The logistics skills of the busy ports of Auckland and Tauranga are being showcased to the max as they respond to out-of-the-blue and fast-changing Ministry of Health directives to ensure urgent Covid-19 testing of all their users and staff.
Both ports say the latest, much expanded, directive, issued on Saturday just hours after director general of health Ashley Bloomfield surprised the sector with an urgent testing order, will affect about 6000 people at each port – but they expect little disruption to operations.
However the Road Transport Forum says the Government’s “panicked reaction” to try to find if freight is the source of the return of Covid-19’s community transmission, is causing “mayhem” at the ports for trucking operators.
On Friday with no warning, Bloomfield ordered “everyone who works at the maritime border” to be tested by 11.59pm on Monday night. Testing applied for all people who worked at ports around New Zealand who might come into contact with ships’ crew.
With testing facilities reportedly scarce or stretched even this was a tall order, but Saturday’s order widened the test requirement to anyone who had worked at Auckland or Tauranga ports since 11.59pm on Tuesday July 21. According to spokespeople for the two ports, collectively that involves about 12,000 people.
Those having to be tested included shipping agents, stevedores, cargo drivers, contractors, suppliers of goods and services, government agency employees and any crew members who may have come ashore.
The ports were to work with their local DHBs and take all practical steps to ensure their constituents were aware of the order. People could be tested at a community testing centre or at a testing centre set up at the port.
Auckland’s port has had a testing facility waterside since Thursday. A spokesman said around 1000 people had been tested over three days.
A Port of Tauranga spokeswoman said the port had set up a testing site for the DHB, but as at Sunday evening there were no DHB testers yet on site.
She said as it was surveillance testing, people without symptoms were not required to wait until they had test results before returning to work.
“Work groups are separated at the moment due to Covid-19 precautions so it would be highly unlikely that any infection would spread far,” she said.
A Maritime NZ notice said a message about the broader testing requirement had been sent to all port companies, stevedoring companies, unions, harbourmasters, agents, organisations representing the marine industry, fishing operators and maritime operators.
The Ports of Auckland spokesman said it was important to note that port workers never directly touched freight, which was handled remotely or by machines. Containers were never opened at the port by workers. The port had had Covid-19 security and restrictions in place since late January, he said.
“Work groups are separated at the moment due to Covid-19 precautions so it would be highly unlikely that any infection would spread far,” a port spokeswoman said.