Nearly 12,500 close contacts yet to return a COVID-19 test as officials scramble to find outbreak's edge

Nearly 12,500 close contacts are yet to return a test as officials scramble to try and find the edges of this outbreak, which has led to criticism that the Government was underprepared for a Delta outbreak.

It seems the test fest is over. There were no queues at some testing stations in Auckland on Wednesday, in stark contrast to the chaos we've seen over the past week.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says every test matters. 

"Every test that is processed helps us to understand and to track the virus so that we can knock it out," he told a press conference. 

But despite record test numbers on Tuesday, nearly 50,000 across the country, we're still not getting all the results we need to track this outbreak, because what we need is test results from contacts.

There are 461 contacts classed as very close - basically the household contacts of cases - and 87 percent of them have been contacted while 289 of them have been tested, leaving 60 very close contacts who've not yet been traced and 172 not tested.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says there are reasons for this. 

"We usually wait until day five if they're asymptomatic and a number of those will have only just come in as close contacts," he says. 

The wider group, close contacts, which is anyone who has been to a location of interest at the same time, is massive - 20,383 people, and only 12,700 have been traced, with only 7884 tested. 

That means around 7500 are yet to be traced and around 12,500 - or 61 percent of close contacts - are yet to be tested.

So, a lot of those in the queues were obviously not contacts. They didn't prioritise those who needed a test, rather relying on messaging. 

"The messaging right from the start was very clear on a daily basis about who it was we needed to be tested and asking those who didn't need to be tested not to show up," says Dr Bloomfield. 

ACT leader David Seymour says it points to a lack of planning. 

"They simply weren't ready for this, they've started triaging, but we're several days behind now because the right people haven't been tested."

The Government has rapidly trained hundreds of contact tracers, surging that team up to 1200 over the next couple of days.

"We can pre-prepare some surge capacity but you always need to be able to surge more and bring more people on board and that's what we're doing," Hipkins says. 

The Government has acted swiftly to address the testing surges and contact tracing capacity, but it shouldn't have taken an outbreak to shake them into action.

These issues have been present in every COVID-19 outbreak thus far, and they knew how dangerous Delta was. It appears they didn't Delta-proof the system.