Transport and food workers exempted from isolation to fix supply chain crisis

Scott Morrison in Canberra on Thursday.

Scott Morrison in Canberra on Thursday.

All workers in transport, freight and logistics will be allowed to skip COVID isolation and return to work after a negative test result, in a bid to fix critical supply chain issues that are leaving supermarket shelves bare.

National cabinet has again expanded the list of workers who won’t need to isolate if they are close COVID contacts.

It comes as workforce shortages of up to 50 per cent in some industries cripple supply chains and threaten essential industries such as energy, waste and telecommunications.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, speaking at a press conference in Canberra on Thursday following the meeting of state and territory leaders, said the exemptions would also be expanded to all workers in many more industries nationwide.

Employees in healthcare, emergency services, law enforcement, energy, resources, water, waste management, food distribution, telecommunications, broadcasting and media, and education and childcare will be allowed to skip quarantine, if they return negative test results.

Ahead of the return of the school year, Mr Morrison said national cabinet had agreed that classroom returns should be prioritised. He said the leaders’ meeting had agreed to the principle that schools “should be first to open and last to close wherever possible, and face-to-face learning prioritised”.

However, he said leaders were still considering whether to give regular rapid antigen tests to children and staff in schools, with states “working through some arrangements” ahead of further discussions next week.

Mr Morrison said he hoped exploding COVID case numbers around the country were nearing a peak, and stressed the importance of vaccination and booster shots.

“The goal is not to stop everyone in the country getting COVID,” the PM said.

“The goal is to protect our hospitals and keep our society and economy functioning as we ride this latest wave of Omicron.”

Earlier in the day, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced his state would further relax isolation rules for essential workers. The changes, effective from next Tuesday, allow workers in emergency services, education, critical utilities, custodial facilities, transport and freight to skip isolation if they are close contacts but record negative rapid test results.

Such workers will have to get tested five days in a row, wear masks at all times, and both employee and employer must consent to them returning to work. The worker must be “necessary for continuity of operations”, can’t use shared break areas, and employers must take “reasonable steps” to deploy the worker in lower-risk transmission areas.

If eventually testing positive, the worker must cease work.

More to come.

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