Truckies to ignore deadline for getting COVID-19 test

The trucking industry says it will be impossible for everyone who's been to the Ports of Auckland and Tauranga to get tested for COVID-19 by the end of the day, no matter what the law says.

Minister of Health Chris Hipkins issued an order on Saturday requiring "employees of the port companies and all others who did work at those ports" to get tested for the virus.

The origin of the country's new outbreak, centred on Auckland, is a mystery. The first identified case suggested a possible link to imported food - which would be a world-first if confirmed. No links between the confirmed cases and the managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities has been found through contact tracing and genome sequencing. 

Ports of Auckland spokesperson Matt Ball told Newshub on Saturday "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 770,000 people worldwide.

While he was confident it could be done, Nick Leggett of the Road Transport Forum isn't. 

"We can't test border workers it seems, we can't test Air NZ staff working on international flights, yet all of a sudden out of nowhere we need to test 15,000 truck drivers in Tauranga and Auckland because they're in contact with the port," he told The AM Show on Monday, referring to revelations last week staff working at the MIQ facilities weren't getting tested as often as Hipkins said he had been led to believe.

"Why?... How? Franky, neither one of these appear to have been thought through. This all has to be done by midnight tonight, and the testing facilities just don't exist at the moment."

Facilities will exist, but appear to be perhaps underprepared for the sheer scale of testing that needs to be done today if everyone affected by Hipkins' order is to get tested. For example, there are just eight nurses at the Port of Tauranga doing testing on Monday - there were none at the weekend. 

"Why are these silly rules put in place at just short notice, forcing people to scramble?" said Leggett. "It causes chaos in and around ports. You can imagine 12,000 or 15,000 descending on a testing station - well it ain't gonna happen."

Leggett said there's no evidence the virus can survive international travel on freight. China recently reported detecting it in chicken wings and shrimp imported from South America. The World Health Organization is yet to confirm a single case of a person being infected this way however.

"People should not fear food, or food packaging or processing or delivery of food," spokesperson Mike Ryan said last week.

"There is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in transmission of this virus. And people should feel comfortable and safe."

Nick Leggett.
Nick Leggett. Photo credit: The AM Show

Leggett said health officials and politicians don't understand how trucking works. 

"The problem with a lot of bureaucrats is when they think 'port' they think drink, and they don't actually understand how this stuff works," said Leggett. "When you're driving a truck... you don't touch the contents of containers."

Ports of Auckland has urged its staff to get tested at the closest station to where they live, if possible, rather than everyone show up to the existing 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." 

He said the station can process 200 or 300 people a day - far fewer than the 6000 that need testing in the city.

Newshub has contacted Hipkins' office for a response to Leggett's claims.