Testing-for-all centre in Auckland reaching Pasifika communities

A Covid-19 centre in South Auckland is testing people who aren't showing any symptoms of the virus in a bid to reach at-risk Pacific communities.

Ministry of Health guidelines restrict testing to those with at least one symptom of infection, or where there has been a cluster, or an outbreak in a vulnerable facility. Officials have maintained there is no need to expand the testing definition.

But at a community testing centre in Otara, managed by South Seas Healthcare, anyone living in a crowded home or with a pre-existing health condition can be tested, according to South Seas GP Andrew Chan Mow.

"One of our concerns has always been the low numbers of Pacific people being tested," he said, adding that this had been driven by government messaging to stay home unless people were unwell and needed to seek medical attention.

Community leaders who rallied Pacific people to Otara Friday said more than 300 people were tested - three times the normal demand - and around 150 more had to be turned away because the centre was too busy.

Entire families were encouraged to show up for testing, and to wear the colours of their island nations.

"The system was overwhelmed today," said Teleiai Edwin Puni, a Samoan organiser of the effort.

Community leaders had previously blamed a broad-targeting government approach for the low testing uptake of Māori and Pasifika communities.

For its part, South Seas Healthcare had made its own interpretation of the latest Ministry of Health testing guidelines, which restrict testing to symptomatic people but prioritise those living in large extended families, as many Māori and Pasifika do, or those in vulnerable groups.

South Seas nurse Pene Pati said there had been an uptick in testing all week, including those who just wanted peace of mind, after the community was advised almost anyone could be checked.

At Thursday's all-of-government briefing, the Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said there was no requirement for asymptomatic people to be tested, but DHBs did have a range of approaches to testing.

"You've seen that reflected in the 6400 tests that have been done because actually, the number of people with respiratory symptoms at the moment is almost at a record low because we haven't been transmitting these infections to each other."

Earlier this month, the government identified Pacific communities as being at greater risk of Covid-19 than others, in part because of larger households. It put $17 million towards a health awareness campaign in Pacific languages, and support for Pacific health providers.

Teleiai Edwin Puni said he wanted the government to work with Pacific communities to help further testing efforts.