Isolation rules to blame for low testing rates

Tue, 08 Feb, 2022

“Just as we predicted, the Government’s unworkable isolation rules are almost certainly stopping people from getting tested,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“There were 100,000 fewer tests administered in the week following Omicron community transmission than the week following Delta community transmission, Ministry of Health data shows.

“Omicron is a more transmissible strain of the virus, so we should be seeing more testing, not less.

“The Government might point to fewer people being tested to travel internally, but isolation rules create an incentive for people not to get tested.

“On 22 January, ACT said the rules were unworkable and will lead to a domino effect where a household can be down for a month. The Ministry of Health website says ‘The isolation period for COVID-19 cases in the community is at least 14 days, including 72 hours symptom-free,’ and ‘Your household members will need to remain in isolation for at least 10 days after you have been released as a case. This means they will need to be in isolation for longer than you as the case will [sic].’

“The effect is that, if you test positive, members of your household may have to isolate for 24 days. People who cannot afford that have a strong incentive not to get tested, defeating the purpose of the rules. If the advice is taken seriously, it will cripple the health workforce and supply chains more generally.

“New Zealand’s advantage with COVID-19 is that we can learn from other countries, but we are doing the opposite. Other countries are loosening their isolation requirements to keep hospitals opening and supermarkets shelves full, but we are tightening ours.

“By contrast, isolation rules in the UK were changed so that all people in the household of a case can leave isolation after five days if they have negative tests on two consecutive days. They have done this because their previous isolation rules devastated supply chains.

“In New South Wales, cases are required to isolate for 14 days but critical workers can leave earlier. Unlike New Zealand, New South Wales does not automatically deem household members as close contacts and require them to isolate. It allows people to use their judgement.

“The Government badly needs to front on this issue. It needs to explain why these rules are put in place, and why it believes the benefits of an isolation regime stricter than any other country bar China is justified. It should release the modelling it has relied on in an open and transparent way, the way this Government once promised to act.”