Coronavirus: Minister urges people to stay away from COVID-19 testing sites unless they're a contact or showing symptoms

The Government is begging people at low risk of being infected with COVID-19 to stop clogging up the queues for testing. 

People showing symptoms are missing out on being tested because the queues are so long. The NZ Herald on Friday reported the owners of a bakery identified as a location of interest were unable to get tested on Thursday - spending more than eight hours in the queue before the testing station closed for the day.

Another woman told the paper she spent 11 hours in a queue in Albany, hoping for a test - she had been at a Countdown supermarket identified as a location of interest, and was showing symptoms.

"I'm sorry to hear that, and I think I just want to say thank you to the people who were patient and waited for what I know was a long time in some cases," Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall told The AM Show on Friday morning, after hearing about the cases. 

"I think we're likely to see in the statistics that yesterday was the largest day for testing that we've had in Auckland… in a sense that reflects the hard work being done by the contact tracers, which has forced a lot of demand through into the testing system."

So far more than 20 cases of the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus have been found in Auckland, a number that's certain to rise after more than 140 locations of interest were identified, including packed bars, schools, university classes, Sky City Casino and movie theatres. 

Dr Verrall said people shouldn't seek out a test at the moment unless they really had to. 

"We want those testing resources for people who are contacts, for people who have symptoms, people who have been to locations of interest. If you're not in one of those categories, you don't need to be in the queue. It's important that those resources are available for those who are at highest risk."

For those who do need a test, Dr Verrall suggested bringing food and water if they're planning on going to a testing centre - alternatively they could try their GP to see if they can book a test there, avoiding the queue. 

Ayesha Verrall.
Ayesha Verrall. Photo credit: The AM Show

Elsewhere in the interview, Dr Verrall said she was confident the health system had the capacity to handle the outbreak.

"We know from around the world that any health system with a large outbreak will struggle, which is why we need to take the really proactive health action that we have with the lockdown, to keep everybody safe. 

"I think the thing is every hospital in New Zealand has a contingency plan for what to do if they get increasing numbers of cases due to COVID, flu or mass casualty events. That includes diverting resources from electives usually to allow acute cases to be looked after." 

New Zealand's zero-COVID strategy was adopted in March last year after modelling suggested a widespread outbreak would quickly overwhelm the health system.