COVID-19 isolation rules eased in Victoria

COVID-19 isolation rules eased in Victoria

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NEW RULES: Health Minister Martin Foley has announced an easing of coronavirus close contact rules for workers in the food manufacturing, packing and distribution sector.

NEW RULES: Health Minister Martin Foley has announced an easing of coronavirus close contact rules for workers in the food manufacturing, packing and distribution sector.

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Victoria will ease isolation rules for food processing workers from Thursday.

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Victoria has joined NSW and Queensland in easing COVID-19 isolation rules for food processing workers.

Vaccinated food workers, with no symptoms, will be allowed to go back to work from midnight on Wednesday, even if they have had close contact with someone with coronavirus.

The government announced the changes, in response to growing food shortages in supermarkets across Victoria.

Read more: COVID isolation rules eased for food workers

"We would expect the peak of Omicron cases to be in late January to early February," Health Minister Martin Foley said.

"That's why these measures are so important when it comes to vaccine mandates - and other social measures - and trying to restrict our movements as much as we can, while taking the measures we need to take to keep our critical services open and operating, while we get through a profoundly difficult January."

Mr Foley said the situation would be "actively monitored".

Asymptomatic close contacts, in food manufacturing, packing and distribution will be able to return to work, rather than isolate for seven days, as long as they return a negative test.

They will also be required to undertake rapid antigen tests for five consecutive days.

In addition, face coverings must be worn, using N95/P2 respirators if possible.

Both the worker and workplace must consent to the worker's return.

Mr Foley said third dose vaccines had been mandated for workers in critical sectors.

On Monday, Victoria recorded a rise in COVID-19 hospitalisations to 818, with 34,808 new cases and two deaths.

Mr Foley said 93 per cent of all Victorians were now double dosed.

Alongside healthcare, aged care, disability and emergency services workers, food distribution, freight and port workers would now be required to get their third dose within the next two months.

"All of these groups are already covered by existing mandates for those first two vaccinations and this is a sensible addition for the relatively high-risk nature, that these sectors operate in when it comes to vaccine protection and of course their critical contribution to keeping Victoria operating."

If workers were already eligible for the booster, at, or before January 12, they would have a month to get the third dose.

Abattoir, meat, poultry and seafood processing workers would have to get their third dose by March 12.

Mr Foley said the new close contact isolation exemption for asymptomatic food distribution workers is similar to the arrangements already in place for critical healthcare workers.

"This is a sensible extension of our existing vaccination requirements - ensuring our critical workers and the vulnerable community members they look after are protected," he said.

"Victoria is open and the community is encouraged to support businesses in a COVIDSafe way."

Acting Chief Health Officer Professor Benjamin Cowie said the new guidelines covered workers in the manufacturing, distribution and packaging of food and beverages, including freight, transport, logistics, warehousing and storage.

"They won't be able to enter shared break areas, and employers will have to make a reasonable effort they can take breaks separate from other workers, not subject to these provisions."

Coles welcomed the announcements from the Victorian, NSW and Queensland governments to exempt essential workers in the food production and logistics sectors from requirements to isolated.

"Recent increases in COVID case numbers in the community have required more people to isolate, which has impacted the availability of labour throughout the food supply chain," a spokesperson said.

"At a time when inventory levels were already reduced in the post-Christmas period, our distribution centres are receiving fewer inbound deliveries and we have fewer team members available to process and dispatch stock to our stores.

"Meanwhile demand is elevated as customers choose to eat more meals at home to reduce their exposure to the rest of the community."

The new measures, which are subject to stringent safety protocols including the use of rapid antigen testing, would support Coles to deliver more of the food and essentials our customers need to our stores across Australia.

A Woolworths spokesperson said it was expected it would take a few weeks for supply to improve, due high COVID-related absences across the supply chain from distribution centres, to our transport partners' drivers and, in meat and poultry suppliers' production facilities.

"As a result, our stores may have reduced availability of some products at points throughout the day before they receive their next delivery," the spokesperson said.

"Deliveries continue to arrive daily and we're doing all we can with our suppliers to restock our shelves as quickly as possible, with a particular focus on fresh food and essentials lines.

"We expect to see availability improve over the coming weeks."

While there were more gaps on shelves than usual, Woolworths had enough stock coming through the network for customers to a family shop.

Supply impacts were greatest in New South Wales

Woolworths Group had a number of distribution centres in areas of high community transmission.

Some distribution centres were experiencing higher than usual absenteeism of more than 20 per cent due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in the community.

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