Queensland’s trucking and agriculture industries are calling for the introduction of rapid antigen testing for COVID to fix lengthy delays at the New South Wales border.
- One truck driver says a three-day wait at the border cost him tens of thousands of dollars
- Rapid antigen tests return a result within 20 minutes but are not as accurate as the standard PCR type
- Farmers are also pushing for faster testing and more vaccinations ahead of the harvest
Truck drivers travelling from NSW COVID-19 hotspots must have received a negative COVID test result within seven days and, in some cases, proof of a test within 72 hours of a border crossing under the “F Pass” Queensland border declaration.
The problem is that the standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results take as long as four days to be returned.
NSW-based truck driver Matt Knott recently spent three days waiting at the border for a negative test result.
“It’s no good, they’ll have to sort something out with the transport industry,” he said.
Queensland Trucking Association (QTA) chief executive Gary Mahon said drivers were getting tested several times a week because of the uncertain test result timelines.
“There is no-one else in the community being subjected to the testing arrangements like our people,” he said.
Rapid antigen tests can provide a result within 20 minutes but are not as accurate.
Mr Knott is from the hotspot-declared local government area of Carbonne in Central West NSW.
Mr Knott said his three-day wait at the border cost him $25,000 in lost work.
“It’s pretty serious,” he said.
“I’ve had to knock back three jobs while I’ve been up here waiting.
“I’m just going to have a test whenever I can, and hopefully they overlap and I can have [a negative result] all the time.”
Mr Mahon said test delays were causing significant disruptions for freight and logistics operators trying to cross the border.
“I’ve talked to plenty of drivers just in the last few days — they’ve had 10 tests or more in the last three weeks,” he said.
Mr Mahon wants rapid antigen testing to be implemented as part of border controls.
“[Rapid antigen testing] is a much more convenient tool for our people to use and it’s well regarded in other countries,” he said.
“That way, our people can plan with some certainty, and these problematic issues wouldn’t be quite such a problem for keeping the supply chain moving.”
Vaccinate before harvest
Queensland agriculture industry group AgForce also supports rapid antigen testing for agricultural workers needing to cross the border.
Chief executive officer Michael Guerin said he was currently discussing it with the state government.
“It’s a very logical step forward and one of the many things industry and government are working together on at the moment,” he said.
Queensland Health did not respond to questions about whether rapid antigen testing was being considered.
In addition to testing requirements, essential agricultural workers will also require at least one vaccine dose to cross the border from Saturday under a new health directive from Queensland’s Chief Health Officer.
Front of the line
Truck drivers are also essential, but it is not yet clear whether they will need a vaccine dose and the exact details are yet to be confirmed by Queensland Health.
“Queensland has a specific protocol for the freight industry to help manage the risk of transmission of COVID-19 for those who have been in declared hotspots,” A Queensland Health spokesperson said in a statement.
“The protocol has been developed in line with a national framework, which continues to be discussed at the national level.”
The ABC understands freight workers operating under the protocol, including undertaking mandatory COVID-19 testing, will not be required to have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at this stage.
Mr Guerin wants workers subject to mandatory vaccination at the border to be pushed to the front of the vaccination queue to avoid disruptions during the winter crop harvest in several weeks.
“We need to be at the front of the queue,” he said.
“Otherwise, those essential services can’t be supplied, and that has much broader implications for the community.”
Mr Mahon said mandatory vaccination for border crossings posed a logistical challenge for transport workers who had only been added to the “priority” list for vaccination a week ago.
“We don’t believe the vaccination rate among drivers would be much more than the community average, so it’s probably in the vicinity of 30 per cent,” he said.