PM responds after Health Ministry confirms it did obtain rapid antigen tests already in NZ

The Prime Minister is denying the Government is taking rapid antigen tests (RaTs) from the private sector.

That's despite the Ministry of Health admitting officials did in fact get hold of some tests that were already in the country - after Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said they didn't. 

The Government has three main suppliers of the tests, which are Abbott, Roche and Siemens. While no stocks of Abbott tests that are already in the country have been requisitioned, a substantial stock of Roche tests have been, the Ministry of Health has admitted. 

However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Three's new morning show AM it's "factually incorrect" that the Government pinched RaTs, because the Ministry of Health got their order for tests in first. 

"The assertion that we have taken orders from other companies - that is just not correct," she said. "The Ministry of Health obviously made their orders earlier than others.

"What seems to have been the issue here is that an outlet has written a story because some of those rapid antigen tests were already in the country waiting to be dispatched - so they've made an assumption they were going somewhere else."

Ardern noted there was a global demand for RaTs and it's a "constrained market".

"We're doing what we can to secure supply for all New Zealanders."

ACT leader David Seymour said the Government could "easily put the issue to rest by releasing all of the correspondence it and the Ministry of Health had with RAT manufacturers". 

"If the Prime Minister is right, and the Ministry has done nothing wrong, the Government will be eager to release the documents publicly.

"If it chooses to keep them secret, New Zealanders will come to their own conclusions."

The Government came under fire last month amid accusations it had "commandeered" incoming stock of rapid antigen tests. 

RaTs had only been available for select employers and unvaccinated people to use for travel purposes. But wider use of them was part of the Government's plan to slow down the highly infectious Omicron variant. 

However, at the time, there were only 14.6 million expected to arrive in the following weeks, so the Government decided to prioritise its bulk order. 

"We have discussed with our three main suppliers, which are Abbott, Roche and Siemens, that forward orders of tests that haven't yet arrived in the country be consolidated into the Government's stock so that it is there for the whole country, including private businesses," Dr Bloomfield said last month. 

Last week the Government announced it had secured an additional 36 million COVID-19 rapid antigen tests over the next two months as modelling shows demand could reach 9 million a week at the peak of Omicron.