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Covid-19 News Updates


“Welcoming the world back to Australia”: International border to reopen on 21 February

“Welcoming the world back to Australia”: International border to reopen on 21 February

Australia will reopen to all fully vaccinated visa holders on the 21 February 2021, meaning tourists, business travellers and other visa holders will finally be able to enter the country.

Announced today by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the change will be a welcome boost to the struggling tourism industry which in 2018/19 generated more than $60 billion for the Australian economy.

Under the revised border rules, all eligible visa holders will be able to enter Australia as long as they have received two doses of a Therapeutic Goods Administration-recognised vaccine.

Those that have not will be subject to relevant state or territory quarantine requirements which differ nationally. In addition, unvaccinated travellers must provide proof of a medical reason that they cannot be vaccinated.

“I know the tourism industry will be looking forward to that,” PM Morrison said.

“Over the next two weeks they will have the opportunity…to be gearing up to welcome international visitors back to Australia.

“Our borders will be open from the 21st of February, and welcoming the world back to Australia.”

The change comes after the tourism industry's peak bodies and business leaders called upon the Federal Government to ease international border restrictions - described by some as nonsensical.

Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews said the new border rules will aid in the recovery of Australia's tourism industry which has been particularly hard hit by a lack of international visitors.

"We all understand that the tourism industry in Australia has been dealt a tremendous load through COVID," Andrews said.

"But as of the 21st of February we will be welcoming back to Australia international visitors and that is going to be such a welcome relief for many tourist providers all around Australia."

 The announcement has already been welcomed by major industry players including Flight Centre Corporate managing director Australia James Kavanagh, who called it an "absolute game changer".

"This is a truly momentous day for businesses big and small – it is they who will lead this country’s economic fightback – and there is no doubt this is an absolute game changer when it comes to Australia being open to the world once again,” Kavanagh said. 

“It has been a long time coming but the critical part is once we open to the world, we stay open, and that will naturally inject real confidence into people wanting to travel. Confidence is already rising in the leisure space across the world – now it is time for that happen in the corporate space. 

“There is no doubt visas, exemptions, and quarantine have all been a big hindrance to the corporate world – and although we expect some meetings and events to still exist in a virtual of hybrid manner – now is the time to get on planes to see colleagues, clients, and potential new customers." 

The Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) said it was "ecstatic" at the international border reopening, noting the announcement gives "much-needed certainty to airports, airlines, tourism operators, and everyone involved in the international visitation industry".

"More importantly, today is an extraordinary day for families and friends who have been apart throughout the pandemic, as they can now reunite on their own terms with their loved ones," BAC said.

"After a challenging 24 months, BAC is more than ready to move forward with its partners to rebuild tourism across the state and reconnect Queensland to the world."

Peak body Australian Tourism Export Council said the news means businesses can breathe a sigh of relief and begin rebuilding their markets.

"Australian tourism businesses will rejoice in the news that our borders will reopen to all international travellers on 21 February,” ATEC managing director Peter Shelley said. 

“It’s been a long hard and desperate road for every tourism business across the country and we have lost many along the way, but this news will give those who have survived a clear target to work towards and a start point for the rebuilding of the industry. 

“With close to two years with our borders closed our industry has lost tens of billions of dollars in export revenue and we welcome the border reopening as an opportunity to regain some of Australia’s tourism market share."

He also said that the industry's next challenge will be to meet demand successfully,  "and that will involve tourism businesses rebuilding their lost capacity, product, service skills and supply chains".

“Given the tourism industry has taken a devastating hit to its skills base, experience, expertise and global sales networks, we urge the Government to outline a significant funding commitment to our industry in next month’s budget as a sign of its support for what has been a hugely valuable economic contributor for more than a decade," Shelley said.

Updated at 2.29pm AEDT on 7 February 2022.

New Zealand borders to progressively reopen to the world from 27 February

New Zealand borders to progressively reopen to the world from 27 February

New Zealanders living in Australia will soon be able to make their way home without having to spend two weeks in a government-run quarantine facility after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today outlined a five step plan to reopen the nation to the world.

Borders will reopen progressively, first to New Zealand citizens travelling from Australia on 27 February, all Australians and travellers from visa waiver countries in July, and ultimately to the rest of the world in October 2022.

PM Ardern said the gradual relaxation of the nation’s ‘Managed Isolation and Quarantine’ (MIQ) program is appropriate now, but notes it has allowed New Zealand to remain safe during the global pandemic.

