Thousands of people, including truck drivers, who visit the Auckland and Tauranga ports appear to have been exempted from urgent Covid-19 testing after the Government amended an earlier Public Health Order that caused panic among 12,000 contractors and workers.
The Minister of Health Chris Hipkins late last night signed an amended order that specified and clarified "high risk" workers who need to be tested by law, and extended the testing deadline from 11.59pm last night to 11.59pm August 20.
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.
The amended order says only "higher risk" workers need to be tested - those who have direct contact with ships and crews since July 21. They include shipping agents, pilots, stevedores and people who work on, or around, a ship. Port workers with symptoms are considered high risk and had to be tested by the new deadline.
Other port workers who do not fall into these categories still need to be tested but it is no longer a requirement by law and the testing deadline does 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.
Last night's deadline under the original order passed with thousands of port visitors and workers still untested, and a DHB testing station at Port of Tauranga only staffed by testers at midday yesterday, though the port had made the site available over the weekend.
Auckland has had a DHB testing station since Thursday. It had tested about 1000 people by yesterday. A port spokesman said with the narrowed testing order, only about a dozen people now still needed to be tested.
Asked last night why the Auckland and Tauranga ports had been singled out for special wide testing, the Ministry of Health would only say, "As the director general said today, we are still investigating all and any possible sources of how the infection began in the community".
The minister gave two directives concerning ports on Friday.
The first, which ports say they had been asking for for weeks, required workers at all ports with direct contact with ships to be tested by 11.59 last night.
The second, a few hours later, targeted Auckland and Tauranga ports and greatly expanded the type of workers and visitors to be tested.
The Herald understands the ministry had little understanding of the number of people at the ports this would capture.
Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett welcomed the new, amended order.
"Truck drivers have very little human contact with freight on ports, or with other people, as much of the loading and unloading is done mechanically, so unless they have symptoms and have contracted Covid-19 elsewhere, we don't believe they are at risk, or a risk to others, at ports.
"To ensure we keep the economy moving, freight needs to be able to move freely and we were very concerned about the delays at ports and confusion over testing and stand down times.
"The Ministry of Health has now made it clear that border workers only need to self-isolate while waiting for tests if they have symptoms. If they are asymptomatic, there is no need to self-isolate while waiting for test results."
"We are pleased to see some pragmatism prevailing when we hear there is real stress on those processing tests" he said.
Bay of Plenty DHB incident controller Dr Joe Bourne said around 160 people from the priority group were tested at the Port of Tauranga between midday and 4pm yesterday.
The DHB was scaling up its testing capacity at the port and was still aiming to finish testing by Sunday August 23, he said.