After months of urging that ports should be treated like airports for Covid-19 security, New Zealand port companies have been stunned to receive an order from director general of health Ashley Bloomfield for all maritime border staff to be tested for the virus in the next three days.
The ports, through the port companies chief executives group, along with maritime unions, say they have been asking the Ministry of Health since the end of the first lockdown for sea borders to be treated like aviation borders.
Bloomfield's letter, sent today, said the ministry would work with regional DHBs to provide testing on site "as a matter of urgency".
"Testing is for all people who work ports around New Zealand who might potentially come into contact with ships' crew ... " the letter said.
For New Zealand's biggest port at Tauranga, the order means around 2000 staff and workers must be tested by close of business on Monday.
Ports chief executives' group spokesman Charles Finny said as recently as two weeks ago the maritime sector had been urging health authorities to test at ports, without success.
A test station has this week been set up at Ports of Auckland. A spokesman said the company had been "dead keen" to see it but the time it has taken for action was frustrating.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said he had been asking for Covid security at the port to be strengthened since April.
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Finny understood from port chief executives he had spoken to on Friday that DHBs intended to set up testing systems at ports over the weekend and on Monday.
"We said months ago that ports should be treated like airports."
Bloomfield's letter said along with the new testing requirements, border-based employees needed to continue to take daily health checks.
"Thank you again for the important work you are doing to strengthen practices and to increase vigilance at the maritime border, in order to protect your employees and our community from Covid-19," it concludes.