“MIQ meant not everyone could come home when they wanted, but it also meant that COVID could not come in when it wanted to either,” she said, speaking today at a Business NZ event.

“That’s meant we have been able to build our defences to become one of the most vaccinated countries in the world.”

NZ’s five-step program to reopening its borders is as follows:

Step 1 - from 11.59pm, 27 February 2022

The following fully vaccinated people can enter New Zealand from Australia and self-isolate upon arrival: 

  • New Zealand citizens and residents 
  • Other eligible travellers under current border settings. 

Unvaccinated travellers, and those who do not meet New Zealand’s vaccination requirements, who are eligible to enter New Zealand will continue to enter MIQ.

Step 2  - from 11.59pm, 13 March 2022

The following fully vaccinated people can enter New Zealand from anywhere in the world and self-isolate upon arrival: 

  • New Zealand citizens and residents 
  • Other eligible travellers under current border settings.
  • Skilled workers earning at least 1.5x the median wage.
  • Travellers on a working holiday scheme.
  • Partners and dependent children of New Zealand citizens and residents, provided they meet the usual visa and vaccination requirements. A family group does not need to travel to New Zealand together. 

Unvaccinated travellers, and those who do not meet New Zealand’s vaccination requirements, who are eligible to enter New Zealand will continue to enter MIQ.

Step 3 - from 11.59pm, 12 April 2022

The following fully vaccinated people can enter New Zealand from anywhere in the world and self-isolate upon arrival: 

  • Current offshore temporary visa holders with a valid visa who can still meet their visa requirements.
  • Up to 5,000 international students for semester 2

Step 4 - July 2022

The following fully vaccinated people can enter New Zealand and self-isolate upon arrival: 

  • All travellers from Australia. 
  • Visitors from countries who do not need a visa (visa waiver visitors) 
  • Travellers arriving under the Accredited Employer Work Visa categories.

Step 5 - October 2022

All visa categories will reopen in October 2022, including visitor and student visas.

Victoria partners with Lumos to manufacture 50 million RATs locally

Victoria partners with Lumos to manufacture 50 million RATs locally

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has announced today the state will work alongside Lumos Diagnostics (ASX: LDX) and its delivery partner Planet Innovation to tackle the critical shortages of rapid antigen tests (RATs) across Australia.  

The partnership is subject to the company’s COVID-19 RAT CoviDx receiving approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), but once approved will give the green light to establish a $17.2 million manufacturing facility in Victoria to produce a million RATs from April.

Manufacturing would ramp up to three million a month after July, with full production from October onwards of up to 50 million RATs per year.

As a result of the agreement, approximately 70 ongoing jobs will be created.

Shares in LDX have spiked on the news, up by 15 per cent to $1.075 per share at 1.13pm AEDT.

“Manufacturing rapid antigen tests in Victoria will protect and secure the state’s supply chain and create local jobs,” Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said.

“Being able to scale up production so quickly shows the strength of Victoria’s advanced manufacturing capabilities."

Lumos is already making RATs for Canadian and European markets and has established manufacturing facilities in Florida and California. The company plans to use existing supply chains to replicate its US output in Victoria.

“To these guys and their staff, we’re very grateful for your skill for your expertise. This is a very valuable commodity - perhaps never been more valuable,” said the Premier.

In FY21, Lumos reported a $25 million in annual revenue, representing a 198 per cent increase year-on-year (8.4 million).

EBITDA also increased by 36.6 per cent, reaching $16.4 million compared to $12 million in FY20.

Lumos Diagnostics executive chairman Sam Lanyon has confirmed CoviDx has been submitted to the TGA for approval.  

“We’ve got an active application - that's where we're at right now. We're feeling quietly confident. Our products have [been] approved in other regions,” Lanyon said.

“We expect to have an approval imminently.”

Victoria recorded 14,533 new cases of COVID-19 today. Of those, 768 are in hospital.

Fresh calls for national border relaxation emerge amid reduction in COVID hospitalisations

Fresh calls for national border relaxation emerge amid reduction in COVID hospitalisations

Tourism industry leaders and peak bodies have renewed calls to relax international border restrictions for would-be visitors as the number of people in hospital suffering from COVID-19 complications continues to decrease this week.

The travel sector is calling on the Federal Government to permit international tourists into the country, with many expressing frustration at the current settings despite widespread infection of the coronavirus nationally.

Pressure has been mounting from peak bodies like the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which have declared that ongoing border restrictions in Australia must end if the tourism sector is to make a meaningful recovery anytime soon.

