The Cabinet has become so concerned with the dire levels of Covid-19 testing in the community that it wants Health Minister Chris Hipkins to work with officials to get it lifted back to adequate levels.

And Hipkins will be setting out those concerns to Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield.

When Hipkins was first appointed, he said 4000 tests a day was a reasonable level of testing – including those in managed isolation who are required to be tested at day three and day 12.

But the Ministry of Health's update yesterday put the number of testing in the community at a tiny eight tests, and 673 in managed isolation, a total of 681, well short of the 4000 the Government expects.


The previous Sunday when just 371 tests in the community had been completed was considered unacceptably low, which makes eight almost non-existent.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that while Sunday testing had always been low, that that level was not good enough and Cabinet had discussed it yesterday.

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"We have set down an expectation with the minister that he will go away and work with the Ministry of Health on whatever adjustments are required to see that surveillance testing increase because, no, it is not meeting our current expectations," Ardern said at her post-Cabinet press conference.

"Ultimately I would like to see the minister work with the director general on that."

Under lockdown, anyone who had the slightest symptom, even a sniffle, could be tested.

But the Ministry of Health has changed the case definition of Covid-19 twice in the past month, which has coincided with clinicians taking fewer tests.

Ardern said the Cabinet wanted to see the rolling average for the week come up to 4000 because for ongoing reassurance that Covid-19 was not in the community, the testing needed to increase.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo / Getty Images
Health Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo / Getty Images

"The case definition is built around making sure that we are picking up symptomatic people who meet the case definition of Covid and so, yes, we are still confident of that.


"But we want that ongoing reassurance that that surveillance and sentinel testing provides."

Asked about charges for people in mandatory two-week quarantine – following National's policy to charge $3000 an adult, $4000 for a couple and $500 for children over three - Ardern said more policy work was being done on that.

The World Health Organisation have voiced deep concern about COVID-19's effects in the Americas, and given updates on search for a vaccine. Video / AP

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced that the Government was setting aside $14 billion of its Covid recovery fund in case the country faces a future Covid calamity.

The $50 billion recovery fund, labelled an election fund by the Opposition, was the centrepiece of the 2020 Budget and the basis for ballooning future Government debt.

A large proportion of it - $20.2b - was unspent, and Robertson said today that only a further $3.2b will be allocated between now and the September 19 election.

"Cabinet has agreed that further support for ongoing health, border and economic response measures will require about $3.2 billion, with announcements to be made before the House rises.


That includes the $760 million already announced for Three-Waters reform.

"This will leave $14 billion in the Covid Response and Recovery Fund, which is now being set aside in the event, for example, New Zealand experiences a second wave," Robertson said.

Robertson said it was the responsible thing to do to set aside money in case of a future Covid-related shock.

"As we look around the world, it is clear that this global pandemic is continuing to grow. In the face of this, and ongoing uncertainty, now is the time to be cautious and keep our powder dry.

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