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People waiting five days to find out if they had Covid have raised concerns that Auckland’s testing system was starting to fail.
It comes a week before the country moves into a new protection framework.
unvaccinated to take swab to cross the border.
Health officials say work is ongoing to reduce turnaround test times and increase laboratory capacity.
Meanwhile, urgent advice has been sent to Auckland doctors saying patients can now wait up to five days for a Covid-19 test result.
The area’s three metro area health boards issued warnings on Wednesday, saying the turnaround time for Covid tests is currently longer than usual due to “continuously increasing demand”.
“Please inform patients that it may take up to five days to get a result,” the announcement said.
Communicating this information will reduce the volume of inquiries from people tracking results to laboratories, Healthline, Community Testing Centers and primary care.
Doctors were told that work is underway to shorten turnaround times with the Ministry of Health’s revised testing guidance and increased laboratory capacity.
Dr Rawiri Jansen, clinical director of the National Haurora Coalition, said the situation was extremely worrying and a sign that the testing system was beginning to fail.
“I think that’s extremely worrying. If processing test delays means that people who have tested positive don’t know they’ve been positive for several days, that’s a problem.”
He said the delay risks making infected people very uncomfortable awaiting the result or unintentionally spreading the virus. Test delays will also see disease levels reflecting numbers from a few days ago.
“If we’re getting the current figures, we’re getting it simultaneously, on time, and if it’s not, then we can get into trouble pretty quickly,” he said.
“There will be a crescendo in these delays and many more people will get sick.”
He warned that there will be 100,000 people in and out of the country’s Covid hot zone trying to get tested to cross the Auckland border in two weeks.
From 15 December, unvaccinated people will be required to test negative 72 hours before leaving Auckland to visit other parts of the country. This requirement will remain in effect during the core summer period until January 17.
“It will likely be a huge strain on our system in seven days. If there are people who spread this, who don’t know they are positive, it will come back to us in a disturbing way, landing at a time when people are landing. Jansen said they are preparing to cross borders.
“If we’re still somewhere we’re completing tests and experiencing test delays, I think we need to say that early on.
“It seems to me that this is an early sign of potentially great difficulty.”
Jansen said it’s important to implement a new strategy in our testing settings so that people who are symptomatic, in close contact or at risk of being positive can be prioritized under these circumstances.
The best way to counter possible failure is to keep the warning levels in place.
“It won’t work politically, but it is the appropriate public health response if our testing capacity is violated.
“If we’re feeling a crescendo, then the real correct answer is to have a circuit breaker.”
A spokesperson for the Northern Territory Health Coordination Center (NRHCC) said the recent increase in surveillance testing, including teachers and off-duty workers, means the lab network in the region is under greater pressure and the volume of tests taken exceeds the local limit. Capacity consistently since the beginning of October.
“Samples continue to be sent for processing in laboratories across the country to support the growing demand.”
In the past seven days, labs have processed an average of more than 15,150 tests per day. This was compared to about 9000 per day eight weeks ago.
The spokesperson said that although most samples result in two days, a small number take longer and it is important for GPs to communicate this with their patients.
“Work continues to reduce turnaround times with the Ministry of Health’s revised testing guidance and by increasing laboratory capacity,” he said.