Air New Zealand Staff To Participate In COVID Testing Studies – Simple Flying

As early as next week, a number of employees of Air New Zealand will be invited to participate in a COVID-19 study run by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR). This study will examine the effectiveness of using saliva samples to detect the virus compared to the current nasopharyngeal swab test – one that has become fairly common worldwide, with a reputation for being extremely uncomfortable and painful.

Air New Zealand
Air New Zealand has had to shift its focus to domestic operations while international travel restrictions remain in place. Photo:

Details of the new study

Air New Zealand employees who are currently undertaking regular surveillance testing are being invited to participate in the ESR study, which seeks to understand the effectiveness of saliva samples in COVID-19 detection. The study was recently given the green light by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health National Health and Disability Ethics Committee.

“It’s great to team up with ESR on this trial to see if a faster and more non-invasive option is available as it’s likely surveillance testing for COVID-19 will be required for some time into the future…This study will bring us one step closer to looking at the effectiveness of saliva testing, which would greatly improve the experience for our people who are committed to keeping New Zealanders safe.” -Dr Ben Johnston, Air New Zealand Chief Medical Officer

Air New Zealand 777
All of Air New Zealand’s Boeing 777 has been grounded due to travel restrictions and the lack of demand. Photo: InSapphoWeTrust via Wikimedia Commons 

According to the airline, this study is set to run over two to three months and will take place alongside the existing nasopharyngeal swab. The accuracy of both sampling methods will be compared at ESR laboratories.

Dr Brett Cowan, ESR’s Chief Scientist, says that the study will “go a long way” to determining if saliva testing can be added to New Zealand’s toolbox.

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More pleasant, less invasive

Air New Zealand says that it’s eager to investigate how to make the testing process as simple, easy, and comfortable as possible for its crew, pilots, and airport staff. All of these members are tested on a regular basis.

COVID testing at airport
A saliva-based test would be far more comfortable than the current methods of sample collection. Photo: Getty Images

For those unfamiliar with COVID-19 testing, the most common method consists of a health professional placing a swab on a thin stick in the back of the throat and two to three centimeters up into the nose.

As Australia’s Queensland Health puts it, “The COVID-19 test shouldn’t be painful, but it can be uncomfortable – there’s a reason you don’t normally put things up your nose! It’s very quick though, so even if it feels a bit weird, it will only last a couple of seconds.”

Of course, how “weird” it may feel depends on each individual’s tolerance for weird and uncomfortable sensations. It may indeed be perceived as painful, depending on sensitivity levels.

Therefore, if a saliva-based test can be proven effective, it would likely be welcomed news for those subject to regular testing. That includes health care workers as well as those working in front-facing roles at airlines. 

Have you had to take a COVID-19 nasopharyngeal test yet? Share your experience in the comments.

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