Australian Supermarkets Run Short as Delta Forces Thousands of Workers Into Isolation

By Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
September 6, 2021 Updated: September 8, 2021

Shelves at major supermarket chains remain empty after thousands of workers were forced into self-isolation after coming into close contact with individuals infected with COVID-19.

Customers uploaded photos of Australia’s two largest supermarket chains—Coles and Woolworths—showing shelves devoid of fruits, vegetables, meats, bread, and dairy products.

One Twitter user wrote, “Coles in Katoomba is looking empty.” Katoomba is located in the Blue Mountains region on the west of Greater Sydney.

The current outbreak of the Delta variant in Sydney, which has been ongoing since mid-June, has seen the number of cases in the city reach 29,253, and 34,873 for the entire state of New South Wales (NSW) as of Sept. 21.

Last week, Brad Banducci, Woolworths CEO, said that 3,300 workers were in isolation across NSW and Victoria, which is currently dealing with its own outbreak of Delta.

“You may have noticed some gaps on the shelf this week, or substitutions in your online order,” he wrote in a letter to customers.

“Unlike 18 months ago, this is less to do with surges in customer demand (aka ‘the toilet paper wars’) and more because of the extra pressure on our Distribution Centres, with over 500 of those team members needing to self-isolate as close or casual contacts,” he added.

“The good news is that these team members, having tested negative, are starting to be cleared to come back to work.”

A Coles spokesperson confirmed that staff were in self-isolation to reduce the spread.

“As a result, we are experiencing reduced product availability in stores and online,” the spokesperson told Sky News Australia.

“We want to assure our customers that we have sufficient stock available in our network, and we are working hard to get these products out to stores as quickly and safely as possible.”

Federal Leader of the United Australia Party, Craig Kelly, wrote on Twitter, “NSW food distribution grinding to a halt with major supermarkets Coles and Woolworths struggling to overcome supply chain issues with 1000s of workers forced into self-isolation after being deemed close contacts.”

“You’d expect food shortages in communist countries NOT in SYDNEY,” he wrote in a separate post on Twitter. He also called for a relaxation of regulations around vaccines to include other antivirals.

Greater Sydney and NSW has been under extended lockdown since late June to contain the Delta variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.

The lockdown was originally slated to run for four weeks before it was extended twice—due to low vaccination and high infection rates—until Sept. 30.

Melbourne and Victoria are also attempting to combat the Delta variant; daily case numbers, however, continue to rise.