Woolworths may close stores as Covid-19 puts 'strain' on staff numbers

Woolworths could be forced to close dozens of supermarkets with fears Covid-19 is affecting stores nationwide as staff are forced to self-isolate.

A Woolworths spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia more than 1000 staff members in Victoria had been forced to self-isolate due to coronavirus.

“It's putting a strain on our store operations,” the spokesperson said.

"A small number of stores have been forced to reduce their trading hours, and one temporarily closed earlier in the week.”

A man wears a face mask as a preventative measure against corona virus at a checkout in a Woolworths supermarket in Coburg, Melbourne.
There are concerns of staffing shortages for Woolies due to staff having to self-isolate. Source: AAP

The supermarket giant was forced to close its Coburg Station store in Melbourne’s north on Wednesday. In total, 24 Woolworths stores are listed as Tier 1 exposure sites.

Under Victoria’s health orders, anyone who visits a Tier 1 exposure site has to self-isolate for 14 days and get tested for Covid-19.

Such is the difficulty in navigating Covid with staffing, Yahoo News Australia understands Woolworths is at risk of being forced to close more stores because staff are being forced to self-isolate.

"Making some sensible, risk-based adjustments to contract tracing would go a long way in helping us maintain essential supply and service to the Victorian community,” a Woolworths spokesperson said.

"We'll continue to work closely with the Victorian Government on this."

People are seen lined up waiting to go through the checkout inside Woolworths at Mt Gravatt in Brisbane.
People line up at a Woolworths checkout in Brisbane in January. Source: AAP

It is also understood that of 25,000 instances in Victoria where Woolies staff members have been forced to self-isolate in the past three months none have gone on to test positive for coronavirus.

Last month, Woolies’ Cecil Hills and Fairfield supermarkets in Sydney were temporarily closed and moved to online only.

It’s expected Coles is suffering similar issues. Yahoo News Australia reached out to Coles to see how its operations are coping.

Concerns for supermarket supply ahead of Christmas

Staff shortages due to Covid could affect the supply of groceries up until Christmas though, according to the Australian Food and Grocery Council.

CEO Tanya Barden said in a statement the industry is struggling with supply because staff cannot attend work.

“We need to ensure that close or casual contacts who are double vaccinated and return a negative PCR test can return to work,” she said.

“There is already pressure in supply chains, with lots of staff in quarantine due to being deemed close contacts. This could have an impact on product availability.”

Ms Barden is concerned the next few months is when supermarkets build stock ahead of Christmas time.

She also expects many shoppers will be out and about with a “strong” Christmas trade over the holidays if lockdowns have ended by then.

The front entrance of a Woolworths supermarket which is practising social distancing rules.
The entrance of a Woolworths supermarket in Melbourne with barriers to enforce social-distancing. Source: Getty Images

The plight of Australia’s retail workers

Supermarket staff and retail workers have been under immense pressure throughout the Covid-19 pandemic since it began early last year.

There have been stories of supermarket workers fearing for their own safety due to hysterical shoppers panic-buying.

One Woolies staff member resorted to wearing a badge to stop people verbally abusing him.

A shopper wearing a face mask inside a Woolworths shop in Sydney.
A woman shops at a Woolies in Sydney. Source: AAP

Some people have not responded well to QR code check-ins with staff members, some children in their mid to late teens, copping verbal abuse for asking shoppers to comply with them.

Police in NSW have been called in to help ensure shoppers comply.

“There is no reasonable excuse that members of the wider community are not adhering to current health orders and using the QR check-ins and wearing face masks,” NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said in August.

“NSW Police Force will have a zero-tolerance approach to members of the public and businesses breaching these orders.”

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