As states and territories grapple with how to handle the worsening Delta outbreak in NSW, testing requirements for essential linehaul heavy vehicle drivers has come into focus, with discrepancies between jurisdictions a source of much confusion.
Throughout the pandemic, the industry has shown a remarkable ability to operate safely and productively, despite drivers being subjected to invasive and onerous testing requirements as a condition of permits to travel interstate.
The general requirement up until recently has been for drivers to obtain negative tests on a rolling seven-day average, with two-day, three-day and weekly testing cycle variations.
All that changed after rogue furniture removalists flouted the rules and re-introduced the Delta strain back into Victoria, throwing the state back into a hard two-week lockdown. As well as banning furniture removalists from entering the state from NSW, the Andrews government upped the ante on Victorian testing requirements for linehaul drivers in response, requiring them to get a Covid test every three days instead of every seven.
The industry has demonstrated a consistent capacity to meet weekly testing cycles.
However, the less than a week cycles are difficult to meet due to issues with fatigue management, testing locations and physical intrusion. Having a pipette pushed to the back of the nasal cavity every few days wears the skin and creates blood noses on a regular basis. This is a health risk, and one which we have had dozens of reports of by drivers and operators.
With all the signs pointing to Australians having to live with Covid and its more virulent strains for many months to come, the VTA is calling for a more sensible and common-sense approach to testing for heavy vehicle drivers. State transport associations have endorsed changing the current testing regime to include the Ellume-type testing.
Under our proposed change, interstate drivers would be tested every two or three days using the self-administered Ellume test, alternating with a standard test through a registered testing laboratory weekly. This would see the driver self-test throughout the week, check their clearance of the virus and be sure that they are not infecting others.
Accessible, reliable, and fast diagnostics are integral to the Covid response.
The Ellume rapid regime entails a specific swab of the individual’s tongue with a result provided 15 minutes. These tests help to limit personal intrusion, manage outbreaks and community transmission, and reduce pressure on healthcare systems. The individual can then be sure of their ability to meet the increase in testing and not have the physical discomfort and pain.
We request that the Therapeutic Goods Administration grant an exemption for Ellume testing, as has been done with HIV (2014) and Flu (2019) to include specifically the interstate heavy vehicle driver sector under specific conditions.
The transport industry has been grateful for the ability to continue working throughout the pandemic and has always accepted we would be subject to higher standards of safety, hygiene and testing requirements as a condition to keep operating.
Jurisdictions around the world are increasingly turning to self-administered tests for frontline healthcare and other providers of essential services where regular testing is a requirement. The accuracy of these tests has gotten better as technology has continually improved, with results available in as little as 15 minutes.
Freight drivers are using these tests elsewhere around the world as a complement to other regular formal testing and our is our view that rapid, self-administered testing should form part of our diagnostics arsenal in Australia as well.
We see the risks of drivers ignoring positive self-administered tests as remarkably low in view of the seven-day lab test requirement, and of course the fact that there is nothing to be gained from hiding a positive result.
Freight drivers deserve a better testing regime that respects their physical and mental health and well-being, whilst keeping the community safe from transport-related outbreaks.