New details show number of COVID-19 tests plummeting since lockdown

Newshub can reveal details of the fall in the number of tests for COVID-19 since the country went into lockdown: it has started picking up slightly and is expected to increase with the testing criteria being loosened.

But until more testing is done, the Government won't truly understand how much danger we're in or whether we need to stay in lockdown longer than four weeks. 

New Zealanders have been turned away from getting tested for COVID-19, like John Thompson, who is still tending to his garden despite not feeling quite right.

He described to Newshub having "slightly dry or sore lungs... it feels like there's dust in there and you're trying to cough it out but it's not".

He had never quite felt like this so has tried three times to get tested for COVID-19. 

"I said 'I've come for a COVID-19 test, I think I've got something', and she said, 'well, have you been overseas?' and I said 'no', and she said 'you haven't got it'," he told Newshub.

The Government is finally broadening its testing criteria in the hope people like Thompson aren't refused.

"We should make it as easy as possible," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday at her daily press conference.

It has been two weeks since the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued the simple global decree to "test, test, test".

But Newshub has obtained a graph showing the daily number of tests plummeting.

After last Wednesday's peak of nearly 2600, the number fell for four days to just 918 on Sunday. It has started picking up, hitting 2004 on Tuesday.

The Ministry of Health stopped proactively releasing these daily test numbers, instead using a more favourable rolling average.

"If we don't have that information, really there's not a lot we know or can do, whether it's ensuring we get more testing to come out of this sooner and stronger, deciding when we can come out of lockdown, and what the economic response should be," National leader Simon Bridges said.

The Prime Minister is blaming the four-day testing drop on the weekend.

"We've talked to the Director-General [of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield] about what we can do to get consistency, because that's two days out of seven where we can't really afford to have those testing numbers fall away," she said.

Especially when there's the capacity to test 3700 people a day and we're aiming even higher.

Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay said 5000 would be an "ideal number" and that the "more testing we can do, the better".

Ardern said she couldn't "remember one day" off the top of her head when the tests have met the capacity available.

She said the Government has "got the ability to do more tests than we're doing".

South Korea has become the gold standard for testing - not just in drive-through ones, but walk-through testing stations too - up to 20,000 tested a day.

There are drive-through clinics in New Zealand and the ministry is not ruling out just knocking on doors and testing now too.

"We haven't excluded it," Dr McElnay said. "It's part of our planning process."