News Coronavirus Fears Victoria’s virus shutdown will hit national food supply
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Fears Victoria’s virus shutdown will hit national food supply

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Victoria’s stringent six-week coronavirus lockdown might also mean food shortages elsewhere in Australia, industry experts have warned.

Large swathes of the state’s manufacturing will be forced to close under Stage 4 virus measures imposed from Thursday, while others – including all Victorian meatworks – will have to scale back production.

Food production, including seafood, dairy, fruit and vegetable processing businesses, can remain open under the state’s harsh measures.

But centres will be able to work at just two-thirds of their usual capacity across Victoria as the state moves to limit movement of residents by keeping as many people as possible at home.

The workplace measures will apply across the whole state, not just in metropolitan Melbourne, where most of the toughest measures have been imposed.

Victoria reported another 439 new COVID infections and 11 deaths on Tuesday, taking its toll from the pandemic to 147.

All of the deaths overnight were connected to aged-care facilities.

On Tuesday, Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said shortages of meat in coming weeks were all but certain.

“We’re still trying to figure out what it’s going to look like,” he told Melbourne’s 3AW radio.

But he said it was “obvious” less meat would be produced, if there were fewer people working.

Meatworks have been a source of major Victorian coronavirus outbreaks during the pandemic.

In the early days, an outbreak at Cedar Meats, in Melbourne’s west, grew to more than 100 infections. More recently, there have been widespread clusters at abattoirs and meat processing plants in the city and regional Victoria.

Outbreaks in Victorian meat plants (as of Tuesday)

  • 155 cases linked to Bertocchi Smallgoods, Thomastown
  • 133 linked to Somerville Retail Services, Tottenham
  • 86 linked to JBS, Brooklyn (Monday’s figure)
  • 78 Australian Lamb Company, Colac
  • 25 linked to Golden Farms Poultry, Breakwater
  • 27 linked to Ingham’s, Thomastown

On Monday, Premier Daniel Andrews said the restrictions at meatworks – which will also involve workers wearing full protective equipment – were “a proportionate response to the risk that that industry poses”.

He acknowledged the sector was critical “in keeping Victorians fed and indeed, the nation fed” and said it was hoped production would still be able to give people access to products.

“I can’t guarantee that every single product at exactly the volumes that you might like to buy will be there, but there will be enough for people to get what they need – not necessarily what they want, but what they need,” he said.

Across Melbourne, panic-buying returned in many supermarkets on Sunday, ahead of Mr Andrews’ announcement of curfews and stricter lockdowns for metropolitan area.

The major supermarkets moved swiftly to limit the number of meat products customers can buy.

Coles customers can buy only two packets of mince meat, chicken breasts and chicken thighs in one purchase, while Woolworths has imposed similar limits.

“We ask that you only buy what you need to ensure everyone in our community can purchase the products they need,” Coles Group chief executive Steven Cain wrote in an email to customers.

“Based on current buying behaviour, we will review these limits daily.”

On Tuesday, Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra told the Seven Network  the state had little choice but to act on the devastating COVID outbreak.

“We have to control the spread. Whilst every business owner is waking up this morning wondering what it means for them, nobody is happy about this, but ultimately we understand this needs to be done,” he said.

Mr Guerra said there would be supply in the food chain for a few weeks, adding people did not need to panic-buy.

Despite the pleas, reports of supermarket shelves being stripped – particularly of meat – continued on Tuesday.

Other manufacturing sectors will have to close entirely because of the restrictions, including fabricated metal products, furniture, wood product, textiles and leather tanning.

Elsewhere, Woolworths will convert three Melbourne supermarkets into online hubs to meet an expected surge in demand during the six-week shutdown.

Its Dandenong Plaza, Watergardens South and Mountain Gate supermarkets will close to in-store customers on Tuesday night.

“It’s an uncertain time for many in Melbourne and this will ensure we have the delivery capacity to support the essential grocery needs of many more customers online,” Woolworths Supermarkets Victorian general manager Andrew Hall said.

-with AAP