17 Aug 2020

Covid-19 testing ramps up to fill data gap at Port Taranaki

5:08 pm on 17 August 2020

The Taranaki District Health Board has tested 44 border-facing workers and contractors at Port Taranaki for Covid-19 over the past week, but is unable to say how many port workers have been tested for the virus since the borders closed in March.

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The Taranaki DHB says it follows Ministry of Health guidelines for marine crew movements and testing. Photo: Taranaki Regional Council

Incident management team controller Becky Jenkins said the DHB was now providing pop-up surveillance at the port on a weekly basis and all 44 people tested recently had returned negative results.

Asked how many border-facing workers and contractors at Port Taranaki had been tested since the border was closed, Jenkins said: "The DHB does not hold data for testing at the border prior to this period [week]".

In terms of marine crew movements and testing, Jenkins said the DHB followed Ministry of Health requirements for quarantine and isolation process at the maritime border.

"Covid-19 is a quarantinable disease and all international ships have to get health permission before they are able to land in New Zealand. All persons arriving via the maritime border [with limited exemptions] must adhere to the Maritime Border Order's quarantine or isolation requirements."

At present a ship must have been at sea for 29 days for crew to be eligible for shore leave, and they must have returned a negative Covid-19 test.

The DHB rates the risk of maritime crew spreading the virus in New Plymouth as "unlikely" with this caveat "assuming all maritime crew have a clearance Covid-19 test before shore leave is granted".

Jenkins said some maritime crew had been tested upon arrival in New Plymouth.

"Occasionally there have been crew members with mild flu-like symptoms. These people have been promptly tested and the results so far have been negative."

Port Taranaki chief executive Guy Roper said it was adhering to DHB protocols for the maritime border.

"We have abided by 14-day and 29-day requirements that apply to shore leave and testing is done onboard the vessel by the crew and the master and we are receiving those results.

"And the reality is that most of the vessels' travelling times to Port Taranaki means that the crews are not granted shore leave. Since the 30th of June when the 29-day order came into place very few crew have left any vessel. They haven't met the 29 days."

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Most crews have not been at sea long enough to qualify for shore leave, the Port Taranaki chief executive says. Photo: Port of Taranaki

Roper said contact between port staff and maritime crew was also being kept to minimum.

"The main interaction is the pilot boarding the vessel. The pilot will have had a full briefing and follows the protocols they have for boarding the vessel with the appropriate PPE and then the pilot gets off the vessel and the interaction is then at the wharf side with our mooring team."

Roper said the mooring team did not board the vessel and were considered low risk.

"The voluntary testing, and I guess soon to become mandatory testing, will involve those people."

Earlier today, Director-General of Health confirmed that one of the current active cases was a port worker who was followed up as a contact of one of the cases linked to the existing cluster. However, he did not identify at which port the person worked.

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