To meet domestic travel requirements from mid-December, 15-minute COVID-19 rapid antigen testing will be available at no cost from community pharmacies throughout New Zealand until the end of January 2022.
When the Auckland boundary lifts at 11:59pm on Tuesday 14 December, anyone travelling from Auckland who is not fully vaccinated will need to carry with them evidence of a negative test result within 72 hours of travel. In addition, those who are travelling in other parts of the country with a transport company that requires unvaccinated individuals to be tested will also be required to carry evidence of a negative test result.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says: ‘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.’
Testing for asymptomatic unvaccinated individuals over 12 years wishing to depart from Auckland, and asymptomatic unvaccinated domestic travellers from elsewhere in New Zealand, can be a supervised rapid antigen test at selected community pharmacies.
‘For rapid antigen tests, the Ministry of Health strongly recommends this is administered as close as possible to the time of travel, preferably within 24 hours before departure.
‘Travellers are still able to use a negative PCR test to meet any travel requirements, but that is not recommended. Using the alternative rapid antigen test will allow our laboratories to focus on processing PCR tests. This will reduce the turnaround time for returning results to symptomatic people and close contacts of confirmed cases as we continue to respond to the current outbreak,’ says Dr Bloomfield.
Asymptomatic unvaccinated travellers over 12 years from other parts of New Zealand will need a proof of negative test taken within 72 hours if they travel with a transport company that decides to implement this testing requirement for travel on their service.
Unvaccinated workers who are already part of a testing regime for crossing the Auckland boundary can continue with their current regime – other unvaccinated workers can use the negative test within 72 hours.
‘Testing to meet domestic travel requirements will be free of charge for the core summer period and available from 15 December 2021 to 31 January 2022.
‘Rapid antigen testing is not to be used for symptomatic individuals. Advice for people who are unwell and have COVID-19 symptoms continues to be, stay home and get a PCR test,’ says Dr Bloomfield.
Police will have operational discretion on the enforcement of these rules, with people breaking the rules facing an infringement fine of $1,000.
‘A significant amount of movement happens across the country during this period, so we have added this safety net to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading but we have also been pragmatic.
‘Air New Zealand have made a vaccine certificate or proof of a negative test a requirement before you fly, and these requirements also begin on 15 December. There will be spot checks for travellers out of Auckland airport.
‘These testing requirements are another layer in our protection with COVID-19 in the community.
‘As we enter the next phase, there will be challenges ahead. We will continue to see cases, and in places we haven’t so far.
‘It’s crucial that all of us, right around the country, continue to play our part, so we can enjoy the summer we all deserve. Most importantly, if you are unwell, stay home and don’t go out or travel until you’ve had a negative PCR test,’ says Dr Bloomfield.
The Ministry has been engaging with the Pharmacy sector, following Minister Verrall’s announcement on 25 November that rapid antigen tests would be available to the public under supervision by community pharmacies from 15 December.
People cannot purchase a rapid antigen test from community pharmacies and complete the test at home. Off-the-shelf rapid antigen tests for purchase and use at home is being considered by Ministry of Health and may be available for the general public in the New Year.
The Pharmacy Guild of New Zealand, Green Cross Health and Pharmaceutical Society of NZ represent a significant proportion of the pharmacy sector and the Ministry has been working at pace with them to develop the rollout of rapid antigen testing to the community.
As 97.2% of the population live within 20 minutes’ drive from a community pharmacy, use of this network will ensure testing is widely available for all those that need it during this time. Utilising the pharmacy network to provide supervised testing for unvaccinated travellers to meet these testing requirements provides a convenient, reliable and trusted option for the community.
Supervised testing means this test will be completed by the person travelling together with a member of the community pharmacy workforce.
A rapid antigen test will be used for the purposes of this testing requirement.
A negative PCR test is acceptable, but Ministry of Health are asking asymptomatic unvaccinated individuals 12 years and older not to use PCR tests to meet these requirements for travel. This will allow laboratories to focus on processing PCR tests, to reduce the turnaround time for returning results to symptomatic people and close contacts of confirmed cases as we continue to respond to the current outbreak.
Who needs to be tested?
Evidence of a negative rapid antigen test is required by the following people no more than 72 hours prior to travel, preferably within the 24 hours immediately preceding travel:
Asymptomatic, unvaccinated individuals over 12 years leaving Auckland. Port Waikato is included in the boundary with Auckland, and travellers across the boundary must follow the same rules.
Asymptomatic, unvaccinated domestic travellers over 12 years from any other part of the country, who travel with a transport company that requires evidence of a negative test result.
Unvaccinated workers crossing the Auckland boundary who are already part of a testing regime for crossing the boundary can continue with their current regime – other unvaccinated workers can use the negative test with 72 hours.
Cost of testing
Free testing is only available for asymptomatic, unvaccinated individuals over 12 years leaving Auckland, and for domestic travel as required by transport operators across New Zealand, from 15 December to 31 January.
When to get tested?
For rapid antigen testing, the Ministry of Health strongly recommends that it is administered as close as possible to the time of travel, preferably in the 24 hours prior to departure.
PCR tests should be taken within 72 hours before time of departure.
Unvaccinated individuals wishing to leave Auckland or travel across the motu must therefore plan their travel carefully to allow sufficient time to get tested and receive their result.
Where to get tested?
The Ministry of Health is working with the pharmacy sector to make supervised rapid antigen testing available to the community at selected pharmacies from 15 December 2021.
PCR tests continue to be available at CTCs and GPs, but the Ministry is strongly recommending unvaccinated travellers to use rapid antigen testing which provides a result in around 15 minutes to meet this testing requirement.
The Healthpoint website will provide details of testing locations including community pharmacies offering a rapid antigen testing service.