Port and airport workers will soon be required to be vaccinated, as the government expands its border workforce rule.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced the move after a Cabinet meeting this afternoon.
Currently, the mandatory vaccination rule applies to workers at managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities, airside government officials and port workers.
They said the expanded order would also apply to:
- Higher-risk and airside workers at airports
- Port workers
- Accommodation providers for isolating air crews
- Workers handling items removed from ships, aircraft or MIQ
- Companies routinely providing services to aircraft, ships or MIQ
- Employees in contact with any of the above
Government-employed workers newly covered by the order will have until 26 August, and private employees until 30 September, to get their first dose.
New border workers covered by the order, regardless of employer, will be required to have a vaccination before starting work.
Workers who remained unvaccinated after the requirements come into effect would need to have a conversation with their employer, Ardern said.
Hipkins said just 54 percent of active port workers and 82 percent of active air border workers had been fully vaccinated. The new order would expand coverage to another 1800 unvaccinated border workers, he said.
"To prevent the virus getting into our communities, we must continue to strengthen our border by protecting the people who work there," he said.
"This is necessary to lift the uptake of the vaccine among the wider border workforce and strengthen our ongoing response to Covid-19."
Hipkins said about 30,000 people were in the border testing register, but not all were currently active.
About 83 percent were fully vaccinated and a further 3 percent had received at least one dose, he said.
Of those 30,000 there were 5000 unvaccinated workers:
- About 1800 who had worked at the border in the past two weeks. About 1400 of those were air and maritime border workers.
- About 3200 had not worked at the border for at least two weeks. If they were to begin work again in a frontline border role they would need to be vaccinated to do so.
Ardern said: "The vaccination of MIQ workers has been successful to date, with latest figs indicating all of the 4332 MIQ workers on site for the week ending 4 July were vaccinated. No unvaccinated worker can enter an MIQ facility."
"With new variants like delta on the rise globally, we need to make sure we're always adjusting our settings to make sure we keep the virus out."
Asked why the government has not acted to bring these additional border workers under the mandatory vaccination order before now, Ardern says it is an "extraordinary step to mandate and to tell someone who may for instance be employed by a private sector employer that they will not be able to work in their job until they are vaccinated. That is a very big step".
"Enough time has been given now for that to be voluntarily taken up .... looking at the numbers our view is that we need the uptake to be higher."
Hipkins said the amount of time allowed was not an issue of having vaccine availability.
"There is a long lead time ... those are the maximum timeframes, we'll be working as hard as we can with them to get them to take up that opportunity at the first available chance."
National's Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said it was "staggering" the government had waited this long to expand the number of border workers who had to be vaccinated.
It should have happened months ago, especially with so many workers yet to be vaccinated, Bishop said.
"It's really concerning that about half the people in our ports haven't even ha a single jab."
Bishop was also concerned that some workers did not need to receive their first jab until the end of September, when it had been available since February.
"That's an extraordinary length of time to go and just in light of the Delta variant causing mayhem around the world, including very close to home in New South Wales, I would have thought mandating this sooner was definitely the way to go."
Ardern also announced she was to chair an inaugural Covid-19 meeting of APEC leaders on Friday 16 July.
"I'll be inviting discussion on immediate measures to achieve more co-ordinated regional action to assist recovery, as well as steps that will support inclusive and sustainable growth over the long term."
US President Biden, Russian president Putin and the majority of other APEC leaders had confirmed they would attend, she said.
She will also hold bilateral meetings with leaders of Papua New Guinea and Canada on Wednesday, as chair of APEC this year.
The government this morning revealed the criteria travellers from New South Wales must meet to gain a spot reserved for those with urgent need to return.
This afternoon, the Ministry of Health said quarantine-free travel from Queensland to New Zealand could resume from 11.59pm (NZT) tonight.
NSW has been dealing with a growing outbreak of Covid-19, with 112 new community cases announced today.
Meanwhile the government is under pressure from the opposition, with the ACT party today revealing a suite of new policies, National demanding debate on policy it says Labour never campaigned on, and parties across the House participating in an emotional debate over mental health service provision.