Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Covid Infected Vessel Heads for Western Australia as Legislation Tightens

National Policy of Exclusion is Starting to Show Cracks
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – While much of the rest of the world generally opted for vaccination, the Australian government settled for a policy of exclusion when it came to Covid 19. Now however, with the pandemic taking a grip on a largely unprotected populace, things are changing, with mandatory protection for transport, freight and logistics workers travelling from or through 'high' or 'extreme' risk jurisdictions to enter Western Australia.

The pronouncement, from the WA government, came just before news that the Stolt Sakura, an oil and chemical tanker, is due to arrive in Fremantle on Friday 31 September carrying a 22 strong crew with at least half of those already testing positive for the disease. The news will doubtless inflame the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) when it has time to react.

The MUA has persistently pointed out the weaknesses in the country’s defences at seaports and, coupled with the news that people have been caught using false documents to enable them to attend sports events in the state, the cracks are beginning to show. The AFL Grand Final last week tempted some to break quarantine which afterwards saw all Victorians banned from entering WA with just federal and state officials including parliamentarians and diplomats, allowed in.

Returning WA residents who complete the mandatory 14 days quarantine in Victoria face a further fortnight of isolation at a ‘suitable premises. At the time of writing less than 43% of the country’s populace have been fully vaccinated.

Not that the latest legislation to vaccinate those vital workers is exactly being rushed. From 12.01am, October 24, transport, freight and logistics workers will need to have had at least their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to enter WA if they have travelled through a 'high' or an 'extreme' risk jurisdiction. These workers will need to be fully vaccinated within two months of their first dose, which means they must have received their second dose by 12.01am December 24.

Each day, there are about 300 crossings of the Western Australian border by transport, freight and logistics workers. Many of these workers are from WA, while some are based in other States and Territories. Regardless of where a worker lives, the Directions will apply to them if they have transited through a 'high' or an 'extreme' risk jurisdiction within 14 days of entering WA.

The Directions include, but are not limited to, freight truck drivers, pilot/support vehicle drivers, ‘removalists’, rail drivers and rail support crew, where these employees are required to travel from or through a 'high' or an 'extreme' risk jurisdiction for work.

In addition to the mandatory vaccination requirement, these workers must also wear a facemask when in public, show proof of a negative Covid-19 test result or undertake a Rapid Antigen Test at the WA border and if they are staying in WA, they must comply with the regular testing regime until 14 days has passed. It will be the responsibility of employers to collect and maintain records of vaccinated workers. Premier of WA, Mark McGowan, said:

"The transport, freight and logistics workforce is by its nature highly mobile with truckies and other workers visiting numerous places during the course of their work. I have a lot of admiration for the work of people in transport, freight and logistics, who do an incredible job each and every day.

"Throughout the course of the pandemic they've continued work to ensure Western Australians could continue with their livelihoods and keep the State's economy ticking over. Being on the road day in day out brings with it risks, and that is why is it important we've followed the health advice to ensure this workforce gets vaccinated against Covid-19.

"We have already seen instances where truck drivers from places like New South Wales, which is currently at an 'extreme risk' setting has incidentally carried Covid. We can never be too vigilant in our efforts to keep this deadly virus out of Western Australia and so I strongly encourage everyone to get their Covid vaccine now and let's get our vaccination levels up."

It is notable that Mr McGowan didn’t refer to ports in his comments, places seen by such as the MUA as particular weak spots. The Directions additionally provide exemptions for unvaccinated transport, freight and logistics workers, for approved medical reasons. StateTransport Minister Rita Saffioti commented:

"It is vital that our transport, freight and logistics workers, who do a remarkable job keeping our State running and supply chains moving, are vaccinated against Covid-19. This is to protect these workers, their family and networks, the community, our industries and the economy.

"On the advice of our Chief Health Officer, the mandate for transport, freight and logistics workers coming into Western Australia from a 'high' or an 'extreme' risk location to be vaccinated, is a proportionate and appropriate response in the ongoing effort to keep WA safe. Of course, we would like all workers in this important industry to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated, and I'd urge them to do so."

In addition to the approaching tanker, all 21 aboard an Antonov Airlines military flight which arrived at Perth from an RAAF base in Queensland on September 28 were quarantined after one person aboard was found to be infected during the flight after testing on departure.