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Some Victorian supermarkets to close as industry calls for contact tracing changes

Australia’s major supermarket chains have called on the Victorian government to bring the state’s contact tracing programs in line with NSW as closures loom for multiple stores across the state because of skyrocketing case numbers.

Supermarkets across Victoria are frequently listed as exposure sites after being visited by someone with COVID-19. Under current protocols, workers at tier-1 sites are required to self-isolate for 14 days, putting a huge strain on the supermarket’s already stretched workforce.

This has led to numerous stores reducing their trading hours or even closing entirely until the supermarkets can staff them again, and the major chains have warned the rate of closures will get worse in coming weeks and food supply could be at risk if changes to the isolation protocols are not made.

Currently, 24 Woolworths supermarkets across the state are tier-1 exposure sites and the supermarket is at risk of closing five stores by this weekend due to staff shortages. It recently reopened a store in Coburg after it was forced to shut. Meanwhile, Coles has had to reduce trading hours at 15 stores, including Port Melbourne and Point Cook.

A spokesman for Coles told The Age around 30,000 workers have been required to isolate since the beginning of the state’s Delta wave, though not one of them had subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.

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Similarly, a Woolworths spokesman said the company currently had over 1000 Victorian workers isolating, which was putting a strain on store operations. It also had reported no subsequent COVID cases in its workforce after a tier-1 exposure.

“Making some sensible, risk-based adjustments to contact tracing would go a long way in helping us maintain essential supply and service to the Victorian community,” the Woolworths spokesman said.

Supermarkets want Victorian rules brought in line with recently amended rules in NSW, where fully vaccinated workers in essential industries are generally not required to isolate as a result of casual contact with a positive case and supermarkets can manage their contact tracing.

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