A quarter of the workforce in high-risk industries such as abattoirs and supermarkets will be tested every week for coronavirus as part of the plan for Melbourne to emerge from lockdown.

Infectious disease experts also want coronavirus testing expanded to those who have visited exposure sites, regardless of whether they have symptoms, to continue suppressing the disease as restrictions are relaxed.

More testing is being planned.Credit:Justin McManus

Health officials are also asking rideshare drivers in Melbourne’s south-east to get tested for COVID-19 even if they don't have symptoms after a cluster emerged in Casey this month.

Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed on Wednesday that “surveillance testing” would be rolled out for asymptomatic workers in high-risk industries.

Medium and large employers in the meat, seafood processing, poultry, supermarket and refrigerated distribution sectors will be asked to test a quarter of their workforce each week.

But Catherine Bennett, the chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, said asymptomatic testing should also be offered to people who have visited potential exposure sites.

These sites are regularly updated on the Health Department’s website and can include supermarkets, food outlets and train stations.

“I would think we are at a point now where people who were there without symptoms could be tested,” Dr Bennett said. “That's where I’d like to see the asymptomatic testing come in.”

She said targeted asymptomatic testing and screening of high-risk workplaces would help Victoria adjust to a “COVID normal” and drive up testing rates as case numbers remained low.

University of Melbourne professor of epidemiology Tony Blakely said testing resources could be redeployed as the number of cases declined and all those considered close contacts were being tested.

AKD Softwoods chief executive Shane Vicary led the community response to coronavirus infections in Colac. Credit:Jason South

The south-west Victorian town of Colac has fought to contain two large outbreaks in recent months. One outbreak was connected to the Australian Lamb Company abattoir while the other was linked to the Bulla Dairy Foods.

Shane Vicary, chief executive of AKD Softwoods in Colac, said asymptomatic testing could prove crucial in preventing outbreaks in large workplaces that had the potential to spread rapidly in the town.

Mr Vicary said he would welcome asymptomatic testing at his workplace, which has had one case of coronavirus earlier this year that was prevented from spreading any further.

“If we can prevent the next outbreak we can protect our freedom,” he said.

Mr Vicary, who was central to a community campaign to contain the virus, described asymptomatic testing in high-risk workplaces as a “preemptive strategy” much like precautionary cholesterol tests when visiting a doctor.

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