COVID-19 testing for border workers 'ramped up' after Government pulled 'big lever' to make it compulsory - Chris Hipkins

Mass COVID-19 testing is underway at New Zealand's border after Newshub revealed nearly two-thirds of Auckland border and isolation facility workers had never been tested a week ago.

On Thursday Investigations Reporter Michael Morrah reported only 1089 of 2980 border workers in Auckland had been tested as of August 3 - meaning around 63.5 percent of the Auckland border workforce had never had a test.

On Friday Minister of Health Chris Hipkins confirmed mass COVID-19 testing is now underway at border, port and managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities.

"In regards to testing at the borders, over the last two days testing has ramped up at the borders, and as I've said, the testing is now compulsory," he said.

"At this point, we expect to have the majority of the border workers in people facing roles tested by the end of today."

Hipkins said front line workers will be given priority for testing.

  • He said so far:
  • Of 2459 people working in MIQ, 1435 have been tested in the last 48-hours,
  • 100 out of 141 Customs staff had been tested by Thursday night, 
  • Of 50 Ministry of Primary Industries staff work at the border, 75 percent have been tested, 
  • All Immigration NZ staff at Auckland International Airport who have worked in the last 72 hours have been tested, 
  • Those who haven't worked in the last 72 hours have had voluntary testing and will be tested when they return to work, 
  • Ports of Auckland tested 500 people on Thursday and are continuing testing on Friday, 
  • Most Customs and MPI and frontline staff were tested on Thursday.

Hipkins says healthcare professionals are working hard to ensure the rest of the workers will be tested in the next "day or two".

When asked why COVID-19 testing for border workers hadn't been compulsory before, Hipkins said it was because "compulsory testing is quite a big lever to pull". 

"I think the Government exercises a great deal of caution in making it compulsory for everyone to undergo a medical procedure."

But he said the Government hadn't been misleading the public by saying most border workers had been tested, as "not all of them are in an at-risk category".

"Some [border staff] won't come into contact with any risk at all," Hipkins said.

"So what we've done today is make it clear who that group are. If you look at the testing numbers over the last couple of weeks, we have had a good proportion of those being tested prior. 

"Where we have been boring into in the last few days is how many of these people really should be prioritised and that's where our focus has been."