10 January 2022

National Cabinet to address close contact rules to ease supply chain pressures, fill empty shelves

| Lottie Twyford
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Empty meat shelves

Empty meat shelves at Supabarn Casey over the weekend. Photo: Kate Eliza.

Major supply chain issues across the country have meant bare shelves are once again becoming a reality for Canberrans attempting to purchase groceries.

This time, empty shelves are due to disruptions in the supply chain, primarily caused by the sheer number of employees required to quarantine or isolate as either positive COVID-19 cases or close contacts of a positive case.

According to reports received by Region Media, the majority of the supply issues are being felt more keenly in the major supermarket chains Woolworths and Coles.

They aren’t so noticeable at independent grocers, butchers and small supermarkets. Over the weekend, the stores at Fyshwick Markets were full of stock, with no evident disruption.

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In particular, Canberrans are reporting meat, fruit and vegetable sections that are sparse by mid-afternoon and entirely bare by the evening.

Last week, Coles supermarkets reintroduced purchase limits on meat in all states across the country, excluding Victoria.

Customers are allowed to buy a maximum of two packets of mince, chicken breast, chicken thigh and sausages.

KFC has also had to take several items off its menu in some locations around the country due to supply chain issues.

Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci told Everyday Rewards members in an email last Friday that it was clear the country had entered a “very different phase of COVID”.

“When you’re shopping with us at the moment, you might, unfortunately, have noticed gaps on shelf or substitutions in your online order,” he said.

“Unlike the surge buying of early 2020 (who could forget the toilet paper?), this is because of the number of people in our supply chain in isolation … which in turn is causing material delays to store deliveries.”

Mr Banducci has sought to reassure customers that they won’t be left hungry, but they may need to buy different brands depending on supply.

“There is enough product in our supply chain to meet the needs of our customers, [but] it might not always be their favourite brand,” he told the ABC.

Both major supermarket chains are expecting the disruption to continue for the next few weeks until the expected peak of the Omicron wave hits.

The supply issues affecting supermarket stocks are different from the issues affecting the supply of rapid antigen tests, which are unavailable due to short supply.

READ ALSO How to find a rapid antigen test in Canberra

NSW, Queensland and Victoria have recently all signed off on new close contact rules for food logistics workers deemed “essential” by their employers in a bid to combat empty shelves.

This morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison detailed a new set of national guidelines endorsed by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), which would allow close contacts in essential industries to come out of isolation to work if they are asymptomatic and fully vaccinated.

Checkout workers at supermarkets or anyone in a customer-facing role will not be allowed to return to work without isolating, and workers would still be required to return a single negative rapid antigen test.

“You cannot just shut everything down and lock everybody away, then there will be no food on the shelves, and there will be no children getting taught, and there will be no one providing healthcare,” Mr Morrison said.

The Prime Minister said that is not a practical way of moving forward.

The guidelines are expected to be endorsed by National Cabinet today.

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