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Freight drivers are refusing to deliver goods into South Australia and Victorian truckies are threatening a state border blockade to stop food supplies, in a backlash to restrictive new Covid-19 rules.
Industry leaders warned the State Government that urgent changes are needed to “unrealistic and unfair” snap testing directions implemented to combat the country’s deteriorating coronavirus crisis.
The government on Friday night condemned the “incredibly disappointing” blockade threats as South Australians rushed to get tested.
More than 35,000 Covid tests were taken in the state this week as Victoria plunged into its fifth lockdown linked to Sydney residents, including a removalist crew. SA Health on Friday night urged anyone who visited Victoria’s Philip Island between last Monday and Thursday to take an “urgent” Covid test.
Police stopping trucks at the Victorian border near Bordertown. Picture: Tom Huntley
NSW authorities this week also fought a rising tide of patients with the highly contagious Covid-19 Delta strain.
The three removalists, two of whom have contracted the Delta variant, travelled to McLaren Vale and then through Tailem Bend while infectious leaving hundreds in mandatory 14 days quarantine.
The Transport Workers Union urgently wrote to Ministers, SA Health and SA Police objecting to the “unfair impact” testing rules that Police Commissioner Grant Stevens authorised from 12.01am on Thursday.
Its letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Advertiser, warned it was “unrealistic” to expect the essential workers to take a Covid test within 24 hours of each border crossing.
TWU SA branch secretary Ian Smith warned this would leave scores of drivers needing multiple tests a week including those living within the 70km Victorian border bubble.
He called for more border testing stations and priority checks after reports some drivers were waiting up to five hours to get a test, ahead of crisis talks with senior health officials and police on Monday.
“As a result of the directions many local freight drivers are now refusing to transport freight into South Australia,” he wrote.
TWU SA branch secretary Ian Smith said the union had been told Victorian truck drivers were threatening to block supplies in SA. Picture: Roy Vandervegt
“We have been advised Victorian transport drivers are threatening a truck stockade at the border to stop supply of food into South Australia in order to gain the attention of the Premier (Steven Marshall). We are requesting urgent attention is given to this issue to avoid a blockade.”
Neither Mr Smith nor South Australian Road Transport Association executive officer Steve Shearer supported the blockade threats.
While both said the industry supported health advice, the previous once a week testing rules had already sparked an exodus of drivers critical to ensure ongoing supplies.
“These people have carried Australia during this pandemic,” Mr Smith said.
Mr Shearer said even a loss of between five and 10 per cent of drivers would trigger major freight shortages across SA.
“Despite 15 months of border crossings we have not had any Covid transmission until the recent removalists and the industry has been extremely safe,” he said.
A state government spokeswoman said officials understood the latest restrictions “are tough for the trucking industry, but they are necessary to keep our state safe and the economy strong”.
“The entire country is in this together, and for some Victorian transport drivers to be threatening a truck stockade at the border is incredibly disappointing,” she said.
“We thank all businesses, all industries and all South Australians for making collective sacrifices to keep our people safe … (which) are keeping our state from going into a lockdown.”
This article first appeared on www.adelaidenow.com.au
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