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No RATs and slow PCR cause empty shelves

Bare: The meat aisle at Aldi Shepparton on Monday night, January 10, 2022. Photo by Rodney Braithwaite

The monster supply chains that supermarkets run are being impacted by staffing shortages as workers do the right thing and wait for a negative COVID-19 test before returning to work.

Unfortunately, a negative test is becoming harder and harder to get as rapid antigen tests (RATs) sell out and PCR wait times blow out to a week.

Brady and Kibble is a 10-driver transport business based in Euroa.

Managing director Shirley Saywell said a lack of rapid antigen tests (RATs) and sluggish PCR testing was keeping drivers off the roads.

“I’ve got one driver out on leave right now. He couldn’t get a RAT test so he went for a PCR on Monday. It’s now Friday and he still hasn’t heard anything,” Ms Saywell said.

“That’s just one of my drivers, so I can work around it; but if five were in that position it would be a disaster.”

Brady and Kibble only does jobs in Victoria, saving the business from the tough testing rules that interstate drives are required to follow.

Most interstate truck drivers — the type commonly used by supermarket giants — must return a negative COVID-19 test every seven days in order to keep working.

If they lapse into eight days, they have to stop work immediately and wait for a negative test.

Ms Saywell said the RAT test shortage was mirroring the AdBlue shortage.

“The limited AdBlue supply has impacted us but we are managing. If it gets any worse we won’t manage. It’s similar to the testing, it requires patience,” she said.

“A lot of people are being impacted by the RAT shortage and workers are being forced to stay home because they can’t get a negative test, no matter how hard they try.”

Governments are trying to address the empty shelf issue by exempting transport workers from any COVID-19 isolation requirements, but an exemption requires five RATs to be taken five days in a row.

A lack of fresh meat has been the main headline grabber as the highly perishable and highly processed product keeps being delayed throughout the supply chain.

Greenham runs three meat processing facilities — in Tongala, Gippsland and Tasmania.

Group general manager Tom Maguire said the business was choosing not to follow the government’s relaxed isolation rule.

“We are having higher absenteeism, but we are managing it day by day,” Mr Maguire said.

“Those absent workers are either isolating because of close contact or they’ve got COVID.”

Mr Maguire said the business wasn’t utilising the government’s isolation exemption at the moment.

“The government can say what it wants; we don’t want potentially sick people working,” he said.

“We won’t put anyone in a situation where they feel they have to keep coming to work.”

Mr Maguire said Greenham was managing to keep up with product demand, but the big hurdle was getting the product from the facility to consumers.

“It’s hard to explain in one article, but the hardest part is always those last 10 miles,” he said.

“The hold-up is in the transport and distribution.”

The Transport Workers’ Union said the wind back of close contact isolation was “beyond reckless”, especially as transport workers were not prioritised for testing access.