Covid 19 coronavirus border worker testing register: Government could have moved earlier, Hipkins admits

Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins has admittedthe Government could have moved earlier when it came to making the border worker testing register mandatory.

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing,” he told Q&A this morning.

The admission has drawn criticism from the National Party.

This is “incomprehensible incompetence,” Covid-19 response spokesman Chris Bishop said.

He said the fact the register had been in place since September last year and was only now becoming compulsory was not good enough.

But Hipkins said making the register compulsory when it was first unveiled would have been impractical.

“But we probably could have got to this point, where we are making it compulsory, before now.”

Last week, Hipkins made an order which made it mandatory for all border workers to use the Ministry of Health’s National Register to track Covid-19 testing.

But that order does not come into effect until later this month.

The new rules come after it was revealed that an unvaccinated security guard, working at the Grand Millennium MIQ facility, hadn’t received a Covid test since November.

That worker had told his employer, First Security, that he had been tested – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called this man a liar.

Pressure mounted on the Government to fix the issue and Hipkins announced the testing register would be mandatory.

But he said this morning the system was still somewhat reliant on frontline workers “doing the right thing”.

At this stage, 40 per cent of workers who have interacted with the border in some way were not regularly using the register.

“But [the register] will only tell us when someone has been tested – it won’t necessarily tell us when they needed to be tested,” Hipkins said.

At Auckland’s port, for example, hundreds of people will cross that a day and only a small number of those people will need to be tested, as they have come into contact with an incoming ship.

“We do have to rely on employers determining who of those people on the register need to be tested and when they need to be tested,” Hipkins said.

He offered up a hypothetical to illustrate his point.

“If somebody drives their car too fast and causes an accident that injures, or even kills someone; to say that that’s the Government’s fault because we didn’t have a speed camera on every street would be somewhat of a high threshold to set.”

In other words, his point was that there needs to be an element of personal responsibility from private frontline companies that are managing staff who interact with the border.

The alternative – whereby the Government tracked the movements of private employers’ interaction at the border – was akin to Big Brother, he said.

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