Fresh Fruit And Vege Back On Shelves As ‘Close Contact’ Rules Change
‘Critical supply chain’ workers
As transport and logistic workers are furloughed with Covid themselves, or by close contact isolation rules, along with a sweeping gust of panic buying, Aussie supermarket shelves are reflecting the brutal reality of "living with Covid".
With fresh food waste the likely outcome if the situation remains unresolved, Australian Fresh Produce Alliance chief executive Michael Rogers has warned a shortage of workers could see fruit and vegetables rotting in the fields.
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However, Monday’s announcement that the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has changed the definition of close contacts for those exposed to Covid working in critical food and grocery production, manufacturing, logistics and distribution facilities, was overwhelmingly met with welcomed relief.
“The measures that change requirements for close contacts which have been announced are very welcome because they put capacity back in the system, but it’s still going to be a very tight situation,” Mr Rogers said.
“The decision by Queensland, NSW and Victoria will put fruit and veg back on shelves in those states, the national guidelines go a long way to a nationally consistent approach."
- Michael Rogers
With the exclusion of WA, all states and territories, are expected to sign off on the changes.
“Those who are driving the truck to deliver the food, those who are stacking the shelves at night, those who are in the distribution centres, those who are in the abattoirs, those who are in the manufacturing places that are producing food,” prime minister Scott Morrison said at Monday’s press conference.
Providing context to the changes, chief medical officer Prof Paul Kelly said that discussions with Coles and Woolworths had indicated that staff taking leave due to Covid was between 30 and 50 per cent, and the supermarkets “could not operate in those sort of circumstances”.
“So that’s the sort of issues we’re dealing with, and we need to move fast to take these risk-based approaches,” Kelly said.
“This is a reasonable step in relation to the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant and the expected high number of incident cases in the community, and with the majority of those … mild illness.”
“The provision to allow greater flexibility in balancing the need to reduce transmission against the detrimental loss of workforce is an appropriate measure,” Kelly said.
Under the proposed changes anyone who tests positive or who is symptomatic will not return to work, while close contacts who test negative but are asymptomatic will be able to continue to work but be monitored using rapid antigen tests.
The rules, however, will not apply to frontline retail workers, including supermarket checkout operators.
It’s anticipated that supermarket shelves will begin to fill within the next week or two.
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