The national cabinet is set to approve changes to isolation rules for critical workers in New South Wales (pdf) and Queensland after it was approved by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
The new changes allow asymptomatic workers in critically essential roles that are not customer facing, such as food distribution, to leave isolation and continue to attend work.
It comes in response to bare supermarket shelves due to supply chain issues as many workers began self-isolating due to the CCP virus.
“As the case numbers continue to rise, the volume of cases will, of course, have an inevitable impact on the workforce. So we’re looking to maximise those who can remain in the workforce,” Morrison said.
The prime minister said it wasn’t practical to shut down everything and lock everyone at home, as there would then be no food on the shelves, no children getting taught, and no one providing healthcare.
“So what we have done as a government has always sought to balance the various demands and pressures on the system with the health imperative,” he said
Australian Industry Group said the new guidelines balanced the need to keep the economy functioning while factoring in health risks and should be adopted nationally as soon as possible.
“There is no doubt that the new less impactful variant and the response to it has seriously hobbled our economic recovery and prospects,” Ai Group CEO Innes Willox told The Epoch Times.
“The desire of some jurisdictions to shut down again for fear their health systems won’t cope will only lead to poorer long term economic outcomes. All state governments have had two years to prepare their health systems for what was going to be inevitable new waves of contagion.”
However, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) said it was a reckless decision that would threaten the health and safety of workers and exacerbate disruption within the supply chain.
“To rebuild a healthy workforce, we need to have isolation requirements and rapid testing working together—we can’t have one without the other,” TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said in a statement.
Another union, the Shop, Distributive, and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), said retail and warehouse workers should get priority access to free rapid antigen tests for their safety.
“This is a community health issue, and governments at all levels must support the health and safety of these essential workers as much to ensure families access to essentials as for the viability of the workforce,” SDA National Secretary Gerard Dwyer said.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said Australians need to accept that Omicron “is everywhere” and need to “just get on [with] our lives.”
“People in the food industry are isolating, of course, this causes problems in the delivery of a crucial outcome, which is groceries, but we’re dealing with that, and we’re making sure that we keep people at work because that’s how we keep food on the shelves,” Joyce told Seven network.