Specifically, the ATEC said maintaining international border closures is “no longer a sensible or viable approach” for the industry which is suffering from a total lack of customers.

“Australia now has a higher COVID infection rate than the UK and the US but we continue to maintain our border closures to these international visitors, applying huge economic stress to businesses across the country,” ATEC managing director Peter Shelley said.  

“Given every person arriving in Australia has to be fully vaccinated and tested, there simply is no greater health risk which would result from reopening our international borders, rather it would provide a huge relief to an already burdened and struggling tourism sector.  

“The hermit kingdom approach to protecting our borders is no longer viable and we need urgent clarity from the Government on when we can welcome international visitors, and it needs to be immediate.”

Similarly, the IATA has called for removing all travel barriers (quarantine and testing) for fully vaccinated travellers, and enabling quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travellers with a negative test result.

The peak bodies have been backed by corporate heavyweights too, with Qantas (ASX: QAN) and Flight Centre (ASX: FLT) co-signing the message to the Federal Government, also noting the move would reignite global business and supply chains.

Jürgen Himmelmann, the CEO and founder of worldwide online youth travel marketplace Global Work and Travel Co, has gone one step further, labelling the current restrictions as nonsensical.

“The tourism sector has been closed to international tourists for just under two years now and much of the rest of the world has been allowing overseas visitors back in,” Himmelmann said.

“Opening the international borders to at least the fully vaccinated should be a government priority right now. And the reality is that the Omicron variant is well and truly out in the Australian community, so what’s the point in keeping our borders closed? It makes no sense.

“The virus doesn’t have a nationality, it’s the same thing everywhere these days. It’s time to move forward.”

Global Work & Travel Co CEO Jürgen Himmelmann

 

When questioned by the press about the Federal Government’s position on potentially relaxing international border restrictions even further, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said decisions would be made looking at hospitalisation rates.

“I just want to be confident that before we take that decision that we are confident about the situation that our hospitals are in, which have been performing extremely well under great pressure,” the PM said.

“As we’ve seen the peaks of Omicron…then that is starting to open up that opportunity, so I’m optimistic about that but cautiously optimistic.”

The PM’s comments come in light of decreasing hospitalisation rates nationally, with 4,667 people currently admitted to hospitals across Australia.

This is 560 people less than a week ago, and reflects the gradual drop-off in new daily cases being reported around the country; yesterday there were 35,198 new COVID-19 cases in Australia compared to 46,872 on 27 January.

However, hospitals are still under strain, especially in Victoria where the state’s health system is operating under Code Brown rules.

Despite that, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews today said he was “optimistic” about the Omicron situation in his state.

“We’re seeing improvements across the board,” Andrews said.

“We’re on that more optimistic trajectory, but there is still significant pressure on our health system.”

If the call to relax border restrictions is not heeded soon by the Federal Government, peak body Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) has asked for more monetary support for the sector generally.

AFTA is pushing for a $190 million Travel Sector Skills Retention and Recovery Package, including the immediate release of an estimated $66 million already allocated to the sector but so far unspent.

In addition, AFTA has proposed a Travel Industry Job Starter Package, similar to the International Aviation Support Program, which would provide a payment of $10,000 per new or re-engaged employee by a travel business.

“A third of our Sector has been lost due to almost 700 days in lockdown as a result of the Federal Government’s international travel ban,” AFTA CEO Dean Long said.

“We need Government support to rebuild that workforce and skills lost so we can meet this increasing corporate and consumer demand, especially as international travel normalises.

“Our ask of the Federal Government is simple – please support us so that we can keep supporting travelling Australians.”

Updated at 12.53pm AEDT on 2 February 2022.

Rent relief extended for commercial tenants in Victoria

Rent relief extended for commercial tenants in Victoria

Victoria recorded 11,311 new COVID cases and 34 deaths on Monday, as the state government introduced new regulations under the Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme to support struggling small and family businesses.

The regulations follow the Victorian governments’ decision in January to extend the rent relief scheme for two months until 15 March.

Businesses with a turnover of $10 million or less and have suffered a decline in turnover of at least 30 per cent due to COVID will be eligible for support.  

Under the scheme, landlords must provide proportional rent relief to commercial tenants in line with any reduction of turnover against pre-pandemic levels.

For example, a business whose turnover in January 2022 is 40 per cent less than in January 2020 can only be charged 40 per cent of its rent.

