EMERGENCY service workers, teachers and others in critical industries will be allowed to work on-site even when considered a close contact under a new pandemic order passed in Victoria on Thursday.
Under the conditions of the exemption, the worker may return to work if it is necessary for continuity of operations and if other options have been exhausted. The exemption will apply to attending work only, not any other settings.
Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday confirmed that rapid antigen tests will have to be provided by the employer, causing concern that many businesses will be unable to secure the tests needed to keep their workers on the job because of a shortage of the critical tests.
A spokesperson for GrainCorp said the company was still working through the impact of the changes internally, however had enough rapid antigen test kits to allow workers to return to grain handling sites across the Wimmera.
"We have had some staff members test positive or as close contacts and like many other businesses, we're dealing with staff who need to isolate in various locations," the spokesperson said.
"We're certainly not immune to the challenges of the pandemic but we've managed fairly minimal disruptions to our supply chain through segregating staff and providing a contactless delivery process, cleaning programs and the use of RAT kits.
"At this stage, we have an adequate supply of RAT kits for staff to ensure we can continue to comply with all of the Government requirements to get staff safely back on site."
Meanwhile, at Hopkins Correctional Centre in Ararat, a Department of Justice and Community Safety spokesperson said staff had already been required to undertake rapid antigen testing at the start of every shift since December 2021.
"Corrections Victoria has well-established procedures for maintaining staffing and good order of prisons at all times," the spokesperson said.
"Undertaking on-site rapid antigen tests has been a mandatory condition of entry into Victorian prisons since December.
"The department has ensured access to the required stock of rapid antigen tests to maintain thorough testing processes going forward."
Across Victoria's health system alone there are at least 5000 workers including nurses, doctors and ambulance officers who cannot report for duty because they have COVID or are a close contact.
Victoria's COVID response commander Jeroen Weimar said the exemption would not apply to all workers in those sectors, only those playing a critical role.
"It is not an open slather for everyone in the sector. It applies to close contacts of a COVID positive case - somebody who lives with somebody who already has COVID and what we allow for is for that person to leave the normal seven-day day quarantine and attend work for the critical work function.," he said.
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