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COVID testing chaos could shut down industry

29 July 2020

Australia’s governments have failed their COVID-19 test after days of confusion about how to screen interstate truck drivers, Australian Trucking Association CEO Ben Maguire said today. 

Mr Maguire said that state governments had imposed different testing requirements on drivers, failed to address the key issues raised by industry and failed to provide convenient and accessible testing facilities. 

“The Australian and state governments must take immediate action or interstate road freight will effectively shut down,” Mr Maguire said. 

“What we know today is that Queensland is encouraging drivers to be tested, South Australia and Western Australia require it for some drivers, and that it’s completely unclear what NSW is doing.”

The NSW Government announced overnight that freight workers crossing the border from Victoria should have a COVID-19 test every seven days.  

“The first paragraph of the NSW Government announcement says it is announcing ‘new requirements,’” he said.  

“Paragraph four says that enforcement has not commenced, and that it’s just a recommendation. The paragraph then reverses course and, at the end, says it’s a requirement. 

“Is it a recommendation or a requirement? It’s completely unclear, and we need clarity most of all in these uncertain times.” 

Mr Maguire said that NSW had ignored a critical issue raised by industry – the need to make it clear that freight workers do not have to self-isolate after screening tests. 

“People tested for COVID-19 are generally required to self-isolate until the results come in. That’s appropriate if you are having a test because you have symptoms or are a close contact of a known case. It is not appropriate if you are having the test as a mandatory weekly screen,” he said. 

“Requiring truck drivers to self-isolate until they have results would mean they would have to spend up to five days a week waiting around for a text message. 

“In contrast, the Queensland Government takes the sensible approach of not requiring screened drivers to self-isolate, unless they have symptoms or are a close contact. The South Australian legal direction clearly envisages that drivers are not required to self-isolate unless they have symptoms or are a close contact, but clinics and some police seem to be unaware of this.  

“Governments must, as a matter of urgency, put in place a clear system so drivers who undertake screening tests are not required to self-isolate.  

“Governments must also ensure that drivers who receive tests get immediate evidence showing the test was done.” 

Mr Maguire said that governments had failed the test of providing convenient and accessible testing facilities.  

“Testing clinics are generally not accessible to drivers in trucks. I know of one truck driver in Mount Gambier who parked up a fully loaded, B-double fuel tanker to get a lift into town for a test,” he said. 

“Clinics are not just poorly located. Their hours of operation are a huge problem. It’s not good enough to tell interstate truck drivers that they can present at the clinic any time during office hours. Truck drivers work long hours and are often required to sleep during the day. 

“Meanwhile, the Victorian Government has banned testing people unless they have symptoms or have been referred by a contact tracer.  

“All state governments need to have a system so that truck drivers subject to these requirements can get tested. It could be as simple as the South Australian approach of having a special form marked ‘truck driver.’” 

“On Friday, the National Cabinet agreed to an interstate freight protocol that was supposed to resolve this sort of confusion.  

“But it’s just made the problem worse, because the states are each implementing the protocol differently and ignoring the sections intended to reduce red tape.  

“State governments need to stop, think, talk to the industry and put in place proper testing facilities before they go any further.  

“If necessary, the Australian Government should provide military support to help deliver 24/7 testing on interstate freight corridors,” he said.