Coronavirus: Priority testing for aviation workers welcomed by union

A worker's union says its members welcome clarity provided by the Government around testing aviation workers for COVID-19. 

As pressure mounts on the Government to ensure border measures are tight and our testing regime is effective, Health Minister Dr David Clark announced on Tuesday a new testing strategy for those working on our border's frontline.

"Under our enhanced strategy, priority for testing will be given to those who are most likely to have been exposed to COVID-19 which is our border and airline staff and those arriving back in New Zealand," Dr Clark said.

Workers who will be regularly tested include those in customs, biosecurity, immigration, and aviation security. Cleaners at international air and maritime ports, international air and maritime crew, and staff working in managed isolation and quarantine facilities will also be prioritised.

E tū's head of aviation Savage says the union's members in the aviation industry will welcome the announcement. He said a "simple, straightforward, effective and easy to follow system" was in everyone's interests.

"Union members are obviously concerned about health and safety and they are part of a larger health and safety system. They certainly don't want to get sick and they don't want to pass on any infection to their co-workers or to their friends and families," he told Newshub.

"Most aviation workers are going to welcome these guidelines and these new rules, because if it makes them safer, it is going to make the country safer."

He also said that while requirements for some airline crew to isolate for 48 hours were an imposition, members were happy to abide if it kept others safe. 

"[That] imposes a restriction on their personal life but crew are very determined to follow the safety rules… they welcome the clarity of having a system that keeps them safe and by keeping them safe, keeps the borders and keeps New Zealand safe."

Dr Clark confirmed on Tuesday that anyone presenting to primary or secondary care with COVID-19 symptoms will be offered testing even if they have no history of international travel or contact with travellers. 

"To ensure our surveillance testing is appropriate and equitable, the Ministry of Health will rigorously monitor testing rates across DHBs and population groups and will conduct a weekly review of testing by each DHB and by ethnic group," he said.

"Importantly, we'll be requiring DHBs to take specific actions to increase access to testing for population groups where there is significant variation to national or regional average rates.

"The Ministry will also make clear to DHBs the Government's expectation that there will continue to be a low bar to meet to obtain a COVID-19 test."

With just 10 active cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand - all caught at the border - and no community transmission recorded in weeks, our border controls are our main line of defence against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Only Kiwis and their close family can enter the country currently and all must undergo 14 days of managed isolation in a facility or quarantine if they show symptoms or have the virus. Every person is required to be tested on their third and twelfth day and must return a negative test result to be let out of a facility. 

The Government and Ministry of Health faced backlash last week after it emerged two sisters were let out of managed isolation on compassionate grounds without a test and tested positive days later. Compassionate leave was subsequently suspended and the system has been put under urgent review.