Australian supermarket Coles has admitted that the spread of Omicron, combined with COVID-19 isolation rules, has impacted its supply chains once again.
Matthew Swindells, chief operations officer of Coles, said it was experiencing “round three” of supply chain disruption during the ongoing pandemic.
“If you recall, round one of COVID-19 was about toilet paper—essentially higher demand. Round two, when we had Delta was about team member isolations. And unfortunately, Omicron has brought both of those together,” Swindells told the Today program on Jan 5.
“We were facing a number of supply chain challenges already—shortage of pallets, shortage of truck drivers. We still managed to execute Christmas … and now we’re somewhat on the backfoot trying to make sure that we can keep the food supply lines going,” he said.
Swindells admitted that it would take “another couple of weeks” before supply chains normalise again and for the grocery retailer to “fully recover.”
“You might not find every product you’re used to. You might have to change the brand or buy a different pack size, but you can certainly still get a good food shop—so you won’t run out of food,” he said.
In September 2021, the spread of the Delta variant and forced isolation of staff saw shelves run empty at Coles and Woolworths supermarkets in Sydney and Melbourne—where the bulk of the Delta cases were found.
Australians even uploaded photos on social media of supermarket shelves devoid of fruits, vegetables, meats, bread, and dairy products.
However, the spread of Omicron has presented new challenges.
Late last year, Australian governments shifted their policy settings around handling COVID-19 towards “living with the virus,” focusing on high vaccination rates, testing, and prepping the hospital system for serious cases.
The move coincided with the onset of the Omicron variant, which has seen case numbers increase dramatically while hospitalisation numbers have grown at a much steadier pace.
At the same time, isolation rules for close contacts have caused difficulties for businesses and the health system, with a growing number of workers forced into self-quarantine after encountering COVID-positive individuals.
In late December, the federal and five state governments agreed to narrow the definition of close contact to ease pressure on PCR testing clinics and allow businesses to continue to operate.