Thursday, April 25, 2024

Transport sector wary of AKL border testing

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The Government’s new requirement for rolling weekly covid tests for drivers crossing the Auckland border will only add further disruption to an already stressed road supply chain, Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett says. Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said that the 3000 essential workers who were crossing the Auckland boundary will be subject to “surveillance testing” from this Wednesday.
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The Government’s new requirement for rolling weekly covid tests for drivers crossing the Auckland border will only add further disruption to an already stressed road supply chain, Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett says.

Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said that the 3000 essential workers who were crossing the Auckland boundary will be subject to “surveillance testing” from this Wednesday.

Bloomfield says while workers won’t need to stand down while their tests are analysed, they will be expected to show proof of a negative test within the past seven days.

Those workers will include truck drivers and others delivering goods in and out of the city.

Leggett says the practical reality of the decision is that people who are already doing front line work delivering essential freight to keep the country going will have to take time out of their workdays and do a test within the next 48 hours.

He says it also means there will have to be regular spot-checks, which will further slow the process.

“Yet, we’ve seen no evidence this is actually required as part of the combatting of covid,” Leggett said.

As usual, there is still a lot of devil in the details but the testing requirements will present “major issues” for many of its 3000 member companies.

“We don’t know what will happen if they aren’t able to show proof. Are freight providers of food and other critical suppliers going to be turned around if they don’t show evidence?” he asked.

Brendan Balle, of Pukekohe-based Balle Bros, says a couple of days’ notice for a change like this was “simply impractical”.

Balle says the firm, one of the country’s biggest suppliers of vegetables into supermarkets, runs its own haulage company, with regular trips through the southern region border.

The firm also has essential staff who were crossing to get to fields to harvest and tend to its vegetables.

Balle says about a third of his 300 staff had been vaccinated thus far.

“What is frustrating for us and upsetting for our staff is announcements by health officials that are short on details and facts,” Balle said.

Freightways chief executive Mark Troughear says the company, which operates a number of courier firms and chilled transport company Big Chill, had 150 vehicles going through the border every day, so the company was eager to see what the ministry has in mind and expects to be consulted on the finer details.

According to National Road Carrier data, more than 10,000 vehicles were passing through the state highway southern checkpoints each day by the end of last week. Of those, 4000 went through the freight priority lane. 

Leggett says with the northern border also now open, the logistics of testing all those people will be a nightmare.

“If the Government has no confidence in the level changes, then just keep everyone at Level 4,” Legget said.

He says frequent testing of this nature will slow the movement of goods and make already difficult transport circumstances impossible.

“We are already concerned that the Government doesn’t fully understand the practical realities of the supply chain and non-specific plans like this are causing serious stress and harm to the freight industry. I don’t know if they know this, but business is very difficult under covid-19 rules.”

In response to industry concerns about the prospect of regular testing, the Ministry of Transport (MoT) said it recognised that “those who cross an alert level boundary are taking Level 4 with them”.

MoT noted saliva testing is available through 26 community testing sites around Auckland, as well as from some GPs. The Ministry of Health (MoH), however, lists only nine collection points for saliva tests throughout the city. It didn’t respond to BusinessDesk’s enquiry as to where the additional sites were.

A spokesperson for the Auckland district health board referred BusinessDesk to MoH.

Leggett says it was the first time the industry had heard of the use of saliva testing.

“We aren’t clear how Bloomfield expects this to work, but that’s the downside of policy on the fly,” he said, adding the Government should rather be focusing on vaccinating truck drivers.

“From what we can see, the only way back to normal life is vaccination and we’d urge the Government to concentrate all efforts there,” he said.

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