Coronavirus: Rapid antigen tests rolled out across Auckland as overrun PCR system buckles

There's some relief for the overrun COVID-19 testing system which has buckled under the weight of Omicron. 

Rapid antigen tests (RATs) will now be used instead of PCR swabs in Auckland as labs warn they can't process anymore.

RATs will be rolled out more widely across New Zealand over the coming days.

If your rapid test shows a positive result, you will be considered a COVID case. You must record it in your My Covid Record, but after that, there's no need to line up again to get a nasal swab. 

It's come as a relief to those on the frontline.

"It's easier rather than everyone lining up here waiting for hours and hours and hours," says Ngaire Harris, clinic manager at Te Whānau o Waipareira.

But RAT stocks are already running low at a testing site in Henderson.

"We can meet the demand today but by the end of the week we can't meet the demand if it stays at this high volume," Harris says.

Labs are inundated with PCR swabs and some samples have not been processed at all.

"Quite frankly we've just reached capacity for testing, so the long waits are because we actually can't process as many tests as we're getting," says APEX Union national secretary Dr Deborah Powell.

There are 6.9 million RATs currently in the country and another 14.7 million will arrive by the end of the month. 

"We will have plenty of RAT kits in the education community, health community, general community," says Minister of Health Andrew Little.

National and ACT want rapid tests in pharmacies and supermarkets, as well as the option of saliva testing to further ease the pressure.

"We've got plenty of capacity left. We're talking to the Ministry of Health, and have been since we've started, and they just haven't been able to use us," says Leon Grice of Rako Science.

But with a move to phase 3 approaching, it's the rapids we'll be relying on to see us through this outbreak.