the virus getting in, but it was rejected. Since then the eligibility criteria for testing has been widened. Although people being admitted to aged care facilities are considered a priority, they have to be a 'suspect' case and showing symptoms of the virus in order to be tested.

The Ministry of Health's Director-General Ashley Bloomfield said on Sunday that testing is just one of the ways residents and staff can be kept safe.

"Our view is that testing would be one of a number of things you can do, particularly if anyone is symptomatic. So yes, test anyone symptomatic. And all new residents are required to go into a 14-day isolation period.

"However, appropriate testing is just one part of how to keep both residents and staff safe. And clearly good infection prevention control, access to appropriate use of PPE and so on are the mainstays really, and excellent hygiene and cleaning in those facilities."

He says if rest homes start seeing a rise in the number of cases they have, then asymptomatic may be tested to get a clearer picture of infection.

Dr Bloomfield acknowledged that rest home residents are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 if they contract it, and says he has written to all district health board chief executives asking them to review plans and procedures to reduce the risk to staff and residents.

"[I'm] asking them to systematically assess the readiness of all aged residential care providers in their area, and provide support and assistance as necessary. So the DHBs will look at each facility's plans and procedures to ensure that they are reducing any risk to residents and staff."

This will include assessing PPE stocks, how it is being used and to ensure there are enough supplies for each facility.

There have been four COVID-19 related deaths in New Zealand so far, two of which were from an aged care facility cluster in Christchurch. The two patients, a woman in her 90s and a man in his 70s, were from Rosewood Rest Home and were receiving treatment at Burwood Hospital.

There are currently 31 residents at Rosewood who have the virus, an increase of one in the past 24 hours.

A second cluster at a Christchurch rest home is at George Manning Lifecare and Village where 15 people have the virus.