Of the balance, at least half the rent must be waived, with the remainder deferred. The freeze on rent increases will continue.

“Small and family businesses are going through a challenging period due to the Omicron wave and that’s why we are extending the Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme,” Minister for Small Business Jaala Pulford said.

“The new regulations will help to ease the financial burden for many small and family businesses that are facing hardship caused by the pandemic.

“I would like to acknowledge and thank those commercial landlords who continue to do the right thing by their tenants during such challenging times.”

Eligible commercial landlords will continue to receive support from the Victorian Government, with more details on a new round of the Commercial Landlord Hardship Fund to be announced shortly.

The expectation remains for landlords and tenants to negotiate in good faith with the Victorian Small Business Commission (VSBC) in place to offer free mediation if required.

The Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme was first launched in 2020, before it was reintroduced in July 2021, and has provided financial relief and rent protections for thousands of Victorian businesses.

Newer businesses that weren’t operating in 2020 will also be protected, with special arrangements to calculate their turnover impacts.

The VSBC advises struggling businesses to pay as much rent as they can afford while contacting an accountant, business adviser, or mentor for advice and potentially negotiating a new rental agreement.   

Tenants can apply to the VSBC for a binding order for rent relief if their landlord fails to respond or sufficiently respond to the VSBC or doesn’t engage in mediation in good faith.

Full details of the scheme, including eligibility, are available on the VSBC’s website. Tenants and landlords can contact the VSBC for further information on 13 87 22 or visit vsbc.vic.gov.au

$1b shot in the arm for Omicron-hit businesses in NSW

$1b shot in the arm for Omicron-hit businesses in NSW

The NSW Government is shoring up its support of struggling small and medium businesses across the state that have been hardest hit by the Omicron wave with a new financial package worth $1 billion.

Among the initiatives announced over the weekend, eligible businesses will receive financial support to buy rapid antigen tests (RATs) for employees, along with a direct cash injection directed at supporting payrolls to assist businesses to keep their workers employed.

Premier Dominic Perrottet says the program will also extend the Commercial Landlord Hardship Grant to March 13 and deliver additional funding for the performing arts sector. The move comes as COVID-19 case numbers in NSW continue to fall.

“This targeted package provides support for businesses who experienced cashflow issues and the immediate economic impacts of the Omicron outbreak,” says Perrottet.
“NSW is tracking better than expected and confidence is returning. And as we did with earlier recoveries, we will come through this recent challenge stronger than ever.
 
“We’ve got the backs of businesses, as we have throughout this entire pandemic.”
 
Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW Paul Toole says the support package provides a state-wide response to the Omicron wave, targeting those businesses that need it the most.
 
“Our regions have felt the impacts of Omicron, and it’s critical we give them a helping hand to recover and get local economies humming again,” he says.

The Small Business Support Program has been aimed at businesses with annual turnover of between $75,000 and $50 million that have experienced a fall of at least 40 per cent in turnover in January and are likely to be similarly affected in February. The support will cover up to 20 per cent of the weekly payroll of an eligible business.

The program will deliver a lump-sum payment of the weekly payroll with a minimum payment of $500 per week and a maximum payment of $5,000 per week.

Meanwhile, the government is increasing the rebate on existing small business fees, charges and RAT by 50 per cent from the current $2,000 limit to $3,000. Businesses with employees will be able to use the rebate to obtain RATs for testing workers.  

The government says the aim is to support worker availability by reducing costs to small businesses and enabling healthy staff who have been exposed to COVID-19, but test negative, to return to work.

“We know that the over 800,000 small businesses in NSW are the lifeblood of local communities and that many of these businesses experienced challenges due to the Omicron wave of the pandemic,” says NSW Small Business Minister Eleni Petinos.

“This package will help relieve some of the costs of small business including keeping workers safe, assist with cash flow and support small businesses to continue trading.”

NT cuts booster eligibility to three months, imposes snap lockdown

NT cuts booster eligibility to three months, imposes snap lockdown

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner has announced from Monday the interval between receiving a second jab and booster will be reduced to three months, as the Central Australian town of Ampilatwatja enters a 48-hour snap lockdown from 2pm today.

The announcement comes after the Territory recorded 940 cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm last night. As part of the lockdown, masks must be worn outside of the home at all times and only essential workers who are fully vaccinated can continue to go to work.

“From 2pm today Ampilatwatja will enter a 48-hour lockdown to allow us to test the community and try to contain it as much as possible,” Gunner says.

