Seafarers currently self-isolating in England have been added to the list for priority COVID-19 testing so they can safely return to work.
The UK Department for Health and Social Care announced the decision on 24 April as part of its National Testing Strategy, which lists seafarers in England as essential workers. This means they can now order a home testing kit to be mailed to them or attend a regional test site drive-through appointment.
However, the government website for bookings was temporarily closed three hours after going live, on 24 April, as all available home testing kits were ordered. Currently, the site is back online but the only means of testing available is to visit a drive-through test site. The government is hoping to order more home test kits by the end of the month.
Employers can also refer employees for testing via a secure online portal. According to the testing strategy, the priority testing is also available for the people who live with essential workers and are showing COVID-19 symptoms.
Currently only seafarers self-isolating and showing symptoms of the virus can be considered for priority testing. The UK Department for Health and Social Care have advised that testing is most effective within three days of symptoms developing.
David Hammond, CEO of Human Rights at Sea suggested that, if kits become more widely available, that all seafarers operating in the UK’s international waters should have access to COVID-19 tests. “COVID-19 testing and PPE availability go hand-in-hand as essential measures to protect all national and international seafarers operating in and through UK territorial waters, including those going alongside in ports as part of basic rights of access to personal protections for their health and well-being, including medical care,” he added.
The Nautical Institute’s general secretary Mark Dickson welcomed the move and encouraged the government to make testing as widely available as possible. The union has lobbied for seafarers to be given priority testing since March.
“Seafarers have responded to the challenge of COVID-19 despite considerable risk to their own health and wellbeing. They should be given top priority for testing,” said Dickson.
The National Testing Strategy is for essential workers in England only and separate guidance’s have been issued for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.