Pharmacy-provided rapid antigen tests permissible for holiday travel

So it appears that unvaccinated kiwis will now be allowed to travel over the summer holiday season with the use of rapid antigen tests provided by pharmacies. While we think this is a sensible decision for travellers, why can’t the rapid antigen tests be used for unvaccinated workers and those wanting to attend churches? There should be the same rules for all New Zealanders.

Travellers – good. Churchgoers and workers – bad. 🙁


New Zealanders wanting to travel without vaccine passports these Christmas holidays will be able to use rapid antigen tests provided by pharmacies as evidence they are COVID-free.

The Government’s rules now require Aucklanders wishing to leave the region, or those wanting to travel on services such as Air New Zealand or the Interislander ferry, to have either a vaccine passport or a negative COVID test within 72 hours.

The Ministry of Health today confirmed that the rapid antigen tests (RATs), which will be provided by pharmacies from 15 December for surveillance of COVID in the community, may also be used as the permissible evidence for travel.

RATs are less invasive than the widely used RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) test and provide results more quickly, usually within 15 minutes, but they are also less accurate, regularly providing false positives.

Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield says in a media release that the tests will be available to people aged over 12 and that they should not be provided to people with potential COVID symptoms. These people are advised to get a PCR test and stay at home.

“Aucklanders have borne the brunt of the Delta outbreak, facing restrictions for an extended period to keep the rest of New Zealand safe. But the time has come to allow all New Zealanders to reconnect with one another over summer as safely as possible,” Dr Bloomfield says.

More information for pharmacists 

When the Government announced on 25 November that pharmacies would be providing the tests to the public and supervising the testing process from 15 December, many pharmacists expressed distress at the lack of advance warning and information given to the sector.

Since then, more information has been provided in a series of emails from the ministry and the Pharmacy Guild.

According to the ministry, there are three brands of RAT tests that will be available to pharmacies.

  • SARS-CoV-2 Rapid Antigen Test made by SD Biosensor of South Korea
  • PanBio COVID-19 Ag Rapid made by Abbott Rapid Diagnostics Jena GmbH of Germany
  • CareStart COVID-19 Antigen made by Access Bio Inc of the US

The tests are to be sourced directly from the ministry and training to use the tests is set by each manufacturer.

Pharmacies wanting to offer the tests have extremely short time frames to order the products. The deadline for South Island pharmacies to order closed yesterday. Pharmacies in the three Auckland DHBs and Northland have until 12 December to order and pharmacies in the rest of New Zealand must order by 10 December.

The ministry has also created a document providing guidance, including safety procedures, for the testing.

Participating pharmacies will be paid a $750 one-off, set-up fee and $45 per test, and rapid antigen tests, PPE, training and promotional material will be provided to pharmacies free of charge.

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