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Auckland Airport Supports Kiwi Team Deploying COVID-19 Saliva Test

Auckland Airport has joined forces with a Kiwi business deploying a non-invasive, fast-turnaround, accurate saliva test for COVID-19.

Rako Science has established COVID-19 surveillance testing in New Zealand using the SHIELD saliva test developed at the University of Illinois. They are now operating a collection site in the international terminal where Auckland Airport staff have been volunteering to provide saliva samples since mid-January.

Mary-Liz Tuck, General Manager Corporate Services, said Auckland Airport wanted to support a programme that would make asymptomatic testing simple and comfortable for airport and border workers, while providing the highest standard of protection for the community.

“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we’ve been working hard to protect our people and our community from the virus. In real terms, that means thousands of nasal swabs have been taken from our employees.

“We’re supporting Rako Science’s efforts to deploy a highly accurate saliva test because we know less-invasive, asymptomatic testing reduces the risks of outbreaks,” said Ms Tuck.

Rako Science’s non-invasive test uses saliva drooled into a QR-coded vial as the sample for rt-PCR testing.

Auckland Airport is co-funding the deployment and has set up a dedicated space for testing. Airport staff taking part in the saliva tests are doing so on a voluntary basis and the saliva tests do not replace the nasal-swab testing required by the Government’s border policies.

“We want to see as many protective layers as possible for our people and our community,” said Ms Tuck. “Developing saliva testing is one way we can make sure New Zealand’s response to COVID-19 is constantly evolving. It will mean we can have more frequent surveillance testing – and that means a better chance of catching positive cases early before they reach the infectious stage, reducing the risk of community transmission.”

Rako Science is using the RT-qPCR saliva-testing protocol developed by University of Illinois who have conducted 1.3 million on-campus tests.

Rako Science’s Chief Science officer, Dr Stephen Grice said Rako’s science committee had briefed the Ministry of Health in December last year that it had successfully validated and accredited the saliva test for New Zealand. The test has been accredited for use in New Zealand by International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ).

Rako Science recently provided the Ministry with additional data which confirmed the test is as accurate as tests using nasal swabs.

“Rako Science has the processing capacity for 10,000 tests per day and the sample collection system does not depend on medical professionals to administer the test.

“We are a business with a mission to rapidly deploy new science and technology to increase the tools available to protect New Zealanders from COVID-19,” Dr Grice said.

Rako Science’s saliva screening service has been developed for high frequency, asymptomatic workplace testing. The Rako Science saliva deployment has no connection to trials being run by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research.

The programme at Auckland Airport is set to run for three months.

* Note: Testing at the Rako Science site in the international terminal is suspended at COVID-19 Alert Level 3.

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