Panic buying seems (thankfully) to be a thing of the past, but gaps on supermarket shelves is not.
The problem is staff shortages due to COVID testing.
But supermarkets are fighting back to ensure you can buy what you want when you want it.
Woolworths has unveiled plans to introduce COVID rapid antigen testing at its distribution and online order fulfilment sites nationwide.
The supermarket giant is trialling the tests at four warehouse sites and its national support office in Sydney, conducting 21,439 tests and identifying 10 positive results since 27 August. The tests can return a result in 10 to 20 minutes, as opposed to a standard lab-based COVID test, which can take more than 24 hours.
The tests were introduced after more than 500 workers across Woolworths’ supply chain went into isolation in August. The outbreak affected staffing levels and, in turn, the volume of stock on shelves.
“Rapid antigen tests are quick and easy and have helped us detect COVID-19 cases in team members without symptoms. This is key when dealing with the Delta variant,” Woolworths Group COVID response lead Ross Spencer said on Friday.
“We’re conducting tests with our team members every day before they enter our Sydney distribution centres to identify positive cases early and prevent transmission on site.
“Following the early success in Sydney, we’re working to roll out rapid antigen testing across all our distribution centres in Australia in the coming weeks.”
The quick-response COVID test can identify positive cases in around 10 minutes, even if the subject isn’t showing any symptoms, which is key to keeping a lid on any emerging outbreaks. The tests have been widely adopted around the world as a tool to help businesses open up safely.
But so far, health authorities in Australia have been reluctant to adopt the new technology – even Australian-made tests – fearing the results aren’t accurate enough. The rapid test kits have, however, been approved for businesses to use as part of their opening-up strategy.
“Rapid antigen tests can provide a result within 15-30 minutes. However, they have inferior analytical performance compared to the gold standard RT-PCR [lab-based test] for the diagnosis of COVID-19,” says the federal health department.
The rapid tests have mostly been used here by mining companies to screen fly-in fly-out workers and by the Australian Defence Force. And now Woolworths.
Woolworths is testing staff at six distribution centres and five order fulfilment warehouses in NSW and Victoria and will require inbound truck drivers to be tested at four distribution centres across SA, WA and Queensland.
The news comes as Victorian health authorities have once again warned shoppers not to linger while shopping for groceries. Supermarkets have emerged as a major source of the state’s exposure sites, with around 300 supermarkets listed as exposure sites.
“We’re now in an environment where there is widespread community transmission,” Victoria’s COVID commander Jeroen Weimar said last week.
“That person next to you at the grocery aisle may be positive and they may not know it, they may not be showing any symptoms, but we’re seeing transmission in that environment.”
It might be tempting to stop for a chat when you spot a friend at the supermarket, but current advice is still to get in, get what you need and get out as fast as possible.
Are you happy that businesses are using these rapid COVID tests? Do you think they should be more widely adopted by the government? Let us know in the comments section below.
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