The TWU has called on the federal government to mandate for all passengers and air crew to take a rapid antigen COVID test before domestic flights.
The union has made the intervention after further Virgin Australia flights were designated as COVID exposure sites on Wednesday.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said, “Pre-flight antigen testing would limit the risk of transporting COVID to a breadth of Australian communities, given the greater chance of catching positive cases before passengers or crew board a flight.
“With results in as few as 15 minutes, positive results could be tested again to improve accuracy.
“This minor inconvenience is trivial in comparison to the disruption of snap lockdowns which damage the economy and put workers’ jobs on the line.
“National leadership on domestic aviation has been severely lacking from the federal government. Cabin crew have been subject to vastly different protocols in each state, but very rarely have any of those protocols included testing.
“The very nature of domestic air travel puts every state and community in Australia at risk of a COVID outbreak if we do not contain this and act responsibly.”
Antigen tests are less accurate than the standard PCR swabs but can deliver results in just 15 minutes.
The tests look for antigens (or proteins) on the surface of the COVID virus and don’t require specialist lab treatment like PCR tests.
Earlier this year, they were introduced at Heathrow Airport in London as a way to screen passengers before they travel. In the UK, “mass-testing” has been used to give people clearance to fly or attend large-scale events.
The call follows more Virgin flights being listed as exposure sites, including one sparked by an infected person who worked at the Prince Charles Hospital travelling to Townsville.
The new flights are:
- VA454 from Darwin to Brisbane on June 25;
- VA369 from Brisbane to Townsville on June 24, 10.10am – 12.15pm; and
- VA374 from Townsville to Brisbane on June 27, 1.18pm – 2.55pm
It comes after a Virgin Australia cabin crew member tested positive for COVID on Saturday night and had recently worked on flights between Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and the Gold Coast while likely infectious.
Earlier this week, Australian Aviation reported how the TWU called on the government to prioritise cabin crew for COVID vaccines.
“The inefficiency of the vaccination rollout, including the paucity of doses, has effectively pitted groups of critical workers to compete with each other for priority,” said Kaine. “This has resulted in the dangerous exclusion of frontline domestic flight crew.”
“The fastest way to ensure national lockdowns and a health emergency is to put unvaccinated people onto multiple flights across the country.
“We need a ramp-up of vaccinations for frontline cabin crew, we need rapid testing before and after flights, and we need national leadership on clear safety protocols and enforcement of those protocols.”
Kaine also attacked the way the limousine driver thought to be “patient zero” in the NSW outbreak has been “brutally scapegoated” for the “failed vaccination program and unaddressed gaps in biosecurity”.
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