Coronavirus: Government 'not going to rule out expanding saliva testing' - COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the Government isn't ruling out expanding its saliva coronavirus testing regime after public health experts called for mandatory daily saliva tests for all frontline border workers.

In September last year, Otago University Centre for International Health founding director Philip Hill co-authored a testing report warning that "all efforts should be made to introduce saliva testing as soon as possible".

Following New Zealand's latest community COVID-19 cases - three UK variant infections found in the same south Auckland family from an unknown source - Prof Hill and Otago University and Otago University public health expert Nick Wilson called for daily saliva testing to become mandatory for all border workers. 

However, Hipkins says saliva tests require the same processing resources as a standard PCR test and there's lower confidence in a saliva test result.

He says saliva testing would produce more false negatives than PCR tests.

"PCR is still, around the world, regarded as the gold standard test so we have to consider carefully the impact on our workforces," Hipkins told a news briefing.

The Government would however consider whether saliva testing gives the country an extra layer of protection, he said.

"We are doing some saliva testing now - we had begun that before the Pullman issue which was suspended for a brief period of time while we dealt with that - that is resumed now." 

He said any expansion of saliva testing would be an addition to its PCR regime, not an alternative.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said they weren't reluctant to use saliva testing, despite Prof Hill saying New Zealand has "been slow to get our saliva testing going".

No new cases of COVID-19 were detected in the past 24 hours, Dr Bloomfield confirmed. A decision on New Zealand's alert levels will be made on Wednesday.