DIY rapid antigen tests available at pharmacies as part of billion-dollar package to cope with COVID-19 in the community

The Government has announced that DIY rapid antigen tests will be available at pharmacies from December 15, as part of a billion-dollar package to support COVID-19 in the community. 

With more than 1500 cases self-isolating at home in Auckland, the Government is investing nearly $1 billion in testing and contact tracing, $300 million in antiviral medication, and $200 million in welfare support. 

"Delta is here so we are changing our strategy for how we deal with the virus," Health Minister Andrew Little said on Thursday.

"The vast majority of people who get COVID will have mild to moderate symptoms and won't require hospital care, but we need to make sure those recovering at home have the support and medicine they need to recover safely, and that others in the household are safe as well."

Little admitted to Newshub's Michael Morrah earlier this month that the home isolation system "wasn't ready" to cope with more than 120 daily cases of COVID-19 in the community. 

There have also been several deaths of people isolating at home. Two weeks ago, a man in his 60s was the third person to die while isolating at home with the virus in Auckland in one week. 

The mandatory isolation period for COVID-19 cases was reduced earlier this month from 14 to 10 days, while fully vaccinated close contacts only have to isolate for seven

To help the system cope, Little has announced that COVID-19 cases will be given a health pack tailored to their needs, which will be delivered within 48 hours to help them recover from the virus.

People will get initial contact from a healthcare provider within 24 hours of a positive result notification, to discuss any health, accommodation and wellbeing requirements. Household contacts will also need to isolate, so they will be supported with health advice and getting tested. 

COVID-19 cases will get a designated point of contact, most likely from a local healthcare provider, who will be responsible for looking out for their health and wellbeing needs, including making a plan for checking in regularly. 

A health assessment at day 10 will determine whether the person can safely end their time in isolation. 

To support their recovery, Little said the Government's drug-buying agency will get an extra $300 million so the purchase of COVID-19 drugs doesn't affect Pharmac's ability to keep buying medications and treatments for other conditions.

Rapid antigen tests will also be widely available at pharmacies, after the Government effectively banned them from being imported into New Zealand. It recently granted a coalition of businesses urgent approval to allow them to protect critical worksites.  

Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall announced a nearly $1 billion investment in testing, contact tracing and case investigation. 

"From 1 December, businesses will be able to directly source from authorised suppliers approved rapid antigen tests for use within their workforce. These tests will be more widely used across our health system, including aged residential care," she said on Thursday. 

"Rapid antigen tests will also be available to the general public at pharmacies from 15 December, with tests to be administered under the supervision of pharmacy staff. A PCR test will be required to confirm any positive results."

Verrall said work is underway to expand capacity to 60,000 PCR tests per day by next year.

Next Friday, on December 3, all of New Zealand will shift to the new COVID Protection Framework, or 'traffic light' system, to replace the alert levels. Freedoms will then be determined by vaccine certificates. The Auckland border will drop on December 15, meaning COVID-19 will likely spread. 

The virus has already spread beyond Auckland despite the hard border. It's been detected in Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Christchurch, Wellington, Rotorua and Taupo. 

On Monday, November 29, the Government will announce what level each region will begin at. Vaccination rates will factor in the decision-making, except for Auckland which, despite having high levels of vaccination, is the epicentre of the outbreak, so it will start at 'red'.

Verrall said regions at 'green', the least restrictive level, will see a greater focus on surveillance testing, to quickly find any new clusters of cases. Regions at 'red' and 'orange' will have a focus on symptomatic testing and surveillance testing in high-risk settings.

And with COVID-19 disproportionately affecting low socioeconomic communities, Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni announced $200 million of support for locally-led welfare providers. 

"If you receive a positive test, you will be contacted by someone who will assess your needs. If you need welfare support, then [the Ministry of Social Development] will act as the coordination point for local partners, providers and community groups to deliver the support you require," she said on Thursday.

"A dedicated 0800 COVID-19 welfare support helpline will also be available to support those in isolation throughout their recovery."