During the lockdown, residents must stay at home and are only permitted to leave for the following five reasons:

  1. Medical treatment, including COVID testing or vaccination.
  2. For essential goods and services, like groceries, medications or power tokens. Only one household member should visit the store, once per day.
  3. For work that is considered essential.
  4. For one hour of outdoor exercise a day within 5 km from your home with one other person or people from your house.
  5. To provide care and support to a family member or person who cannot support themselves. In case of an emergency, including escaping harm from domestic/family violence.

The Chief Minister is also urging people in high-risk workplaces to book a booster shot as soon as they are eligible.  

“As we flagged last year, the booster shot will become part of the Territory mandatory vaccination policy for many workers,” Gunner says.

“We haven't gone through all the sacrifice in the past two years just to drop the ball now.”

Employees in the following high-risk workplaces will be required to receive their booster by 11 March 2021 or within four weeks of becoming eligible for a shot:

  • Hospitals
  • Healthcare facilities
  • Residential aged-care facilities
  • Disability residential facilities
  • Correctional detention facilities
  • Family violence shelters
  • Homeless shelters
  • Sobering-up shelters

Employees who come into contact with vulnerable people or perform work that is “necessary for the operation and maintenance of essential infrastructure for logistics” have until 22 April to receive the jab.

Gunner says well over half of cases are coming from Darwin and Palmerston.

“We have seen a sharp spike in cases over the last few days, mainly in Darwin, as more and more families returned home from interstate holiday.

“It's not surprising and we can expect that to continue for a few days to a week. This doesn't change our overall settings for the Territory. It just means it’s more important than ever that we stick to the measures that are in place to keep us safe.”

The snap lockdown comes after Milikapiti’s lockdown was extended until 2pm on 30 January.

Lockdowns in Gunyangara (Ski Beach) in East Arnhem, Wurrumiyanga on the Tiwi Islands and Utopia in the Barkly region are set to end at 2pm on 29 January.

People who have left those communities within the last seven days must submit to a RAT test within the next 24 hours unless they received a negative result since leaving.

More than 95 per cent of Territorians aged 16 and older have received two COVID-19 vaccines.

There are currently 4,200 active cases in the Northern Territory and 105 people in hospital. Of those, 14 are on ventilators and three are in ICU.

Updated at 4:01pm AEDT on 28 January 2022.

City of Melbourne urges government support as Omicron hurts trade

City of Melbourne urges government support as Omicron hurts trade

The City of Melbourne is calling for a new round of government support for traders and incentives to boost visitation after a recent survey by the council found three in four businesses are struggling to survive the current Omicron outbreak.

The survey also found 74 per cent of city business owners are barely surviving or are under intense distress, while 53 per cent aren’t confident they can remain open for more than three months.

Councillors will meet on Tuesday to consider lobbying the state and federal governments to implement measures that will mitigate the impacts of Omicron on businesses, including:   

  • a third serving of the successful Melbourne Money scheme, which has injected $60 million into city cafes, bars and restaurants 
  • an additional round of hotel vouchers to support stays in the CBD 
  • free public transport for major events such as Moomba, which will return to the city in March 
  • the removal of the work-from-home advice, and a return of public servants to the CBD, as soon as it’s safe to do so. 

Lord Mayor Sally Capp says the survey indicates business confidence is declining, particularly among the city’s hospitality and retail sector. 

“We know Melbourne’s business owners are incredibly resilient, but the Omicron outbreak is having a significant impact as people isolate or understandably take it upon themselves to limit their movements,” she says.

"It's clear the economic impacts of the Omicron variant are similar to those felt during lockdowns. However, our business owners aren't currently receiving financial support.

“Through speaking with traders and seeing the raw data, we know our Melbourne Money schemes have been incredibly successful in bringing people back to the city and back into businesses after lockdowns. We want to replicate that success with a third serving.”

The first course of the Melbourne money scheme was introduced in May 2021, and allowed diners to claim 20 per cent off their bill when spending $50 or more at all restaurants, cafes and bars across Melbourne’s CBD.

A second round was initiated in November, with the rebate boosted to 30 per cent if diners came in to spend between Monday and Thursday.

“We need the state and federal governments to urgently introduce initiatives and commit to ensure Melbourne businesses can weather the impacts of COVID-19, as we live with the virus in our community,” Capp says.

Updated at 11:26am AEDT on 28 January 2022.

