Coronavirus: Staff in Auckland and Tauranga ports ordered to undergo testing for COVID-19

Ports of Auckland bosses are welcoming the Government's order for all staff, and anyone who's been at the port, to get tested for COVID-19. 

Minister of Health Chris Hipkins' COVID-19 Public Health Response (COVID-19 Testing) Order 2020 affects Ports of Auckland sites as well as the Port of Tauranga.

"This applies to employees of the port companies and all others who did work at those ports," a statement from the Ministry of Health on Saturday read.

"It includes, but is not limited to, shipping agents and their staff, stevedores, drivers visiting a port, contractors, suppliers of goods and services, classification societies, Government employees and crew of vessels operating in and visiting those ports."

Ports of Auckland spokesperson Matt Ball told Newshub "basically anyone who had done any job on the port" since 11.59pm, Tuesday, July 21 was now required by law to get a test for the virus, which has killed 760,000 people worldwide.

"We have a testing site on the port that was opened up by the Ministry of Health two days ago that's been going through 200 or 300 people a day. It probably needs extended hours. We're talking to the Ministry of Health."

Ball was confident it could be done, if some staff get tested at community centres near where they live, rather than everyone show up to the port testing station on Monday.

"They're obviously trying to figure out where this virus has come from and they need to rule out any possibility, so I think they have to do it." 

The only exemptions are anyone who was "in isolation or quarantine on a ship and did not come ashore", people with "particular physical or other needs that a qualified health practitioner says make a test inappropriate", and those who have already undergone tests.

There have been suggestions the new outbreak of COVID-19 in New Zealand, the first in more than three months, could have been sparked by the virus arriving on freight. Health officials are yet to find any evidence of a link between those confirmed infected and cases detected in border isolation and quarantine facilities, whether through contact tracing or genome sequencing. 

Ball said as he's no doctor, he wouldn't comment on that.

"From what I've read it could be a possibility, so I just think we need to test and follow the guidelines of the experts and do what is necessary." 

Hipkins had previously expressed reluctance to make testing mandatory for staff at isolation and quarantine facilities, calling it a "big lever". That's now changed, as he and health staff scramble to prevent Auckland and New Zealand turning into another Melbourne and Victoria.