Coronavirus: Business, Opposition confused by critical worker test-to-return criteria

The Government has finally revealed who'll get access to free rapid tests if they're a close contact so they can have a rapid return to work - but businesses say the criteria is too confusing.

Butcher Don Andrews worried he's about to get a raw deal, again. Close contact isolation rules could see his shop shut for 10 days.

"Looking at the chicken and pork, it's not going to keep. Chicken's probably the worst of the lot," he says. 

That's a lot of sausages and steak at stake.

"What do you do with it? It's a perishable item. And very expensive in this day and age."

Andrews is worried butchers won't qualify for rapid antigen tests to keep working through the Omicron tidal wave.

"We all got stuck last time."

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the Government isn't deciding who can and can't operate. 

"This isn't about saying which businesses are and aren't allowed to operate. In fact, every business can continue to operate right the way through."

This is about how absolutely critical workforces won't be incompacitated by isolating workers, announced at the Melling Substation because Hipkins says "these are the people who keep the lights on". 

The scheme dictates who gets free access to the Government's hoard of rapid antigen tests to sidestep close contact isolation requirements.

"This is to help businesses to continue to operate but there are risks involved in this approach," the minister says.

It kicks in when we flip into phase two - when there's more than 1000 cases a day. To be part of the scheme, businesses have to check they're eligible using the Government's criteria.

But Michael Barnett, chief executive of the Auckland Business Chamber, says all workers are critical. 

"All businesses need to be able to operate and survive," he says.

Eligible workers have to take a test everyday, be asymptomatic, be vaccinated, and isolate outside of work hours. People who work alone - like farmers and sole traders - can keep working in a bubble of one.

"This Government has managed to design the most bureaucratic system possible in order to allow businesses access to rapid antigen tests," says National's Chris Bishop. 

Unions say the scheme is - yet again - asking a lot of the frontline.

"There's a lot of pressure out there in the community and we're seeing a lot of support workers resigning," says Kirsty McCully from E tū.

But Hipkins says: "We're working very hard to turn the risk down for them as much as we possibly can." 

There's still an awful lot of details missing - like how this works for plumbers who work alone but visit homes - and how test results are self-reported. Also unclear is whether butchers like Don are actually eligible because neither the minister nor the two relevant ministries could tell us.

Sign up to receive news updates

By entering your email address, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Newshub and its affiliates may use your email address to provide updates/news, ads, and offers. To withdraw your consent or learn more about your rights, see the Privacy Policy.