Call to push use now tests finally approved

Too little, too late.

That is what Sir Ian Taylor thinks about the Ministry of Health approving the Lucira Covid-19 test kit for use in New Zealand — nearly two years after it was first approached about them.

On Wednesday, the ministry published a notice, signed by director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, in the New Zealand Gazette stating the tests, which return a result in 30 minutes with standard PCR accuracy, had been granted a full exemption for use in New Zealand.

The kits consisted of a self-administered nasal swab that goes into a tube and is processed in a battery-powered testing device.

American firm Lucira first approached the New Zealand Government about the tests in 2020, not long after the pandemic started.

The Animation Research managing director, who had been urging the Government for months to approve the tests, said while it was great they had been approved, it had come far too late.

The tests could have been a "game-changer" earlier this year when the Omicron variant started to spread around the country which put "massive strain" on testing laboratories.

It could have also been used as a tool to wind down managed isolation and quarantine earlier than it was, Sir Ian said.

"While they have approved it, it’s like a lot of other things.

"They were late with the vaccinations, they were late with the rapid antigen tests [Rats], and they are late with this."

Animation Research managing director Sir Ian Taylor, of Dunedin, with the Lucira Covid-19 test...
Animation Research managing director Sir Ian Taylor, of Dunedin, with the Lucira Covid-19 test kit which was approved this week by the Ministry of Health. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Now the tests were approved, the Government needed to subsidise their use and be prioritising them into schools, hospitals and businesses.

Late last year, Sir Ian brought a batch of the tests into New Zealand after he saw them while on a trip overseas. They were confiscated when they entered the country.

Asked whether he wanted them back, he said he "absolutely" did.

Speaking from the United States, Lucira chief executive Erik Engelson said the process trying to get approved was "incredibly frustrating".

"But it’s good to finally get them approved and ready to go," he said.

The company had inventory and distributors in New Zealand all set up and ready to start.

"We are pretty much ready to go when we start getting some orders," Mr Engelson said.

When contacted, a Ministry of Health spokeswoman confirmed it had approved the Lucira test for sale and use in New Zealand.

Now that Covid-19 was widespread in the community and the borders were reopening, the ministry was looking at how it could use innovation to support the reopening and recovery.

Asked whether Sir Ian would get his confiscated tests back, the spokeswoman said the ministry did not remove any Lucira tests and referred comment to the New Zealand Customs Service.