University labs and staff help tackle Covid testing surge

University laboratory staff have been working seven days a week to tackle Covid test surge.

Covid test swabs
Up to 2000 Covid swabs a day are being processed at the Grafton Clinical Genomics Laboratory.

University of Auckland and Auckland DHB scientists have banded together to help New Zealand process a huge increase in Covid-19 tests after the latest outbreak of the virus.

The Grafton Clinical Genomics Laboratory has analysed as many as 2,000 swabs in a single day. Laboratory scientists from the university and Auckland Hospital dropped everything to work through last weekend, ramping up again after their earlier round of testing ended in July.

“It’s a massive task – we’ve been handling larger numbers of samples than we did during the initial lockdown,” said Jason Copedo, technical manager for Grafton Clinical Genomics, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences (FMHS).

Now, staff from FMHS, the Liggins Institute and the hospital’s LabPlus facility are working split shifts from 7.30am to 11pm Tuesday to Saturday, with about 1,400 tests processed per day.

Happily, the Liggins’ lab had remained at physical containment level 2 (PC2) after the reconfiguring required for earlier Covid-19 testing, so was already compliant with safety standards.

Samples brought via underground tunnel from the hospital across the road are processed to break down cell membranes to get at the material inside, and heated in biohazard safety cabinets to kill the virus, with genetic material extracted by robot.

Ten staff work in two teams of five in their separate bubbles. Professor John Fraser, Dean of the FMHS, said, ”By working closely together, staff from FMHS, the Liggins Institute and the District Health Board’s LabPlus team have played a significant role in the rapid scaling up of testing to deal with the latest outbreak.”

Professor Frank Bloomfield, the Director of the Liggins Institute said, “We owe a debt to all of those who have been involved in this work this year, from the technicians who reconfigured the lab at short notice to the staff giving up their weekends. This work has been instrumental in managing the risk to New Zealanders.”

The testing has highlighted the close working partnership between the University and the Auckland DHB through the Auckland Academic Health Alliance enabling the research facility to quickly switch to clinical testing during a public health emergency.


Media contact

Paul Panckhurst | Media adviser 
022 032 8475