Calls for rapid COVID testing criteria to be dropped so everyone can get tested

There are calls for the criteria for rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 to be dropped so anyone who wants a test can get one.

While Kiwis are being told to get tested for COVID-19, that can be easier said than done.

If you're double-jabbed with no symptoms or connections to a case, then you're not eligible for a free PCR nasal swab or a rapid antigen test from the pharmacy.

And that can end up costing big bucks, with one person telling Newshub they had been quoted $350 for a PCR test so they decided not to get it.

Wellington pharmacist Fiona Kleintjes said they had some people who wanted to visit relatives in rest homes but had to be turned away because they didn't meet the strict criteria.

"They have to be asymptomatic, they have to be travelling and they have to be unvaccinated," she told Newshub.

People are also being turned away from Annabel Turley's pharmacy in Christchurch.

"There has been a huge demand, especially for people who don't meet the criteria to get a rapid antigen test in a pharmacy," she said.

Chris Bishop, National's COVID-19 spokesperson, said he's had a number of people contact him in the last couple of weeks worried about how they can't get a COVID test.

"You've got testing places saying to people 'actually you don't meet the criteria we're going to charge you 150 to 200 bucks'," he said.

Because vaccinated people can have COVID but no symptoms it was important to test as many people as possible, Bishop said.

That has led to calls for the testing to be made available to everyone and not just unvaccinated travellers.

"Really we should have a system where people can go and get access to rapid antigen tests at least in pharmacies, if they're going to visit family and friends who may be quite vulnerable," Professor Michael Baker told Newshub.

"Elimination is theoretically possible if everyone in New Zealand does the right thing all the time," the epidemiologist said.

But that doesn't mean we can relax just yet.

"We're most certainly not out of the woods with the Delta variant and now we have the Omicron variant at our borders," he said, another reason that testing was more important than ever.

The Ministry of Health website says surveillance testing outside the mandatory requirements isn't free but it doesn't name an actual price for that testing.