Northlanders are receiving their Covid-19 test results a day later than Aucklanders on average, due to the transport required to process the tests in Auckland.
However, Northland District Health Board microbiologist Dr David Hammer says the current process of transporting the tests to Auckland and back is an efficient plan considering Northland have insufficient infrastructure to process the necessary number of tests.
After a swab is taken, it is labelled and transported to a Northland laboratory where it is registered and the labelling details checked, usually on the same day.
The sample is held in a refrigerated storage area, awaiting pick up by the next scheduled courier, still that same day. The courier picks up the samples late each afternoon and transports the samples overnight to Auckland.
The samples are then run on large molecular analysers in an Auckland laboratory, the results are then validated and negative results are texted back to the individuals. Positive results are usually phoned out by the public health team.
Hammer said the tests required special laboratory facilities, specialised analytic machines and scientists specifically trained in the field.
"Northland currently does not have the infrastructure to perform these tests, especially at the scale needed," he said.
"Demand for the test is extremely high at the moment, resulting in some delays of several days, but usually Northlanders would receive their test results a day later than someone in Auckland, mostly because of the transport times involved."
While building the capacity to process tests in Northland had been worked on by the DHB for some time, Hammer said the current method for processing tests was an efficient use of a limited resource across the northern region.
With Northland laboratory staff working overtime to process the current workload, Hammer said further work might result in processing delays.
Nationally, laboratory workers were reporting the "fatigue is setting in" as huge volumes of Covid-19 testing specimens were being processed in laboratories around the country
The union for laboratory workers, Apex, has noted that staff across the country's laboratory network are coping with the large workloads, but may not do so for long.
"We are seeing some laboratories receive up to 3000 Covid-19 swabs per day, so of course laboratory workers are going to get tired working into the early hours of the morning," Apex laboratory national advocate David Munro said.
"The importance of getting timely results to the public has to be balanced against the risk of overuse injuries and fatigue-related errors."
Munro said there had been several machine and IT issues already as the system strained from the workload. He said this second wave of Covid-19 was a "wake-up call" for the Ministry of Health that further investment was needed for new laboratories, IT upgrades, and workforce development.
Marine worker tests: It is no longer mandatory for Northland maritime workers to be tested for Covid-19, but a Northport Maritime NZ union representative believes it should be mandatory again soon.
On Friday, the Northland District Health Board confirmed everyone who worked at the border would have a mandatory Covid-19 test and set up a testing centre at the Marsden Point Refinery visitors centre from Saturday until yesterday for workers and the general public to be tested.
However, it was then clarified by the Government that only people working at or transporting people to managed isolation facilities, along with people working at the Ports of Auckland or Tauranga, must have a test.
More than 100 Northland port and maritime workers had been tested out of the more than 200 port and maritime workers in the region.
Maritime NZ union organiser for Port Marsden (Northport) Rex Pearce said up to 30 staff - which was about 80 per cent of the union's membership - had been tested.
Pearce said the union had been campaigning for at least six weeks for there to be more testing for maritime border workers given the close contact stevedores, who load and unload ships, could have with staff on incoming vessels.
"We've been saying that there should be some formal arrangement i.e. testing or something happening because we've had concerns," he said.
"Some of the [incoming] boats are at sea for two or three weeks . . . but some come from Australia so that's only two or three days away."
Without appropriate testing for maritime border workers, Pearce described the situation as a "recipe for disaster", given people's instinct to interact with one another.
"For all the instruction, guarding, masks and personal protective equipment that everybody's got, you can't help human nature.
"The last thing we want to have is more Covid-19 in the country and Northland would probably be the worst place to have an outbreak with the state of the population."
A total of 3800 Covid-19 tests had been conducted across Northland's community-based testing centres since Wednesday - twice as much as Northland's biggest week of testing in May.
About 70 to 80 per cent of the swabs have now been processed and all were negative.