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Victoria to change isolation rules to aid supermarkets

Coles
Major supermarkets say Victoria's isolation rules are putting a strain on their workforce as the state's COVID outbreak widens. Photo: Getty
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Victoria will make changes to COVID-19 isolation protocols as some supermarkets struggle to operate due to staff shortages.

Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed state cabinet had met supermarket management and foreshadowed an imminent revision of 14-day isolation rules for at least some staff.

“I understand that was resolved positively. We’re making some changes to those isolation protocols,” he said on Friday.

“I don’t have the details right now.”

They are expected to be confirmed later on Friday by Victorian health authorities.

AAP has contacted major chains Coles and Woolworths for comment.

Victoria had 1143 local virus infections on Friday, down from Thursday’s record 1438. It has nearly 11,000 active cases.

There were also three deaths on Friday, taking the death toll from its current outbreak to 44. They were a man in his 80s from Hume, a woman in her 70s from Alphington and a man in his 70s from Moreland, all in suburban Melbourne.

Both supermarket giants have pushed for changes to isolation requirements as thousands of workers have been affected as Victoria’s Delta outbreak has spread. The shortfall in staff has led to some supermarkets cutting their hours or even closing temporarily.

NSW has already amended its rules so that fully vaccinated supermarket staff are not generally required to isolate if they are determined to be close contacts of a COVID case.

Dozens of Woolworths, Coles and IGA supermarkets are among more than 600 exposure sites in Victoria.

Since the latest outbreaks began in NSW and Victoria, about 30,000 Coles staff have been required to isolate across both states.

Woolworths told the ABC 25,000 of its Victorian workers had been required to isolate in the past three months. None had subsequently tested positive.

Coles chief operating officer Matt Swindells wants national consistency across all states and territories ahead of lockdowns lifting.

“We have demonstrated that supermarkets are a safe place to shop and a safe place to work,” he told the Nine Network on Thursday.

“At the same time, we’re seeing a ramp-up in vaccination rates in our workforce. People are going to get vaccinated. The risk is diminishing. But the response is no longer proportionate.”

On Thursday, Woolworths conceded that the staff shortfall was “putting a strain on our store operations”. It called for the state government to make changes to contact tracing.

“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,” it said.

“We’ll continue to work closely with the Victorian government on these matters.”

Australian Food and Grocery Council CEO Tanya Barden said the issue went beyond supermarkets, calling it a “whole supply chain” problem.

“We’re worried that over the next coming months, there could be some workforce impacts that are going to result in reductions in production of food and grocery products which could impact on availability for consumers,” she told ABC News Breakfast.

She said employees in the food and grocery supply chain should be able to work if they were fully vaccinated, lacking symptoms and had returned a negative test.

-more to come

-with AAP