Shoppers right across Australia are expected to be facing empty shelves in the supermarkets for several weeks as COVID cases continue to climb, forcing workers to isolate.
The current shortages, which have seen Coles introduce purchasing limits on meat items, appear to have spread beyond a few product lines, with photos showing empty vegetable, fruit, and meat aisles surfacing online.
The issue is thought to be industry-wide, as isolation requirement’s put significant pressures on workforces at both the distribution and the store levels.
Same Coles on different days during the last 2 to 3 weeks, Sunshine Coast.
Anyone else noticing that this is becoming a normal thing? Empty shelves in some parts also… pic.twitter.com/6nJXwqbo80
— Jett 🖤 (@Jett_B2211) January 3, 2022
To counter the effects of the current outbreak, which continues to see record cases in all states and territories, NSW Health has recently decided to bring isolation requirements for close contacts for food logistics workers in line with those of healthcare workers.
The new changes were announced on Sunday and will see “critical workers” in the agriculture, manufacturing, and transport and warehousing sector return to work after becoming close contacts so long as they take rapid antigen tests daily.
It’s a move that has been called “beyond reckless” by the Transport Workers Union who are urging the Prime Minister to meet with them and other unions to discuss the changes
“Sick drivers won’t get stock onto supermarket shelves any faster but it will certainly help the virus hitch a ride across Australia,” said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine in a statement.
“Workers are being thrown to the wolves by a government that continues to ignore all the warnings,” he said.
Union leaders are accusing the government of prioritising the economy over the health and safety of employees. However, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also made the announcement that critical workers can leave quarantine if they have a negative test, defending the decision by saying that some jobs need to happen in order to keep the country functioning.
“We need to keep the lights on, we need to keep the water supply going, we need to make sure our freight is moving and our food supplies go where they need to go to,” she told the media.
As supermarkets deal with the brunt of the issues, Coles Chief Operations Officer Matthew Swindells told the Channel 7 programme Sunrise that Omicron has created “the perfect storm” which will take “weeks to recover” from.
“With Omicron we’ve got all of it,” he said.
“We’ve got high absences, we’ve got low inbound supply, we’ve got low inventory levels coming out of Christmas and elevated demand.”
In an email to customers, Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci said that the supermarket was “experiencing COVID-driven absences of 20%+ in our distribution centres and 10%+ in our stores”.
NSW is currently the most affected state, however, impacts are being felt right across the country. “It’s not yet clear how soon the system will come back into balance as we move through the Omicron wave,” Banducci said.
Woolworths also explained that they have “more than enough” stock at the present, with “plenty more coming” however they have asked customers to be patient and accept that they might not be able to buy the exact products they might be after.