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Supply chains at risk amid confusion over COVID-19 tests for truck drivers

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The Australian trucking industry says state governments have adopted different COVID-19 test requirements that are causing confusion and chaos and could virtually shut down an industry transporting food, medicines and other essentials every day.

Australian Trucking Association chief executive Ben Maguire slammed state governments on Wednesday night, saying they had failed to provide convenient and accessible testing stations for drivers on major freight routes and at truck rest stops.

And he said the federal government might need to enlist the support of the military to provide COVID-19 testing on interstate freight routes 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Australian Trucking Association believes it is not clear whether COVID-19 testing is a requirement or a recommendation. It is also concerned about the opening hours of testing clinics and believes there is confusion about whether drivers need to self-isolate after being tested.

"Requiring truck drivers to self-isolate until they have results would mean they would have to spend up to five days a week waiting around for a text message," Mr Maguire said.

"Governments must, as a matter of urgency, put in place a clear system so drivers who undertake screening tests are not required to self-isolate," he said.

Mr Maguire said Western Australia and South Australia required some truck drivers to be tested, Queensland was encouraging truck drivers to be tested, while the situation in NSW was unclear.

"Transport for NSW last night [Tuesday] put out a press release saying truck drivers should be tested. Now no one knows what that means. We don't know if that's mandating," he said.

"We've got major fleets in our membership that are ringing major retailers this afternoon telling them that they can't supply. They're going to stop supply because they can't get enough drivers to comply with all the different border closures," he told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Noelene Watson, the managing director of Don Watson Transport, said she had heard repeated stories in the industry about drivers who had sought a COVID-19 test but could not get tested because they had no symptoms.

"I have 150 trucks, 150 drivers that have to travel the eastern seaboard. They are asking these drivers to be tested every seven days. Once they're tested they have to isolate until they get the testing back, which is usually between three to five days," she said.

"On a good scenario, if it was three days I would be down 50 per cent of my drivers. If it was a bad scenario, five days, I could be down 70 per cent of drivers. Which means the freight does not move," she said.

NSW does not require freight drivers carrying commercial freight across the border to self-isolate, subject to several conditions.

To be exempt from isolation requirements, workers who have been in Victoria in the past 14 days must be tested for COVID-19 every seven days. Also, freight carriers must obtain a permit from NSW and follow a safety plan at all times - including measures for social-distancing, hygiene and record keeping.

"Freight drivers who have been tested for COVID-19 are not required to self-isolate whilst awaiting these test results if asymptomatic," said a spokeswoman for NSW Regional Transport and Roads Minister Paul Toole.

The NSW regulations are designed to be consistent with the interstate freight protocol issued through the national cabinet on Friday last week.

The freight protocol said the "movement of domestic freight via heavy vehicles is critical to ensuring supply chains continue to operate smoothly and individuals, businesses and service providers can access the goods they need".

A spokeswoman for Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister Michael McCormack said the freight protocol was endorsed by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and outlines measures that all jurisdictions agree will allow freight to move safely and efficiently across borders.

The spokeswoman said the federal government was working closely with state and territory governments, regulators and industry to consider how best to implement the new measures, including "a number of practical issues around testing, reporting and any requirements for isolation of workers".

National cabinet is now working to develop the freight protocol into an enforceable code of practice.

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