“In the space of 53 days, the Government seized 31,156 Rapid Antigen Tests at the border, a stark reminder of how controlling our COVID response has been,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“In answer to a Written Parliamentary Question from ACT, Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri admitted that 31,156 RATs were intercepted and seized between 1 January and 22 February.

“Whaitiri said ‘All goods that are seized are held for a period of time, pending any requested reviews of the seizure. If no application is made for a review of seizure, ownership of the goods is transferred to the Crown, and Customs has the right to destroy or dispose of the goods.’

“Meanwhile, there are multiple Rapid Antigen Tests available in Australia with 95 per cent sensitivity that are not available here. For example the Cellife and Clugene tests sell from $6.60 and $7.50 each in Australia and are 95 per cent sensitive, but the Ministry of Health would have Customs seize them at the border if you tried to buy one (see table below).

“ACT predicts a major supply crunch, as seen in Australia, but worse due to the limited range permitted here. Altogether Australia has approved 32 types of Rapid Antigen Test, 18 of them are over 95 per cent sensitive and a further seven are over 90 per cent sensitive.

“New Zealand meanwhile has approved only 11 types. Australia has approved more Very High Sensitivity RATs than New Zealand has approved at all. We should simply stop messing around, let the market work and open up to these Aussie approved tests.

“ACT has been saying since last June that the restrictions on RATs make no sense. We needed to adopt new technology for the best COVID response. Instead of preparing, the Government made them illegal and banned their importation, before realising its mistake, and stealing them from private businesses.

“ACT knows of one case where a school principal imported 2000 tests that were approved in Australia and have a higher efficacy rate than most of the tests available in New Zealand, but Customs seized them and then sent them back to Australia because they weren’t approved here.

“New Zealand should automatically approve tests that are available in countries like Australia and the UK. Some of the tests the Government has rejected have a sensitivity of 95 per cent, while others they have approved are much lower. If we don’t allow more test we’ll see a major shortage and price gouging.

“The cost of failing to secure RATs after banning them, then selectively allowing them, then confiscating them, is huge. Productive time will be lost as people who are negative have to keep isolating because they can’t prove it, unable to work or see friends and family. We should welcome them coming in from Australia and other countries.

“It’s time to stop seizing tests so we can start seizing the day, move away from government control, and move on with our lives.”

Notes to editors: The Written Parliamentary Question is below along with a table of 20 RATs available in Australia that we could find prices for online this Wednesday, their sensitivity, and whether they’re allowed in New Zealand. Acceptable Sensitivity means 80 per cent, High Sensitivity Means 90 per cent, and Very High Sensitivity means 90 per cent.

Portfolio: Customs (Hon Meka Whaitiri)
Question: Has Customs Intercepted any packages containing Rapid Antigen Tests being imported into New Zealand citizens this calendar year, and if so how many?
Reply: I am advised that as at 22 February 2022, 31,156 Rapid Antigen Tests have been intercepted and seized by the New Zealand Customs Service (Customs) in the 2022 calendar year. Under the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Point-of-Care Tests) Order 2021, the importation, distribution, supply, and use of Point-of-Care Tests used to test for SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 infection or immunity (whether current or historical) in an individual; and which produce a result without analysis at a laboratory, including Rapid Antigen Tests, is only permitted where authorised by the Director-General of Health. This includes importation of Rapid Antigen Tests for personal use. Customs has a role in interacting with regulated goods on behalf of other agencies, including the Ministry of Health. These interactions include checking that the goods comply with relevant import or export requirements. Should the import be held for further compliance checks, this is captured as an “interception”. These interceptions may be released, provided the necessary authorisations and approvals are met, or they may be seized if the required authorisation is not granted due to the requirements not being met. All goods that are seized are held for a period of time, pending any requested reviews of the seizure. If no application is made for a review of seizure, ownership of the goods is transferred to the Crown, and Customs has the right to destroy or dispose of the goods. The seizures referred to in this response are currently in the hold period of the seizure process.