Businessman Sir Ian Taylor says the government should let the private sector take control of the supply and distribution of rapid antigen tests to avoid catastrophic impacts for business and the wider economy.
Rapid antigen tests (RATs) are proving hard to come by for many of the country's workers, as many employers struggle to access a supply of RATs to monitor the Covid status of their employees.
A recent study by online accounting firm MYOB found just 10 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses have been able to access RATs. Currently, the government controls the supply and distribution of the tests for workers deemed essential.
Businesses are now permitted to purchase or use their own private supplies of RATs, however this is proving problematic for most who are unable to afford the bulk orders required by approved suppliers.
Taylor told the Herald the government's lack of supply of RATs to businesses deemed non-essential had left a giant hole as small and medium-sized businesses - which make up 90 per cent of the country's businesses - were for the most part unable to order tests.
Large organisations such as supermarket operator Foodstuffs have ordered millions of rapid antigen tests and want to be able to sell them to businesses needing smaller quantities, however this is not permitted under current Ministry of Health mandates.
The owner of Pak'nSave, New World and Four Square has committed to supplying RATs to more than 250 local businesses at cost price. It is expecting a shipment from China early next month but needs government clearance to distribute them,.
Foodstuffs also wants to be able to sell RATs to the public.
Other large businesses, including trucking associations, were willing to help make RATs readily available and had offered to help with logistics to transport them around the country, Taylor said.
Taylor, who runs Dunedin business Animation Research, which develops 3D graphics for major sports events, said he could not understand why the government did not want to allow businesses to use their expertise to make the tests readily accessible.
He said his own business would like to be able to buy a small quantity of RATs as needed, but he was concerned about the government's inability to work collaboratively with business to make test available for all.
"This isn't business versus government. This is a huge [disruption] happening to the country, and you need all of the resources you can. Government agencies are just not equipped to do it," Taylor told the Herald.
"What I've seen at Ministry of Health level borders on incompetent, and no one is taking advice that in any way shifts their thinking."
Taylor said the lack of any desire to collaborate with the private sector would inevitably hold back the economic recovery.
He said government knew little about running businesses, which was having serious ramifications for those trying to operate under current mandates.
While immunisation was important, Taylor said he believed that testing now held a greater importance than vaccination in efforts to manage the spread of the virus.
"You can be vaccinated and still catch it, and you still pass it on. If you are tested and negative, you don't have it, so all of those teachers that have had to stop teaching at schools because they are not vaccinated, all they needed to do [in hindsight] was have rapid antigen tests at every school like they do overseas."
Taylor said he would like to see the government permit Foodstuffs, and other large organisations with the ability to import large amounts of rapid antigen tests, to secure, supply and deliver tests to businesses at cost price, so a business like his could easily order tests online as needed.
"The government banned rapid antigen tests for two years when the rest of the world was using them. And why? Because Ashley Bloomfield didn't trust people to use them properly.
"We've got to give our people the tools they need to keep themselves safe."
The Ministry of Health has been contacted for comment.
Taylor said he believed the government should have ordered millions of RATs for teachers, nurses and other health workers well in advance of needing them, while business should have already been cleared to order and sell the millions needed for the private sector.
Large scale access to RATs would also solve the issue of lengthy waiting times for Covid results from PRC tests, he said.
"The laboratories are totally unable to deliver. If we're waiting three, four, five days for a result and having to isolate while we wait, then that's the economy crumbling. That's teachers not teaching, nurses not nursing."
Taylor said he had insight into government dealings, and that the government had been given the option to sign a deal with Lucira over a year ago for rapid covid tests, which could have replaced nasopharyngeal tests, meaning that if it had gone ahead no one would have had to wait more than 30 minutes for a pending test result.