Some commentators have claimed that "ill-informed" businesspeople such as myself are advocating the use of rapid antigen tests in place of the PCR test. Nothing could be further from the truth.
To date, I have refrained from outlining the work I have put into learning everything I can about Covid. It is a process that I began back in September last year with the full support of my team at Animation Research Ltd have freed me from my day job to do this.
In that time, I have learned from experts about "reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR)" and how they compare with "reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP)." Simply put, both are molecular methods that use amplification to achieve a highly accurate test result which is different from antigen tests that do not use amplification.
I have read studies that have concluded that "RT-LAMP has comparable diagnostic accuracy as RT-qPCR," and "… RT – LAMP can be used as an alternative to PCR in the acute symptomatic phase of Covid-19."
I have seen first-hand how a LAMP test like offered by a company called Lucira Health can reduce the time and cost for getting a result down to 30 minutes rather than the 78 hours it took for my last PCR test that cost almost $300.
I have also learned that, despite the fact that countries like Canada, the US, Israel, Taiwan and Singapore have all approved the use of the Lucira LAMP test for a variety of applications including as a pre-flight test, the official government Covid website specifically excludes LAMP tests that could give an FDA approved result up to an hour before boarding rather than the 48 hours that has been allowed for the government-mandated PCR test that is currently the only option in place to protect our borders, before people fly in.
Over the weekend I have witnessed first-hand the speed at which businesses can move when there is a problem to be solved or an opportunity to make change.
After a call I took from executives at Lucira Health in the USA on Friday steps have already been put in place to provide 2,000 free LAMP diagnostic kits to the Tongan government to use in any way they see fit as a tool to help keep their borders safe as rescue workers fly in from countries with Omicron. What is unique about the Lucira test as it relates to the Tongan relief effort is that as an all-in-one kit, (no additional equipment or training required) it can enable testing and provide PCR quality results anywhere by anyone in 30 minutes or less. Lucira Health, whose goal is to ensure the Tongan people receive aid safely and quickly would then prioritise further tests if needed. That's a process that took less than 12 hours. Let's see how fast government officials can move.
On Thursday in a conference call with Dr Bloomfield I offered to put him in contact with a company, Kudu Spectrum that had been trying for weeks to get a response to an offer to guarantee delivery of one of the top 3 Rapid Antigen tests in the world, a RAT called Orient gene. Given the huge demand on RAT's globally it simply did not make sense that no one had replied to an offer that would see these tests provided to the New Zealand government at $5.20 each, with the price being lower for orders of 1 million and above.
Dr Bloomfield took up my offer to connect his officials with Kudu Spectrum and by Friday morning discussions were underway to secure this supply of RAT's in a market of extreme shortages. Orders were placed by Saturday. The speed at which this now appears to be moving is further confirmation for me that our "Team off the Bench" has a significant amount to offer to the government's Covid response strategy if they are willing to take up those offers.
Had the offer been taken up earlier, the initial 1 million would be here already with a further 1 million arriving every 10 days and an order for 10, 20, 30, 50+ million able to be delivered in 6 weeks. The real world is moving at a speed that governments simply are not use to. Businesses can help.
And for those critics like the politician on a select committee that accused all businesspeople of being driven by a profit motive, a condition provided by the businesspeople behind this initiative is that they will only work with organisations that are prepared to sell these rapid tests at a price that limited their margins and ensured price access to all corners of NZ society. The company has indicated they will be setting their landed in New Zealand price at $5:20 or less, depending on numbers.
Kudu Spectrum has also offered 10,000 Orient Gene rapid test kits to the Tongan government to assist in their current national emergency. A combination of the Lucira and Orient Gene testing apparatus would enable far improved border control if rescue workers had to work on the ground.
Despite what some have claimed I have never said "throw the borders open and learn to live with Covid." What I have said is that we should use the best tools available to ensure that we can apply the strictest rules to pre-flight testing so we can bring more people home, safely.
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In my next column, I will share the plan that we have developed over the weekend because that's the speed that businesses have to move at when facing a challenge that moves as fast as Covid does. It's a plan that deals with the bottleneck that is MIQ. It's a plan that will exceed the current MOH Covid health protocols. It's a plan that will give businesses certainty. It's a plan that will start to bring our stranded kiwi home.
It's a plan we can put in place within a fortnight.