This is our main page for COVID-19 information. It is regularly updated with the most recent and important information.
Further information is in the related resources linked below.
The Ministry of Health advice is under active review - please use their website as the source of correct, up to date information at all times.
Ministry of Health COVID-19 advice line: 0800 177 622
The Ministry of Health has contracted the National Telehealth Service to provide a dedicated COVID-19 telephone advice line for health professionals, offering clinical support and advice Monday to Saturday 8am -7pm (with the exception of public holidays).
To avoid this being an overwhelmingly long webpage we've moved information about the COVID-19 vaccine roll out programme to it's own news page.
The testing guidance for the health sector is regularly updated to reflect current conditions. It provides detailed guidance to the health sector, on a regular basis, to ensure appropriate implementation of the testing plan.
Update - 26 February 2021
The Ministry of Health indicated last week that in the event of a local outbreak or Alert Level 3 / 4 then N95 masks are recommended for clinicians to use when taking swabs, or when seeing patients with respiratory symptoms or HIS criteria.
Fit testing is recommended by health and safety regulators when a new brand of mask is used, and annually for all clinicians using N95 masks. The Ministry indicated it would only supply masks to practices that had been fit tested. We have firmly pushed back against this as testing adds only 5-10 per cent protection and is considered “the icing on the cake” rather than an essential aspect of using an N95 mask.
The majority of extra protection that N95 masks offer over and above that offered by ordinary surgical masks is achieved from simply using the mask and testing the seal when the mask is applied. You may wish to watch this seal testing video on YouTube.
Fit testing usually involves a controlled “smell” test whilst wearing a mask and takes between 15-30 minutes per person. Around 20 per cent of clinicians do not achieve a perfect fit when tested. This group may need alternative brands of masks, changes in facial hair distribution, or acceptance they are not getting the extra benefit from a perfect fit.
Practices have asked that we build capacity so that each practice has a fit testing kit and qualified fit tester on staff. This will take time to achieve. We know some practice are arranging fit testing of their staff through local OSH providers, this is totally understandable. We expect to have a clear plan of action describing the support we can offer for each district by the end of next week.
We are asking each DHB to help us train a cohort of “fit test trainers” that can come out to practices and build this capacity in your teams.
At a national level we are working with others to ask the Ministry to provide appropriate standards for fit testing in community settings (the required standards may not be the same in a practice as they are in an ICU) and to encourage DHBs to support fit tester training in their districts.
Additionally, we’re working with the Ministry to identify other aspects of infection control advice that need to change given the virus is now acknowledged to be spread via the airborne route.
For further information or comments please contact our medical director Dr Jo Scott-Jones, details at the base of this webpage.
Information adapted from that published on The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners website.
Although community spread seems to have been eliminated at this point, COVID-19 will remain a possibility in the community until the vaccine programme is well underway. Strict border controls will need to remain in place to keep COVID-19 out.
There needs to be a shift in emphasis to the principles of infection control. Hand washing, surgery hygiene, use of personal protective equipment (PPE) when appropriate, and physical distancing are still the mainstay of controlling infectious spread. We have a duty of care to our communities, and to our most vulnerable patients particularly the elderly, those with co-morbidities, and those living in deprivation.
A few key points for Alert Level 1:
In Alert Level 1 practices should continue to offer telephone, video or other virtual consultations to give patients flexibility in how they interact with their GP, and to maintain our ability to move back up a level if required.
Some practices are shifting to wearing masks with all patients, this is not part of our guidance, but understandable when many have had the experience of patients with respiratory symptoms slipping the net of pre-appointment questioning.
COVID-19 is a possibility in the community, physical distancing and handwashing is still the mainstay of controlling COVID-19.
We have a duty of care to our communities, in particular the most vulnerable people like the elderly and those living with co-morbidity and in deprivation.
The principles of Alert Level 2 are the same as Alert Level 3.
As a guide in Alert Level 2 we anticipate that around 50 per cent of consultations will be "in-person" and 50 per cent will be through telephone, video or other telehealth means.
An update from Dr Jo Scott-Jones, Pinnacle MHN medical director
The community response levels that we are all now too familiar with are designed to inform the public and businesses about how to behave to reduce transmission of the virus. These response levels have an impact on the way we do business, but they are NOT designed to respond or direct the way specific HEALTH SERVICES work. You will recall that as the community response level dropped from Alert Level 4 to Level 3 there was no significant change in the advice for health service delivery.
This can cause confusion for our general practice teams. In all alert levels general practice is an essential service and practices will be open. However, appointments will be conducted online or by phone where possible. Patients can see a doctor or nurse face-to-face if required.
During the lockdown we know there was a significant drop in core activity such as immunisation and cancer screening that is likely to have caused additional morbidity, and mortality. If and when the community response Alert Levels change we need to learn from the lesson of the past few months and ensure that we continue to deliver the most important services as safely as possible.
If the prevalence of the disease increases in your community then you may not be able to differentiate between the "amber" and the "red" patients - the amber stream may need to be closed down.
If services get overwhelmed you may need to reduce access to core services - If this happens please let us know and we will support you to find help for your patients if we can.
I currently am working with the Ministry of Health and the College on the community health response framework and will keep you up to date with all developments.
The recent Northland case, and new strains of virus which have greater infectivity rates evident at our borders, indicate we are only a few missteps away from widespread community transmission. It would be a tragedy if the next case is diagnosed after hospital admission, and as much as ever GPs are at the front line of disease prevention.
It is worth reminding staff and patients that the criteria for testing have not changed – anyone with symptoms should be offered a COVID-19 swab. The daily numbers of swabbing for COVID-19 across our network have been steadily dropping since September 2020 (see graph below) and whilst the public health units are not concerned, now is the time to refresh practice COVID-19 prevention and testing protocols, and review your business continuity plans - see links below to all our COVID-19 resources.
It is still important to triage patients at reception (or by phone triage prior to consultations), and to “red” stream patients who have high risk criteria. Many practices are also still using separate rooms to take swabs.
We have had numerous enquiries about COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic patients who are concerned about the Northland community case. There has been no change in the criteria for access to free COVID-19 tests at this time.
Anyone with symptoms should be encouraged to have a swab, asymptomatic close and casual contacts will be advised by the Ministry of Health to have a test. People who are concerned that they may have had contact/been in the vicinity of the current community case should call Healthline for advice on 0800 358 5453 – if they are advised to have a test this is free under the scheme.
The places and times that are of concern are available on the Ministry of Health website.
What to do if a person was at one of the locations of concern during the relevant timeframe
If a person contacts you who was at one of the locations of concern during the relevant timeframe advise them to:
In the unlikely event of a patient just turning up at your surgery and expressing anxiety, the ideal would be to consult with Healthline first so they can register the patient and the concern. If this option isn't practical, taking a swab becomes your judgment call and should be based on your assessment of the risk.
It is important to emphasise to all patients and staff who have a smartphone the value of using the QR scanner and bluetooth function on the NZ COVID Tracer app.
The Ministry of Health has confirmed there is no centralised advice or support for travellers, but there are some generic guidelines. Different airlines, countries, businesses, universities and schools overseas will have different requirements. Private COVID-19 testing is available in all districts, contact your lab for guidance on availability and processes.
Our local leads are available for questions, concerns and advice. Please also contact one of the team if you have any issues with PPE stock - all our leads are working closely with the DHB in their region.
Jan Adams, Nursing Director
021 904 460
Jo Scott-Jones, Medical Director
027 475 0488