Woolworths, Coles bare as supply buckles under Omicron: 'Getting more serious'

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Frustrated customers have shared more images of empty supermarket shelves and complained online about a lack of products when trying to order groceries as Omicron forces critical workers into isolation. 

The disruptions to supplies is expected to last for the next two to three weeks as logistic companies are having a hard time moving stock around the country. 

A spokesperson for the Transport Workers Union (TWU) told Yahoo News Australia on any given day, logistic and transport companies were seeing as many as a third to half of their staff unable to work amid reports this week that 50 per cent of truck drivers had been forced off the road.

Woolworths shelves sit almost empty of fresh produce.
Shoppers have been sharing their surprise on social media after being faced with empty shelves. Source: Twitter

Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci has asked for understanding among customers in a statement on Thursday.

"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."

Mr Banducci said the supermarket giant was seeing Covid-driven absences of more than 20 per cent in distribution centres and more than 10 per cent among in-store staff. 

"NSW is currently the most affected, although we are seeing impacts across the whole country, and it’s not yet clear how soon the system will come back into balance as we move through the Omicron wave," he said.

The stress saw Coles reintroduce purchasing restrictions on certain items on Wednesday. 

Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci is pictured.
Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci has asked for understanding from customers. Source: AAP

'Choppy waters' for weeks ahead

Innes Willox, the CEO of the Australian Industry Group, says the situation is "getting more serious" as more people are furloughed for Covid reasons. 

"It's quite severe in some cases at the moment," he told RN Breakfast on Friday.

"What we're getting from a lot of business owners at the moment is asking customers to to be patient and understand that not all of what should be there, will be there."

On social media, Australians have been posting images of partially bare shelves, expressing their surprise at the lack of produce across stores.

Yahoo News Australia reported on the growing issue last week when a Woolworths worker warned of more delays to come. 

"A lot of people testing positive on the [RATs] and... waiting on PCR test results," they explained in a viral Reddit post. 

"It's only going to get worse in the coming days and weeks."

Mr Willox said there would be "choppy waters ahead" but said the information the peak industry body was receiving made it optimistic the shortages would ease in the next two to three weeks.

"The view is that we will probably go through some choppy waters for the next couple of weeks in terms of supply and distribution and then hopefully by the end of the month things will improve."

Industry hopes more rapid testing will get workers back sooner

Mr Willox said he had been "perplexed" by the lack of consideration for the use of rapid antigen tests in the national roadmap out of the pandemic. 

"Industry has been talking to governments – both federal and state – for months, going back to the middle of last year, around the need to prepare and utilise rapid testing," he said.

"We should have been better prepared, quite frankly, than we are now."

The TWU, which says it wrote to the prime minister in October about the need for a readily available supply of RATs, and the federal Opposition have laid much of the blame at Scott Morrison's reticence to supply home testing kits for workers and the public. 

"Workers can't go to work. Businesses are closing. Supermarket shelves are emptying," Labor leader Anthony Albanese tweeted Friday. 

"This is what happens when the government fails to plan ahead."

Former TWU national secretary and NSW senator Tony Sheldon also took aim at the PM. 

"Scott Morrison's refusal to provide rapid antigen tests means food off the shelves at your local grocery," he said Thursday. 

"We need truckies back on the road, and truckies need rapid tests to get back to work safely."

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