NSW extends current restrictions to 28 February

NSW extends current restrictions to 28 February

As COVID hospitalisation rates approach 3,000 in NSW, the state's government has decided to extend current restrictions by a month to 28 February as a "measured response" as students return to school and authorities look to restart non-urgent elective surgery as soon as possible.

Measures that will continue include the following:

  • Hospitality venues, including pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes, and nightclubs must follow the one person per two square metre rule indoors;
  • Masks are required in all indoor settings (except residences). Masks are strongly encouraged where you cannot maintain a safe distance from others;
  • QR code check-ins are compulsory at certain premises, including hospitality venues and retail shops;
  • Singing and dancing is not permitted in hospitality venues, entertainment facilities, nightclubs, indoor music festivals and indoor major recreation facilities (except for weddings, performers, instructors and students). 
  • With more than 209,000 reported active COVID cases in NSW, and this figure likely underestimates the true spread due to the unavailability of rapid antigen tests, Premier Dominic Perrottet says rolling  over these measures would continue to protect the community and health system. 

“The gap between your second jab and your booster is now just three months, so don’t waste time – the sooner we all get our boosters the sooner we will overcome this Omicron wave,” Hazzard says.

“The NSW community has put in an extraordinary effort to get the first two doses of the COVID vaccine, making us one of the most vaccinated populations worldwide. It’s now extremely important to back it in with your booster to lift your protection against the highly transmissible Omicron strain.”

“We have always said we will respond to what is in front of us and tailor our approach as required and that is exactly what we are doing,” Perrottet says.

“We are transitioning to living with COVID and we will need to continually update our approach to ensure we are keeping people safe and protecting our health system. 

“It is vital people continue to come forward and get their booster shots to help keep themselves, their family and the community safe.”

Minister for Health Brad Hazzard says there is plenty of availability and supply of boosters in the NSW Health vaccination clinics, so those eligible for their booster shot should book as soon as possible.

People aged 18 years and older can receive their booster dose at three months after receiving their second dose of any of the COVID-19 vaccines.

According to NSW Health, 93.9 per cent of the population aged 16 and over have received two vaccine doses, while more than a third have had three doses.

18,512 new cases were reported in the 24 hours to 8pm last night and 29 lives lost, with 183 patients currently in the intensive care unit (ICU) with the virus.

Updated at 10:28am AEDT on 25 January 2022.

Victoria partners up with supermarkets to tackle workforce shortage

Victoria partners up with supermarkets to tackle workforce shortage

The Victorian government has joined forces with leading supermarket chains to fill workforce shortages by linking thousands of local jobseekers to food retailers.

Starting the program earlier this month, Jobs Victoria has already received more than 2,000 people expressing interest to work in Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and wholesaler Metcash as an outflux of COVID-positive employees leave retailers understaffed.  

Roles available include pick-packers to assemble online orders, night-fillers to restock shelves, cashiers, delivery drivers and forklift operators.

“We've had some 2,000 people register their interest to work in our supermarket system and that's critically important given that there are hundreds, indeed, thousands of staff - whether it be at Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, or wholesaler Metcash - who have not been able to report for duty,” said Victorian Premier Dan Andrews.

“That's behind the scenes - the government working with our supermarkets to give people who are out of work, the skills and support they need to do the job that we need them to do."

The state government also plans to supply 25,000 rapid antigen tests (RATs) on a cost recovery basis to critical utilities and food supply chain services, including meat and poultry suppliers.

“Over the past few weeks, we've seen every part of the food supply chain has been impacted through team member isolations and workforce not being available. Whether that's farmers, food processers, manufacturers, transport - it's impacted in our own distribution centres in Coles and in our own stores," said Coles executive general manager of central operations & transformation Kevin Gunn.

“Many team members have stepped up and taken on additional hours.”

To try and manage the demand, Coles has provided further skills training to 77,000 employees in order increase flexibility as challenges continue to arise.  

“We've been working with Jobs Victoria, who have done an amazing job. We've had over 1,000 candidates come forward,” said Gunn.

“I'm delighted to say we've got some team members who have actually started and are actually in our distribution centres.

“We are working hard to recover the situation across our stores, and our supply chain and things are getting a little better every day.”

The announcement comes as Victoria has recorded 11,695 positive COVID-19 cases. Of those, 7,207 were self-reported RATs and 4,488 came from PCR tests.

998 people are currently in hospital, with 119 in ICU and 47 on ventilators.

The state has recorded 17 deaths today.

Updated at 12.52pm AEDT on 24 January 2022.

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