Close contacts of Covid cases employed in critical supply chains will have their isolation requirements removed, in a bid to address labor shortages that have plagued the food industry.
Announcing a shake up of the isolation requirements on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the requirements would apply not to roles in direct contact with customers, but to those working in “critical supply chains” .
All states and territories except WA are expected to approve the changes on Monday, with NSW and Queensland already announcing similar changes over the weekend.
“Those who drive the truck to deliver the food, those who stack the shelves at night, those who are in distribution centers, those who are in slaughterhouses, those who are in manufacturing places that produce food”, Morrison mentioned.
The changes will bring the food distribution industry and emergency services into line with requirements that already apply in the health and elderly care sectors in some states.
Anyone who tests positive or symptomatic will not return to work.
The prime minister said the national cabinet would assess extending the relaxed isolation requirements to other sectors, including aviation and potentially hospitality, but disruptions to food supply chains and food services. emergency were to be dealt with “immediately”, before a national cabinet meeting on Thursday.
He also said the country now had no choice but to “pass” the Omicron wave, saying the alternative was a return to lockdowns.
“I mean, you can just shut everything up and lock everyone up, and there won’t be any food on the shelves, and there won’t be any kids learning, and there will be no one to. provide health care.
â€œSo this is obviously not a practical way to move forward. And so what we have done as a government has always sought to balance the various demands and pressures on the system with the health imperative. “
The new isolation changes have been approved by Australia’s Senior Health Protection Committee, which is made up of the State and Territory Chiefs of Health and Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly.
Kelly said discussions with Coles and Woolworths on Sunday indicated absenteeism was between 30 and 50% and that supermarkets “could not function under these kinds of circumstances.”
â€œSo these are the kinds of issues we face and we need to act quickly to take these risk-based approaches,â€ Kelly said.
â€œThis is a reasonable milestone compared to the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant and the expected high number of incident cases in the community, and with the majority of theseâ€¦ mild illnesses,â€ Kelly said.
â€œThe provision allowing for greater flexibility in balancing the need to reduce transmission and the detrimental loss of labor is an appropriate measure. “
Regarding the pressures felt by the hospitality industry and other businesses, Morrison said the government would be making changes “one step at a time.”
â€œAs the number of cases continues to increase, the volume of cases will of course have an inevitable impact on the workforce, and therefore we seek to maximize the number of people who remain in the workforce. “
New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said the government was focusing on issues in food supply chains but was aware of similar concerns in the hospitality sector which would also be taken into account.
â€œWe will work with our health teams on this, but we have to prioritize here and, at the end of the day, our number one responsibility is to keep people safe.
â€œBut as we go through this time, I expect other adjustments to be made as we’ve done from time to timeâ€¦ we’ve obviously been in contact with the hospitality industry and understand perfectly their concerns. “
With the peak of the Omicron wave still several weeks away, Morrison also said he was confident all states would resume face-to-face learning in the first trimester, and that he hoped states and territories would “harmonize their plans to return to school. â€.
â€œOur goal is to go back, to stay back, the first day, the first quarter,â€ Morrison said.
“The idea is that once we go back, we stay back and we get certainty around this issue, and so we’re going to be working on these issues this week and to get more certainty and harmonization between states. and the territories.
â€œThis is obviously a major issue for parents who are thinking about their children’s return to school in a few weeks.
Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary Phil Gaetjens is working with states to develop a cohesive approach, although Queensland has already indicated it will delay the start of the school year until February 7 for most students.
Kelly said the discussion about children and Covid was “difficult,” but stressed that the vast majority of cases among young people were mild.
â€œIt has to do with the balance between the broader aspects and the importance of face-to-face learning in schools with the risk of Covid,â€ Kelly said.
â€œThere are many other reasons why children should be in schoolâ€¦ in the broadest sense, including mental health, developmental health, physical health outside of Covid. So these are difficult things to tackle, but we speak through them. “
The vaccine rollout for children aged five to 11 also began on Monday, with the head of the government vaccine task force Lt. Gen. John Frewen insisting that appointments and supplies were available, despite reports that parents would have difficulty accessing vaccines.
He said there would be 2 million doses available by Jan. 21, with 8,000 places participating in the pediatric vaccination program.
â€œThe message is once again that there has been a very strong acceptance of reservations and I commend the parents for their determination and willingness to get their children to get vaccinated,â€ said Frewen.
“If there has been frustration with getting appointments for some, then please if you cannot get an immediate appointment with your primary health care provider if that is yours. GP, so please try pharmacies, please try state hubs.
“More bookings are coming online every day and there will be more and more opportunities in the weeks to come.”
Australia’s booster program is also underway, with around 250,000 injections daily.