The Transport Workers’ Union is ramping up calls on the Federal Government to mandate rapid antigen pre-flight testing for both passengers and crew following more positive cases which add four more Virgin flights to exposure lists.
Rapid antigen tests which require a nasal swab can produce results within 15 minutes and have an average 72 per cent accuracy for people with symptoms and 58 per cent accuracy in non-symptomatic cases. Several antigen tests have already been approved for use in Australia.
London Heathrow airport introduced rapid antigen testing in October last year, and testing is available at dozens of airport terminals around the world including UK, USA, Ireland, Germany and Turkey.
The calls come as a passenger has tested positive after flying with Virgin from Brisbane to Townsville on 24 June and back to Brisbane on 27 June.
Another Virgin flight attendant who was isolating as a close contact has tested positive after working alongside a crew member who discovered she had contracted covid-19 on Saturday after servicing five flights across Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. The new case has caused two more flights to be added to the exposure list and put more Virgin staff into emergency isolation.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said more positive cases can be expected in the days to come.
“We are saddened but unfortunately not surprised to learn that there have been more positive cases on domestic flights. The Federal Government has inexplicably and irresponsibly ignored domestic aviation as a super-spreader industry. Domestic flight crew are still to this day missing from vaccine priority lists despite TWU members calling for eligibility for months, including repeated calls on Sunday following a positive test from a Virgin flight attendant.
“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,” said Kaine.
The TWU wrote to the Prime Minister on Sunday to call for cabin crew to have priority access to vaccines and pre-flight testing. Another letter will be sent today.