Australia is easing its coronavirus-related restrictions to allow food industry workers who have come into contact with someone infected with COVID to keep working.
Australia had had a strict policy of mandatory isolation for anyone who had come close to anyone who was infected, as determined by COVIDSafe, a phone app that detect contacts with Bluetooth signals. The federal government announced Jan. 10 that this policy will be relaxed for workers in “critical supply chains,” which include the food industry.
“Those who are driving the truck to deliver the food, those who are stacking the shelves at night, those who are in the distribution centers, those who are in the abattoirs, those who are in the manufacturing places that are producing food” will be affected by the change, prime minister Scott Morrison announced. Those in “customer-facing roles” will still be subject to the contact-isolation rules. Anyone who tests positive for COVID or shows symptoms will still have to isolate.
Coles and Woolworths, two of Australia’s largest supermarket chains, have absenteeism rates as high as 50%, the country’s chief medical officer told the Guardian, and they “could not operate in those sort of circumstances.”
Morrison is trying to thread the needle between getting the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus under control, and allowing society to function: “I mean, you can just shut everything down and lock everybody away, and there will be no food on the shelves, and there’ll be no children getting taught, and there’ll be no one providing health care,” he said. “So that’s obviously not a practical way to move forward.”