This week, the Government has made a number of announcements about how it will deal with the Omicron outbreak in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, the plans have not been well articulated and there are a lot of concerned businesses out there.

On Wednesday, while Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall was trying to explain the Government’s new terminology of “phases” to New Zealanders and Director General of Health Dr Ashley Boomfield was trying to convince the business community the Government wasn’t taking ALL the available rapid antigen testing, we were meeting with the sensible and pragmatic Transport Minister Michael Wood. He is also the Workplace Relations and Safety Minister, which is important.

We wrote to Minister Wood earlier in January outlining where we thought issues could arise for the supply chain once Omicron took hold in New Zealand. It was a good meeting where he worked through the points raised in that letter and asked his officials at the Ministry of Transport and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency to help our industry ensure the supply chain could flow. He knows his stuff and he is a great ally.

Worryingly, the Government’s new plan is predicated on who makes an essential worker list being compiled by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). The Minister warned us the list would be a lot tighter than the previous list of essential workers. This list has not been compiled yet. So, it is apparent the plan is unfolding, rather than determined.

Let’s look at that as a positive – it means there is still time to set the record straight.

From what we can see, the Government plans to decide who can be tested and therefore, who can go to work – all related to the yet-to-be revealed essential worker list. Health officials also seem to think they can determine what essential goods can move through the supply chain, with food being an obvious priority.

We have been down this road before over the past two years trying to explain to officials how the supply chain works. Sadly, as we move into year three of the Government responding to Covid, it’s a whole new bunch of contractors with a whole new lot of ideas about what’s important.

We know you can’t separate the supply chain into arbitrary essential and non-essential, as all parts of the chain are linked.

We know that trucking businesses will keep on moving goods around New Zealand as best they can, no matter what happens.

We have been helping businesses prepare for that and this week started a campaign to boost the truck driving ranks, should they be depleted by Omicron illness and the Government’s long isolation and selective testing plans. We are calling on the many people out there with a class 2, 4, or 5 licence, who for whatever reason aren’t using it, to register their interest in being available to fill the gaps and keep the supply chain moving. We have had a really good initial response to this campaign.

I’d like to say something about the best laid plans of mice and men, but it’s no longer about mice but RATs, or rapid antigen testing.

I am well aware of the concern in the business community about the Government’s takeover of the supply of RATs. I won’t go into the irony of this, but will assure you we are talking to the Government about this, along with all the other business sector representatives who have been trying to keep their workforce safe by using regular Covid testing.

Big businesses can afford to go to the non-Government suppliers to set up their own testing regimes and the Government likes the big end of town to be well cared for. Of course our industry is made up of a lot of small and medium sized businesses so we need to know how you can go on testing your workforce, as you have been.

The saliva testing programme that operators who were in and out of Auckland were using during the lockdown there will no longer be supported by the Government. If you want to keep it going, you will have to pay for it.

The next few weeks are going to be challenging as we iron out the details that allow the supply chain to work as it should, delivering for New Zealanders.

The Government’s plans unfortunately indicate no end to this – will we be in red and severely restricted for six months or another year? Will we ever go back to the orange light, or one day, green?

Too much power has been given to the Ministry of Health which has a singular focus – Covid-19. Unfortunately, as we go into year three, that’s not the only issue on the table and the Government needs to broaden its focus, as almost every industry is urging them to do.

The elephant in the room when talking to any other government department about the Government’s response is what will Health do? We are confident the Ministry of Transport and Waka Kotahi know what needs to be done.

We are vaccinated, masked, following all the health guidelines, prepared, willing and able, and we need to be allowed to get on with it.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand


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