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"People talk about us having a second wave. We haven’t even had a wave; all we’ve had is a ripple," Southern District Health Board chief medical officer Nigel Millar said yesterday.
Dr Millar, along with WellSouth medical director Stephen Graham and SDHB medical officer of health Susan Jack, yesterday urged doctors to offer all patients a free Covid-19 test, and said it was vital for the wider community that all patients take up that offer.
"Look at Victoria with their deaths, and also look at Vietnam: they hadn’t had a case for over 100 days, then they had one, then they had four yesterday," Dr Jack said.
"It can actually happen quite quickly, even if you think you are out of the woods like New Zealanders think we are at the moment.
"We are not, actually."
Testing rates for Covid-19 have fallen markedly across New Zealand in recent weeks, and on Monday just 1107 tests were taken across the country.
The southern region, which at one time had the largest number of Covid-19 cases in the country, has matched that fall in testing rates — around 100 tests are being performed daily by the 82 GP practices in the region.
At the height of Covid-19, several hundred tests might be carried out a day, and Dr Jack said a steady 400 tests a day was the minimum the region should aim for.
"In Victoria they did not do enough testing. They did not pick cases of the disease up, and that’s exactly what we don’t want to happen here," she said.
"If all GPs were doing plenty of tests every day, we would have a good spread across our district."
Continued low test numbers meant there was a real risk doctors might miss a community outbreak of Covid-19, Dr Millar said.
"The less tests that we do, the less chance we have of picking a case up, so more testing increases our safety," he said.
"If there were two or three cases and numbers were growing, the earlier we get it the easier it is for teams to go in and do further testing and contact tracing."
Dr Graham said any cold-like symptom had the potential to be Covid-19 and such patients should agree to testing to help protect the community.
"Our message is simple: anyone with symptoms should be tested ... we are relying on moral persuasion; we can’t force people to do testing.
"But New Zealand has done very well so far with moral persuasion.
People understand they are doing things for the greater good and for their own good."
One new case of Covid-19 in quarantine was reported by the Ministry of Health yesterday.