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AFGC calls for consistent national approach to COVID isolation for essential workers

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), the peak body representing food and grocery manufacturers, says nationally consistent rules for managing COVID close contacts among essential workers are urgently needed as supply chains and supermarkets face their greatest challenge since the start of the pandemic.

AFGC CEO Tanya Barden welcomes moves by the NSW, Queensland and Victorian governments to relax isolation requirements for some close contacts of COVID-19 cases, following representations from the AFGC, which are vitally important in addressing workforce reductions of 40 per cent or more suffered by businesses trying to maintain supplies of essential items.

“However, we urge all state and territory governments to develop a uniform approach that will allow asymptomatic workers to return to their critically important jobs, subject to strict controls to protect public health, so that they can continue the work of supplying food and groceries to the nation,” said Barden.

Barden welcomed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement of moves to prioritise the endorsement of new arrangements for workers in critical supply chains at National Cabinet ahead of Thursday’s scheduled meeting of the national body.

“I understand that the Commonwealth has been working with states on this issue following National Cabinet last week,” she said.

“However for these arrangements to be effective, there needs to be either priority access to Rapid Antigen Tests for daily testing of food and grocery manufacturers or a more pragmatic approach such as the Day 6 testing in Queensland.”

Barden said the same approach to consistent rules and access to testing must include all food and grocery production (such as personal care and cleaning products) as well as key supply chain inputs such as packaging companies and ingredient suppliers, without which food and grocery manufacturing will simply stall.

The AFGC was also awaiting details of Mr Morrison’s recommendation that small to medium-sized businesses be relieved of the burden of undertaking testing of staff, Barden added.

The AFGC on Friday took a proposal to the federal government outlining measures to mitigate the risks of household contacts transmitting the COVID-19 virus while continuing to work. Those measures include:

  • Workers travelling directly to and from work, wearing masks if on public transport or in the company of others
  • Workers wearing masks at work and other PPE and comply with companies’ COVIDsafe plans – plans which have already demonstrated their effectiveness at minimising transmission of the virus
  • Workers remaining asymptomatic for the duration of the seven-day period following their close contact with a COVID-19 case
  • Regular testing using RAT, with supplies made available by government, with a positive result requiring a worker to immediately self-isolate to comply with public health orders. Where RAT is not possible, a more pragmatic testing approach is required.

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