Government has to release its grip on testing – Transporting New Zealand

In News5 MinutesBy Nick LeggettFebruary 18, 2022

As the Omicron numbers start to move to more than 1000 a day, the testing system in New Zealand is showing the strain.

Transporting New Zealand is aware of the frustration transport operators are feeling when it comes to accessing rapid antigen tests (RATs) for staff. That’s even with transport considered a critical service.

Without trucks on the road delivering goods, New Zealand will grind to a halt.

So, it is somewhat disappointing that the Close Contact Exemption Scheme, designed to keep critical workers on the job, is proving complex and not providing timely access to RATs that are the essential part of the scheme. It would take me the whole blog to explain how this system works, but we have covered that in an Advisory to our members, available on our Covid-19 webpage.

We all knew this was coming. We’ve watched it happen in Australia. So how did we end up here?

We have written to Transport Minister Michael Wood asking the Government to broaden access to rapid antigen testing for businesses, with urgency.

We pointed out that Omicron is taking hold and we are quickly going to reach crisis point for the supply chain.

We also note the Government has basically said it is up to people to manage their own health if they get Omicron, but the only way they can do that is with fast access to testing, with fast results.

The Government has already asked the public to only get tested if they have Covid-19 symptoms because there are problems managing volume at testing stations and labs – and this has only just begun. It is unlikely the Government has any idea of the number of people with Covid-19.

As happened in Australia, the number of people with Covid is far greater than the testing capacity, so many cases are going unrecorded. Those daily numbers will quickly become meaningless with the only statistics that matter being the number in hospital, in intensive care, on respirators, and who don’t make it through.

Businesses cannot fulfil their health and safety obligations to their staff if they don’t have fast access to testing with fast, accurate results. Remember, until late last year RATs were banned in New Zealand. Once they became available – only a select few brands at the time – businesses had their orders requisitioned by the Government who suddenly realised they were once again behind the eight ball when it came to managing Covid, with Omicron looming.

We feel that testing for Omciron would be better placed in the hands of businesses and individuals to ensure a fast and effective testing regime that will allow the country to keep moving.

The Government is now trying to stop the tide. They once again refuse to pivot and listen to business people who have been offering them valid testing solutions for months.

In our letter to Minister Wood we have asked that the Government urgently considers allowing businesses to manage their own testing, and makes testing readily available to the public through retail outlets, be that supermarkets, pharmacies, or self-service dispensing machines.

We have seen other countries manage self-testing perfectly well. In many parts of the world people can test themselves before they go to work, if they get a sniffle, or if they are going to see babies and others who cannot be vaccinated. They are trusted to manage their own health and consider the health and wellbeing of those around them.

Our letter said we believe the Government should support businesses in taking fast and effective action to manage Omicron in the workplace, and therefore, the wider community. The Close Contact Exemption Scheme is already proving not to be this solution.

We asked for urgent attention to this. Our letter has been transferred to Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall.

By Nick Leggett, CEO, Transporting New Zealand