WELLINGTON, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand's PCR testing capacity can be increased by nearly 20,000 tests per day to deal with a surge in cases as part of the country's wider COVID-19 testing strategy, Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall said on Tuesday.
"We have continued to adapt our public health response to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders throughout this pandemic," Verrall said in a statement.
"Our labs have already processed 5,906,843 tests to date and our highest testing day so far was Aug. 24, 2021 where 49,736 tests were completed," Verrall said.
With COVID-19 cases of the Omicron variant now in the North and South islands, testing, tracing and quickly isolating any COVID-19 cases and their contacts will be all the more important for protecting families and communities, she said.
"A rapid rise in case numbers will require us to shift from identifying all infected individuals to being more targeted to those most at risk and those needed to maintain critical infrastructure," she said, adding testing remains a cornerstone of the COVID response.
Nasopharyngeal PCR tests will continue to be used as the primary diagnostic test in our initial phase of dealing with Omicron in the community, but this will be supplemented by wider use of rapid antigen testing, Verrall said.
The PCR testing capacity has been increased from a maximum of 39,000 tests a day to a baseline of 58,000 tests. Surge capacity is now 77,600 tests, which can be sustained for seven days, she said.
Saliva testing has been introduced to 4,000 border workers, Verrall said.
From December 2021, businesses in New Zealand have been able to order approved rapid antigen tests directly from importers for use with their workforce. These tests are also used across the health system, including residential aged care.
The government will announce further details on how New Zealand will manage Omicron through the various phases of community spread on Wednesday.