Thousands of people, including truck drivers, who visit the Port of Tauranga appear to have been exempted from urgent Covid-19 testing after the Government amended an earlier Public Health Order that caused panic among 6000 contractors and workers.
The Minister of Health, Chris Hipkins, late on Monday night signed an amended order that specified and clarified "high-risk" workers who needed to be tested and extended the testing deadline from 11.59pm on Monday to 11.59pm on August 20.
The amended order says only "higher risk" workers need to be tested - those who have direct contact with ships and crews. It is understood they include shipping agents, pilots and stevedores. Port workers with symptoms were also considered high risk and had to be tested by the deadline.
The amended order is a particular relief to the Road Transport Forum, which said the original "panicked" Friday night order caused "mayhem" for drivers who regularly visited the ports but had no contact with ships or crews.
Other port workers who did not fall into these categories still needed to be tested but it was no longer a requirement by law and the testing deadline did not apply, said the Bay of Plenty DHB.
Ports CEO group spokesman Charles Finny said the Friday night order, which required all people with any contact with the two ports to be tested by last night, had caused unnecessary "panic and disruption".
"It is disturbing the initial order could have been signed given it didn't seem to take account of the consequences of the broad scope and timing."
However, it was good the Government had listened to the ports' leaders and amended it.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns could not be reached for comment.
Testing of port workers who had been on board a vessel or in direct contact with crew since July 21 had been the priority since testing began yesterday, the Bay of Plenty District Health Board's incident controller, Dr Joe Bourne, said.
"We will continue to prioritise these workers as per the Ministry of Health's updated testing order, in which the workers identified as being at most likely to have come into contact with maritime crew."
He said about 160 workers from this priority group had been tested between midday and 4pm on Monday.
Asked why the Auckland and Tauranga ports had been singled out for special wide testing, the Ministry of Health said the order applied to ports where it was a greater risk and Tauranga because it was "the busiest port in New Zealand by freight".
The testing was the ministry's response to detect any cases and contain the outbreak, the spokeswoman said.
"We have provided guidance to other ports and, as part of the wider border testing throughout the country, testing is also under way at eight other ports including Northport, Napier, Taranaki, Eastland, Nelson, Wellington, Timaru, and Lyttleton ports with other ports around the country preparing to test workers."
Who must be tested?
You are an affected worker if you:
• are a pilot, or a stevedore, carrying out work on or around a ship
• carry out any other work at the Ports of Auckland and Tauranga and have symptoms that suggest the presence of Covid-19
• board or have boarded a ship at the Ports of Auckland and Tauranga during the period beginning July 21 at 11.59pm and ending August 20 at 11.59pm
• where persons are in managed isolation or quarantine under the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Maritime Border) Order 2020.
- Additional reporting by Andrea Fox