Delta dawns, but where’s the plan?

In News4 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineAugust 20, 2021

With New Zealand’s woefully low vaccination rate, the arrival of the Delta strain of Covid-19 was always going to be a problem.

It came, not via the Trans-Tasman bubble, but as it has come other times, with an apparent breach at the border.

Given the inevitably of it happening, you would have expected there was a plan on the Government’s shelves, all ready to go. We certainly aren’t seeing evidence of that.

The Public Health Order covering the level 4 lockdown arrived in our email in boxes at 11.58pm on Tuesday 17 August; it came into play at 11.59pm that night, one minute later.

Trucking operations can be 24-7, so this meant no real notice of what the operating rules would be for this level 4 lockdown, particularly as we have been told this Public Health Order cancels out all the previous ones.

But truck drivers did what they are known for doing, they got in their trucks and got on with it. The horde of 5 million were decimating the food shop shelves and someone had to get more supplies to where they were needed.

In an emergency situation, truck drivers are front line workers. Yet, despite our attempts to get them higher up the vaccination queue, we have been directed by the Minister in charge to look at a Government website and wait our turn.

So now, during this lockdown, our truck drivers are out there again, risking their health and the health of their families to make sure the 5 million can get their bread, milk, flour, toilet paper and all the other items they seem to think they must have right now.

Drivers’ safety and security is also on the line on largely empty roads with little access to toilets. Via our dedicated Covid-19 webpage, we are distributing information about safety and security and where public toilets might be open.

The first few days cause a frenzy of activity from Government, but not much action.

Our biggest concern is if the Government decides to have different alert levels in different parts of the country and brings back the road blocks that have caused so much chaos for transporting essential freight.

We have written to the Ministry of Transport to ask that we be consulted on future road blocks to ensure we don’t have trucks, including trucks carrying livestock and perishable food and medicines, trapped in traffic queues for six hours, as happened in Auckland previously.

We are also seeking information from Government around Certificates of Fitness (CoFs), licensing and other essential documentation that trucking operators need to ensure they can keep their trucks on the road and that they are safe, and covered by insurance, during that time.

With bobby calf season underway animal welfare is critical, but so is driver welfare.

Transport operators are well known for getting on with it at short notice. There’s huge resilience in the industry but I’m not getting that same feeling from Government. 

The arrival of Delta was not unexpected, and there were significant warnings we’d have another lockdown. We can only hope there will be better organisation and things will run more smoothly this time around. We definitely want a seat around the planning table so we can ensure that if road blocks come into play.

By Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum