Five-day delay: Vacuum of info on COVID-19 test raises questions about Government's ability to keep on top of Delta

Newshub has discovered a worrying vacuum of information which raises questions about the Government's ability to keep on top of the Delta outbreak.

The Ministry of Health has been unable to say how many COVID-19 test results have been delayed after a member of our Newshub whānau caught the virus but didn't receive his positive result for five days. It's supposed to take 24 hours.

Mark Longley is Newshub's brilliant Digital Managing Editor. He's also a brilliant dad doing his best to entertain his son Hunter in quarantine. They both have Delta. 

"It's just scary to think you might have COVID," Longley says. 

He had to live with that fear, and that uncertainty, for too long. After a stint in hospital, Longley got sick - no smell, no taste - and he immediately got tested by his GP.

"I just got out of North Shore Hospital where there's COVID, and I'm feeling really sick, 'can you fast track results please', and so she asked for it to be fast-tracked," Longley says. 

But instead of being fast-tracked, it was a slow process. Longley followed the rules, isolated, and he waited and waited. It took five days to be told he had COVID-19. 

"I felt really sick, and I had this really foggy brain, and I couldn't think straight, and I thought I was going mad, and I just really wanted to know what was wrong with me."

The Ministry of Health is supposed to prioritise positive cases - 24 to 48 hours max.

"Generally within 24 hours is what we aim for," says Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. 

That's because it's critical to contact trace and quarantine as soon as possible. It's the only way to keep up with the Delta variant. 

"Missing opportunities, we're allowing the virus to get ahead of us, where it's contributing to this exponential rise, so we can't have mistakes like this," says Otago University Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist. 

 Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern insists Longley's situation is an outlier. 

"Something has gone wrong there," she said. "This is highly abnormal to have a suggestion that someone's waited five days in that way for a positive test. I can't say I've heard an example like that before."

Longley's wife's test took four days but thankfully hers was negative. 

But no one can tell Longley how he got Delta. 

"I would like to know where I got it from for my own peace of mind and I'm sure other people would like to know where I potentially spread it."

Test results aren't the only thing the Ministry of Health can't turn around in 24 hours. Newshub asked for data on test delays for this outbreak after they mysteriously stopped publishing them in August. A response only came back after this story went to air.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said 90 percent of all tests processed on Monday, October 11 were completed and the person informed of their result within 24 hours. Across the entire period of the outbreak, 78 percent of all tests were processed within 24 hours.

"Laboratories have processed a significant volume of daily tests since the start of this current outbreak, which at its peak reached nearly 50,000 on August 25," a spokesperson said.

"All laboratories understand the importance of processing tests and returning results as quickly as possible, and they prioritise positive tests of close contacts and reporting of positive results.

"The Ministry understands the pressure that can put on individuals and families if there is a delay in seeing results."