Morrison, facing pressure at the start of an election year, plans changes to isolation rules to allow work in food production and distribution by those who have been in close contact with asymptomatic infections.
“Omicron is a gear change and we have to push through,” the prime minister told a media briefing in the capital, Canberra. “You’ve got two choices here: you can push through or you can lock down. We are for pushing through.”
New Zealand businesses and unions are watching the impact of Omicron on the Australian economy with growing concern.
Australia must “push through” the fast-moving Omicron outbreak, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, as infections surpassed 1 million, more than half in the past week alone, throwing a strain on hospitals and supply chains.
Although aggressive lockdowns and tough border controls kept a lid on infections earlier in the pandemic, Australia is now battling record infections in its effort to live with the virus after higher vaccination rates.
In recent days supermarket shelves in New South Wales have been empty, as deliveries have been disrupted because of truck drivers off work, either ill or in isolation.
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“We’re very nervous about it to be honest,” said Kiri Hannifin, Countdown’s general manager of corporate affairs.
She said her Australian counterparts have recently suffered an absenteeism rate of up to 25 per cent.
“It’s been very tough for them,” she said.
Hannifin told 1News one of Countdown’s main concerns here was the potential impact on regional centres, where there might only be one supermarket available.
“So, we’d work to bring rosters in, or split the shifts to separate bubbles, so we could protect at least one shift at a time. We’ve got lots of scenario planning in place,” she said.
Hannifin also said the company’s major distribution centres was a key focus, and these were being run under strict level four protocols.
“Some of our distribution centres look after 40 per cent of the nation’s food so we really need to protect those,” she said.
The Council of Trade Unions said workers across the economy were feeling nervous about the impending threat from Omicron.
Acting general secretary Tali Williams told 1News: “I think the real fear is how quickly it’s going to move through the community, how people will be able to manage what they’ll need to pay at home and what income they will receive, whether they will have jobs at all.”
Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay says whenever Omicron arrives here, it’s likely to be felt throughout the country.
“I think what we would likely see with Omicron which is similar to what we’ve seen overseas is the sheer number of cases that you get has a big impact on anyone providing a service.”
And while Omicron may not send large numbers of New Zealanders to hospital for care, it may still affect hospital services, if enough staff have to stay home because of illness.
McElnay says preparations are being made for this.
“I think you can move staff around,” she says.
“You can do all of that to prop up the system. I think inevitably you’ll probably get to a stage where you may have to stop some services.”
McElnay adds this would not affect essential services.
The Government is expected to reveal its Omicron action plan within the next week or two.