Essential workers between regional borders getting tested every week will allow other New Zealanders the freedom of lower alert levels, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
Arden told Morning Report the Delta variant of Covid-19 had generated “more mystery cases for us a little later on in a level 4 environment than what we’ve had before”.
It is one of the reasons the borders are being tightened and those crossing will need a weekly test.
“We’re looking to work with employers, particularly in the freight industry to try and make it as easy as possible.”
Some companies were already using saliva testing for surveillance of staff, but Ardern said the government was looking at whether to contract specifically providers to aid that flow of testing.
“The Ministry of Health have told me that they’re already in a contract negotiation with a provider for saliva testing that may involve the border. We’re using it in our managed isolation facilities and it is available to some companies.
“So saliva testing is being used in the system in New Zealand: it’s being used by us, it’s being used privately.”
In the meantime, other workers will have to get tested at community testing centres.
“I understand this does put an extra ask on those who already have their passes to move through the border.
“… but this is the price of us having the country with more freedoms.”
Call for saliva testing at workplaces
The Road Transport Forum was not against the idea but said getting truck drivers regularly tested would be a logistical nightmare and that productivity would take a pounding.
Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett told Morning Report the problem was to get thousands of truck drivers tested within a 48-hour period, which would mean they would have to be taken off their jobs of “delivering critical freight around New Zealand”.
“Auckland is a major distribution centre in New Zealand and every day and night thousands of trucks leave for trips to all other parts of the country.”
He said for truck drivers to take time off during working hours to get a test would compromise the delivery of freight.
Leggett said the government should have consulted with transport companies about a more feasible way to get around this issue.
“Saliva testing at workplaces would have been one way because trucking companies do test for drug and alcohol so the testing regime is not foreign to them.”
He understood saliva testing would become available in the next few weeks.
Ardern says she will update the country this week on how successful the government has been at securing extra doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine to meet increased demand.
While millions of doses are due to arrive in October, if the country continues vaccinating at the current rate then the vaccine will need to be rationed.
“It’s only for the month of September that things have been really tight for us … because in October we get … those large shipments from Pfizer,” Ardern told Morning Report.
“We’re continuing the [vaccination] programme as planned.”
She would not say how many people needed to be vaccinated before pulling the plug on stricter lockdowns. About 60 percent of the population has had its first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
“Elimination is absolutely the right thing for us right now while we’re vaccinating.”
She said second doses reduced the need for hospiltalisations.
Ardern said many countries around the world with high vaccination rates were still facing lockdowns.
“I want to be higher than what we’ve seen in some of those other places because they are still seeing a lot of deaths and a lot of hospitalisations, but ultimately vaccinations are the way that we can replace those more extreme ends of public health measures like lockdowns.”