Vaccinated food workers with no symptoms will be allowed to go back to work despite being close contacts of those with COVID-19 under new moves designed to halt the growing food shortages in supermarkets across Australia.
The red meat processing industry was the first to highlight the looming food supply shortages and says the liberalising of the rules, announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday, will make a big difference.
The new set of national guidelines, endorsed by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, will allow close contacts who work in supply chain industries to come out of isolation if they are fully vaccinated and without symptoms. It will be up to the state governments to implement the guidelines, which will extend to processing, food production and distribution, as well as emergency services.
Mr Morrison said the changes would not apply to customer-facing employees such as those working on checkouts.
"It's for those who are driving the truck to deliver the food, those stacking the shelves at night, those in the distribution centres, those who are in the abattoirs, the manufacturing places that are producing food, all of those now caught up in those new critical supply chain rules and we are looking to extend those to other sectors," Mr Morrison said.
"As the case numbers continue to rise the volume of cases will of course have an inevitable impact on the workforce and so we are looking to maximise those who can remain in the workforce."
Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said the move would make a big difference in terms of the supply of beef and lamb.
Mince was one of the first items Coles put purchase limits on last week.
"The situation will now be managed by employers working closely with staff to ensure responsible and common sense action prevails," Mr Hutchinson said.