Workplace COVID-19 testing for key sector employers – includes essential retail and agri-food staff

Workplace COVID-19 testing for key sector employers – includes essential retail and agri-food staff

Essential retail staff and agri-food workers can now access the national testing programme as part of a targeted expansion of asymptomatic testing.

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “As COVID-19 infections continue to fall and the vaccination programme continues to deliver at scale and pace, it is important that we do not lose sight of the need to continue to control this virus.

Emerge from lockdown

“If we are to emerge from lockdown, we need to use every instrument at our disposal to identify and target outbreaks that may occur across different parts of our society. New testing technologies make it possible to test at greater scale, frequency and pace than has previously been possible.

“In the early stages of the pandemic, the severity of some outbreaks led to some workplaces being temporarily closed. The rollout of workplace testing will help to prevent this by identifying asymptomatic positive cases and interrupting transmission of the virus.  This will benefit employers and society as a whole as it will help to keep infection rates down across Northern Ireland.”

Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs)

Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) will be used in the workplace testing initiative and will help in the expansion of asymptomatic testing across a range of settings in Northern Ireland.

Individuals with positive LFTs will have to isolate immediately along with their households.  They should then book a PCR swab test at their closest test site to confirm the result. Community contact tracing will be initiated on PCR confirmation.

The Minister concluded:“Asymptomatic testing initiatives are already operating successfully for staff and pupils in schools and universities, and for staff in Translink and NI Fire and Rescue Service.

“I am inviting private sector organisations who may wish to access the national testing programme to contact the Department to register their interest.  Details of the criteria for accessing the programme, and the sectors we are prioritising in the initial phase, are available on the Department’s website.”

Rules out smaller employers

Retail NI’s Glyn Roberts welcomed the move. “However its an initial step only includes businesses with more than 50 employees, and this would clearly rule out most independent essential grocery retailers being able to avail of the testing programme.

“Throughout the pandemic, many independent essential retailers and their staff continue to play a key role ensuring food and other products are available to all, particularly older and vulnerable people in our community.

“Retail NI will be seeking a meeting with the Minister to ensure all essential retailers and their workers will be able to benefit from this important programme.”

Private Sector

On the basis of the available evidence on infections in the workplace, the following four sectors of private industry have been prioritised for the first phase of the programme: agri-food, manufacturing, essential Retail and construction.

As part of the approach to critical infrastructure, the programme team will also consider food supply and distribution companies, logistics and distribution companies, and transportation companies.