If you have a sore throat or flu symptoms you will no longer automatically be tested for Covid-19 under new criteria.

It's now up to a clinician whether a test is needed unless the person falls into a newly created "high risk" category, which means they have to go into isolation until they get a negative result.

Testing sites have had unprecedented demand with heightened anxiety about Covid-19 because of border blunders and the onset of cold and flu season causing more illness.

Wednesday's testing numbers were a record high with 10,436 processed after the previous record of 9174 on Tuesday.

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Covid 19 coronavirus: Ministry of Health raises criteria for testing

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said it was always the plan to change the testing criteria and wasn't in response to a rush on demand.

The new testing criteria and case definition was part of the ministry's "super-charged sentinel testing" regime announced on Monday, he said.

Bloomfield gave assurances there was still a good supply of testing swabs and labs could still process 12,000 tests a day.

As well as not testing everyone with cold or flu symptoms, the new criteria introduces a higher index of suspicion (HIS) category for people who might have come into contact with the virus.

These people will need to self-isolate until they get a negative result and their case is referred to the Medical Officer of Health.

People who meet the HIS criteria are those that in the 14 days before their illness if they:
• had contact with a confirmed or probable case
• travelled internationally
• had direct contact with a person who has travelled overseas (eg Customs and Immigration staff, staff at quarantine/isolation facilities)
• worked on an international aircraft or shipping vessel
• cleaned at an international airport or maritime port in areas/conveniences visited by international arrivals, or
• any other criteria requested by the local Medical Officer of Health.

The clinical symptoms consistent with Covid-19 remain the same: a new onset respiratory infection with a new or worsening cough, fever, shortness of breath, a sore throat, sneezing and runny nose or a temporary loss of smell.

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Vanessa Weenink from the New Zealand Medical Association said the new guidelines were "a huge relief" and doctors had been asking for them for weeks.

"It's really sensible and makes a heck of a lot of sense."

She said a community-based assessment centre (CBAC) in Christchurch went from averaging about 60 tests a day to up to 500 in the past week.

Weenink said not having to test every person with cold symptoms would ease the pressure.

"We've got a lot of real work to do and the tests take up a lot of time."

Weenink said because there was no community transmission in New Zealand and there's not yet been any evidence people who'd left isolation early had infected anyone, the need to test every person had passed.

People flocked to a Covid-19 testing station on St Lukes Road on Monday after another couple of cases were announced. Photo / Greg Bowker
People flocked to a Covid-19 testing station on St Lukes Road on Monday after another couple of cases were announced. Photo / Greg Bowker

She didn't think the new regime would result in fewer people tested as doctors could still use their judgment to order tests.

And district health boards were this week charged with upholding strong testing rates and would be answerable to the ministry if they fell short.

Weenink called on New Zealanders to use their common sense: If there was no chance they'd come into contact with Covid-19 and they usually wouldn't go to a doctor for a cold, they should stay home and rest or call Healthline for more advice.