Covid exemption for select workers after supermarkets stripped bare

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NSW Health has announced changes to workplace restrictions and transport services in a bid to ease the impact of the virus on critical services.

Critical workers in food logistics and manufacturing sectors furloughed as close contacts will be allowed to leave self-isolation on Sunday as long as they have no Covid symptoms.

Ensuring NSW continues to have access to essential goods prompted the decision. Earlier this week, shoppers posted numerous photos of bare shelves at Coles and Woolworths.

"Workers will only be eligible to leave self-isolation if their employer determines that their absence from the workplace poses a high risk of disruption to the delivery of critical services or activities, and they are unable to work from home," NSW Health said in a statement.

Empty shelves at Woolies and a Coles delivery truck.
Earlier this week, shoppers posted numerous photos of bare shelves at Coles and Woolworths. Source: AAP

The new rules will apply to the following:

  • Agriculture — biosecurity and food safety personnel undertaking critical duties

  • Manufacturing — production and manufacturing of food, beverages, groceries, cleaning and sanitary products

  • Transport, postal and warehousing — food logistics, delivery and grocery fulfilment

Close contacts in these sectors must wear a mask and comply with their employers risk management strategies including daily rapid tests.

Train and bus timetables will also be adjusted from Monday to help provide services while managing staff shortages.

Transport for NSW operations chief Howard Collins says enhanced weekend timetables will run across most of the network.

"Like many industries hit by Covid, there are currently hundreds of transport staff impacted and this number is expected to fluctuate going forward," he said.

A spokesperson for the Transport Workers Union (TWU) told Yahoo News Australia as many as a third of logistics and transport companies are unable to work on any given day.

If any worker tests positive for Covid-19, they must self-isolate immediately.

Staff shortages takes a toll on supermarkets

The move comes after shortages of goods were reported across the state due to essential workers identified as close contacts being forced to isolate.

The CEO of Woolworths, Brad Banducci, confirmed last week more than 20 per cent of staff in distribution centres and more than 10 per cent of in-store staff are absent due to Covid-19.

Mr Banducci said NSW was the most affected, though the whole of Australia has been impacted. He said it's not clear when things will return to normal as the state battles the Omicron surge.

Bare supermarket shelves
The shortages led Coles to reintroduce product limits on certain items. Source: Twitter

"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.

"This is because of the number of people in our supply chain in isolation – from suppliers to truck drivers and distribution centre team members – which in turn is causing material delays to store deliveries."

The shortages led Coles to reintroduce product limits on certain items.

On Sunday, NSW recorded over 30,000 new Covid-19 cases, however, it's likely the actual number of cases in the state is much higher, as the figure does not include positive rapid tests.

Infected people will be able to log their positive RAT results on the Service NSW app by mid-week, officials said.

With AAP

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