Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Rapid test plans ramp up after trucking group raises concerns

Politics

There were 91 new community cases of COVID-19 on Monday. Video / Dean Purcell / Michael Craig / Jed Bradley / Supplied

The government says it is working quickly to determine how quickly Covid-19 testing will work for critical workers at different stages of Omicron’s planned response.

The confusion arose after some truckers received emails saying state-funded saliva testing ended last week.

After investigation by the Herald, the Department of Health said it understood why transport operators, as critical businesses, wanted access to surveillance tests.

Several agencies were now “working at pace” to implement how testing will apply to critical workers in different phases of Omicron, the ministry added.

The tests required to leave the Auckland regional border were in place until 11:59 p.m. on January 16.

When that rule expired, some border workers had inadvertently signed up for saliva testing under an “authorized worker scheme”.

These people have been transferred to a cross-border worker screening register and free saliva tests have been extended until January 28.

“Understandably, the transport sector wants to continue monitoring testing of its workforce as an essential business,” the Department of Health spokesperson said today.

“In the meantime, anyone who is symptomatic or in close contact with a case can come to their local community testing center or GP for a free nasopharyngeal test,” he added.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Jobs has set out the criteria needed to register as a critical business.

These companies must be involved in “basic human needs” with some or all workers in food production, health services or distribution and sales.

A new testing system for lorry drivers is set to take off in the second stage of Omicron's response, Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall has described.  Picture/file
A new testing system for lorry drivers is set to take off in the second stage of Omicron’s response, Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall has described. Picture/file

The MBIE website said return-to-work testing will not be available until the second phase of Omicron’s planned response, but eligible companies will soon be able to apply for “critical” status.

The second phase will be activated if or when the number of cases increases and the response strategy changes to focus on identifying those most at risk of becoming seriously ill.

In the second phase, testing and tracing will focus on protecting this vulnerable group and critical workers, Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said last week.

Transport operators raised concerns after some lorry drivers received emails saying state-funded saliva testing ended last week.

Last week, a freight group said it was worried about potential costs if state-funded testing stopped.

“We don’t really have clarity on expectations at this stage,” Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett said at the time.

National Transport Party spokesman Simeon Brown said it was important drivers and employers had access to rapid tests because Omicron would put a strain on the industry.

Law leader David Seymour has also expressed concern over the government’s handling of saliva testing regimes.

covid

Jennifer C. Burleigh