Delays in truck driver COVID testing 'not acceptable', Queensland border mayor urges action

© Provided by ABC News Health Minister Yvette D’Ath says Queensland needs truck drivers to cooperate with border crossing protocols. (ABC News: Baz Ruddick)

New South Wales took days to confirm the COVID-positive status of an interstate truck driver who visited Queensland, potentially widening exposure risks.

The delay in receiving the testing results has been described as “unacceptable” by Goondiwindi Mayor Lawrence Springborg, whose shire ended up with an exposure site from the truck driver.

The incident, which also led to numerous exposure sites being declared in Brisbane this week, is the 11th time an interstate truck driver has put the state at risk of an outbreak of the Delta strain of COVID-19.

Responding yesterday to the growing number of infected truckie incidents, Queensland’s health and transport ministers held an urgent meeting to discuss the protocols for drivers entering the state.

But Mr Springborg said immediate action needed to be taken to ensure NSW testing of truck drivers coming in and out of Queensland occurred more rapidly.

He said test results for the truck driver in the latest case had taken two days to come back.

“It’s unacceptable. The delay between testing and getting the results back is critical,” Mr Springborg said.

His shire encompasses the busiest interstate freight crossing and has an exposure site from the latest case.

“This is critical that the tests get done faster, especially when they are aware of the potential infection. 

“My understanding was the truck driver was tested on [September] 12th and results came in on the 14th … that is not acceptable particularly when there is the potential for infection.”

The truck driver was believed to have been infectious in Queensland on September 8 and 9, and visited a truck stop at Goondiwindi as well as locations in Brisbane’s southern suburbs.

The ABC has sought comment from both Queensland and NSW health departments about Mr Springborg’s concerns.

‘Vast majority’ of truckies have had first vaccine dose

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young has expressed concern at the 11 instances in which truck drivers visiting Queensland have tested positive.

“We are definitely looking at that and it’s being looked at nationally for policy,” she said yesterday.

“They’re just coming through and you’d expect that because the biggest group coming across our borders are our freight drivers — and thank goodness they are, we need them to cross our borders.”

Dr Young said the “vast majority” of truck drivers who tested positive had had their first dose of the vaccine.

“They’ve really been doing very, very well. They now need to … get their second dose and that will be even better,” she said.

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath met Transport Minister Mark Bailey yesterday to discuss the protocol.

“We absolutely need our freight operators moving around the country,” she said.

Ms D’Ath said matters such as quarantine and movement for freight drivers would be discussed at the meeting.

“We’re having a look at that protocol at the moment, as to whether we need to be making further changes to it, or whether we need to be messaging even stronger with the freight drivers that we’re trying to do the right thing by the drivers and making sure that they can travel freely across borders,” she said.

Ms D’Ath said the government needed help from the drivers to keep Queenslanders safe.

“We also need their cooperation to make sure that they’re not putting people at risk while they’re not driving and going out into the community, when they’re still waiting for test results,” she said.

Frustration has been growing amongst truck drivers about border delays and changes to rules around freight movement.

On Wednesday, a truck driver who was turned back from the Queensland border for not having evidence of a negative COVID-19 test returned later that night further down the road and crashed his truck through the border barricade.

He was later charged over the incident.

‘Under enormous pressure’

Transport Workers Union National secretary Michael Kaine said truck drivers felt they were being let down by “shifting restrictions and a lack of support to get vaccinated”.

“We need a consistent national framework to support drivers doing their critical work,” Mr Kaine said.

“That means tearing down barriers to vaccination by providing paid vaccination leave, and rolling out rapid testing to ease the gruelling testing regimes drivers are subjected to.

“Uniform rules are the only way we are going to ease the pressure on truck drivers and end the chaos we are seeing at state borders.”

The union said drivers were under strict deadlines and “enormous pressure” and wanted certainty over cross-border freight movement.

Truck drivers from hotspots are allowed to enter Queensland but must follow protocols, including being able to produce evidence that they have had a negative COVID-19 test within the seven days prior to entering Queensland.

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