8 Sep 2021

Nasal swabs at Auckland border will delay deliveries - truck drivers

7:27 pm on 8 September 2021

Truck drivers and other essential workers crossing Auckland's boundary are preparing to get nasal swabs once a week, as saliva tests aren't yet available for non-border workers.

A police checkpoint in Mercer, near Auckland's border with Waikato.

A police checkpoint in Mercer, near Auckland's border with Waikato. Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

On Friday, the new testing regime starts which requires every essential worker leaving Auckland's level 4 boundary to show a negative result from the last seven days.

However, the Ministry of Health said although the requirement to be tested starts on Friday 10 September, it won't start checking tests until Friday 17th - an entire week after this portion of the new Public Health Order comes into force.

The ministry said this gives time to "finalise arrangements" for cross boundary testing.

At this stage, truckies are lining up at public testing stations for nasal swabs, which they say is delaying deliveries.

Saliva testing is as accurate as a nasal swab, a Victoria University study found. It can be taken at home, by anyone at any time, taking only a minute, and then be sent off for processing like a standard nasopharyngeal swab.

Nick Leggett from the Road Transport Forum said the inability at this stage to use saliva testing will slow the whole supply chain down because it requires them visiting a testing centre.

"We had a truck driver yesterday in Auckland who was waiting for over two hours for a test. That comes off their legal driving hours. If we do that to too many drivers, we are going to delay the delivery of freight."

The ministry said it is "finalising a contract with a further saliva testing provider" for those crossing the level 4 border, but didn't say when they'd be available.

"We are awaiting details of that. It's unclear at this stage who the preferred Ministry of Health saliva testing agent will be, and how that can then be rolled out to trucking operators to complete the testing on their staff," Leggett said.

Alan MacDonald from the Employers and Manufacturers Association said the industry and government agencies seemed a bit surprised when the requirement for weekly testing was announced.

He said there's no system in place to smoothly administer the extra testing needed.

"Yesterday I heard some truck drivers went to testing stations to go and get their test and they were turned away because they didn't have symptoms. I think this is an example of having an idea and trying to do policy on the fly without having the process in behind it and having thought through how it's actually going to work."

He said agencies have told them they will smooth out the process before the requirements takes effect. He thinks it's unlikely that'll be before Friday, and that the implementation of the requirement may be delayed.

MacDonald said an en-route saliva testing station is the logical set up.

"For the border, some kind of dedicated border checkpoint or set up - not right at the border because that would slow everything down - but somewhere either side of it where someone can drive through, dribble in the tube, bag and tag it, and drive on, so there's minimal delay."

He says there are at least 4000 truck drivers using the southern border a day, and other retail workers crossing the boundary.

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