Covid 19 coronavirus: Auckland Airport says rapid saliva testing at border key weapon

Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood says Covid-19 saliva testing, which is now an option for frontline workers, is a crucial part of the re-opening strategy.

And he welcomed the reconnection to the world framework released by the Government this morning, saying the staged approach is something the aviation sector had been advocating.

“Overall it’s great news for those who want to connect with family and friends – that’s about a third of the country,” he told the Herald.

Plans outlined would start with a trial this year of home isolation or shorter MIQ stays for selected travellers.

That would be followed by the phased resumption of quarantine-free travel in the future, although no firm times have been set.

The plan would eventually see three “pathways of travel” into New Zealand.

• For vaccinated travellers from low-risk countries, no isolation would be required.

• For vaccinated travellers from medium-risk countries (which would be subject to change) some isolation would be required – but it could be a shorter stay in MIQ or home isolation. A pilot will be run between October and December this year to trial that, and businesses and organisations which need to send staff overseas could apply.

• Unvaccinated travellers and all travellers from high-risk countries would still have to do 14 days in an MIQ facility.

Littlewood said the airport and others in the aviation sector had been pushing for saliva testing for staff as a quicker and less-intrusive way of monitoring their health.

The Ministry of Health this week set out changes to its required testing order which gives border workers the choice to provide saliva as a sample for surveillance testing for Covid-19 rather than undertake a nasal (nasopharyngeal) swab testing cycle.

This will be rolled out in a phased way over the next six weeks or so.

For those who choose saliva testing, there is no longer a requirement for them to have a swab as part of their testing cycle. They just need to participate in regular saliva testing to meet testing requirements, the ministry says.

The introduction of saliva testing will began yesterday and will provide people who have been experiencing discomfort and unease with the nasal and/or throat swab with an easier alternative option.

Saliva testing will be available to all border workers currently on a 7 and 14-day testing cycle.Once workers opt in to saliva testing (through their PCBU) they will no longer be on a seven or 14-day cycle but do a series of tests.

Typically, at a minimum, workers will need to undertake a series of two saliva tests at least two days apart instead of a single swab in any seven-day period. No swab test will be required as part of this new testing series.

Littlewood said rapid testing was crucial and the re-opening plans today – with heavy emphasis on the need for comprehensive vaccinations – gave the company further confidence to plan.

“We’ve been very clear on the vaccination programme – it’s given us comfort and now it’s giving us comfort that we can look through this with more certainty than we have in a long time.”

The airport and airlines were working closely with the Government on what systems and facilities needed to be set up at each stage of a journey to make travel safer.

“We need to clarify process around layers of protection.We’re working on that from pre-travel, en-route, the arrival and entry – it’s what makes the whole system work.”

Airlines in recovery mode

The Board of Airline Representatives saysairlines flying to New Zealand are keen to see work on the strategy to reopen New Zealand’s border continue – with an eye on what is happening internationally.

Patrick Whelan, acting executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives of New Zealand (BARNZ), says airlines are in recovery mode and will respond to flying where routes are reopening.

“We don’t want New Zealand to lose vital connections to the world for families and friends, businesses, and exporters,” he said.

“We will be following closely any requirements for proof of vaccination and testing before and after travel. Together with a higher rate of vaccination across New Zealand, it will be these things that provide an opportunity for the border to reopen, first to safe zone countries.”

Whelan said the aviation sector had, at huge financial cost, worked hard to keep the air border secure.

There are a daily average of just 21 international flights coming into the country. Of that number, 13 are dedicated to freight.

The latest Statistics New Zealand figures show that in the month of May, a total 91,299 people came across the border.

“The airline, airport and border system through to managed isolation (MIQ) is functioning well,” Whelan said.

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