Confusion reigns over Covid self-testing plan for shippers in HCMC

By Vien Thong, Tat Dat   September 24, 2021 | 08:13 am GMT+7
Confusion reigns over Covid self-testing plan for shippers in HCMC
Shippers wait to be tested for Covid-19 in HCMC's Go Vap District, Sep. 20, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Many businesses have expressed unhappiness with the two options they have been given to organize rapid Covid-19 tests for their shippers, citing budgetary and employee retention concerns.

According to a new decision by the HCMC People's Committee, from Sept. 24- 30, delivery businesses using technology applications will have to carry out rapid Covid-19 tests for shippers, collecting samples of three persons at random every three days, and then update the results onto the city's general database.

The decision offers two options. In the first option, the Department of Health will provide free testing kits and businesses will have people trained to do the testing of their drivers. The second one will be a paid service contract between businesses and medical facilities providing the service.

On the evening of Sept. 21, Be was the first platform to confirm their plan. Its shippers would go to contracted testing points and access rapid testing provided flexibly during the day. The test would take one minute per person and results would be available in 30 minutes.

Other platforms said they were still preparing their plans. Grab and ShopeeFood said they were working closely with the authorities to come with a suitable process.

Many businesses said they find disadvantages in both options. The option of outsourcing services will increase their expenses and if they tried to share it with the shippers, that latter might quit in protest.

In the second option, the lack of medical expertise and necessary resources is a concern when rapid testing has to be done on a large scale with the free test kits. This carries the risk of improper testing methods, wasting test equipment and getting inaccurate results.

Several businesses have said that the option of getting free self-testing kits can only be practical for a firm with few shippers. Larger platforms with thousands of shippers would face huge financial burdens.

Large enterprises may reduce the number of participating shippers if they follow the second option. The ensuing demand-supply mismatch in delivery services would lead to high service fees. This could affect drivers’ livelihoods.

There is still no information about the testing plan after September 30 from the authorities. Businesses are, therefore, worried about unclear future regulations.

"Gojek hopes the local government will continue to support businesses with the rapid testing costs. It will be a huge burden if businesses have to pay for it on their own after a prolonged lockdown time," said a representative of the ride-hailing firm who did not want to be named.

According to data from the municipal Department of Industry and Trade, the total number of approved shippers from 34 businesses is 92,000. There are more than 400 mobile medical stations working from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thus, if each driver is tested every three days, each station would have to test 75 people per day on average.

The number of drivers operating in recent days could be much lower, about 50 percent of the above estimate. The Gojek representative said that 400 medical stations could fully handle the task with good coordination.

To avoid congestion at the testing points, delivery businesses could allocate shippers to test at specific times and locations to reduce the load on medical facilities and increase efficiency.

Several delivery platforms also believe that the frequency of rapid testing should be decreased, based on the current situation and vaccine coverage. They have pointed out that all qualified drivers have had at least one vaccine dose and some are fully vaccinated. Mass testing at a frequency of every three days may no longer be appropriate.

"In the long term, we will need to adjust the most appropriate timeline for periodic testing, depending on the situation of disease control and the actual infection rate in the community at a particular time," said Nguyen Hoang Trung, CEO of Loship.

Trung said that the test results could be valid for a week for the group receiving the first vaccine dose and for a month for those who are fully vaccinated. This would help avoid congestion and reduce the number of shippers at one testing point. "It will be more convenient for shippers, but we will still control the risks of infection in the community," he said.

The Gojek representative also supported the idea of prolonging the validity of rapid test results, also expressing appreciation that the HCMC administration has listened to businesses and continuously made policy adjustments to facilitate their work.

Of over 9,465 Covid-19 cases recorded in Vietnam on Thursday, 5,052 were in HCMC.

 
 
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