The Government should review stand-down periods for close contacts, the definition of a close contact, and enable businesses to readily access rapid antigen testing, says Katherine Rich.

Doing this will help ensure New Zealand’s food and grocery supply chains continued to operate seamlessly through the Omicron wave of the pandemic.

“Factory closures are inevitable if the current framework and stand-down periods for close contacts of COVID-positive cases are not reviewed.”

The current stand-down isolation period for a close contact of a COVID-infected person is 10 days. This has recently been reduced in Australia.

“If you’ve stood down distribution, logistics, freight, manufacturing and merchandising people, it’s not long before parts of the supply chain network break down.

“Some of our members have already been dealing with absenteeism in excessive of 20 per cent – and that’s before Omicron arrived.

“I’m concerned about shortcomings behind the scenes of the supply chain and the knock-on effects for keeping staple foods on shelves.

“On the surface of it, it looks like panic buying, but actually that’s only a small sub-set.

“When we’ve spoken about shortages in the past, I recall previous commentary where I’ve talked about the robustness and resilience of the supply chain, but I’m at a stage where I’m very concerned about it.

“I’m concerned there could be a breakdown within the supply chain, with COVID affecting workers across all key areas, including manufacturing, distribution, dispatch and logistics, which could result in continuing shortages at the shops.

“There’s a strong likelihood the supply chain could become weakened due to possible high absenteeism of workers as they fall ill. This is already the case in Australia, where it has resulted in widespread stock issues across a range of staple grocery items.

“Among our membership we’re calling it ‘Operation Do Your Best’.

“We’re moving to a position where we have to be realistic.”