The global COVID-19 pandemic has created significant and ongoing challenges for the Queensland agriculture sector. As an essential service, agribusinesses and their workers are critical for farming activities and the food supply chain. In response to uncertainty surrounding the growing spread of the virus, there has been unprecedented demand for a range of food items across the country as supply chains are interrupted by staff absences and Australians stocking up at the supermarket, causing temporary shortages of some products in store. The likelihood of farms and agribusiness facilities locking down due to a COVID-19 outbreak among its workers has become real, which could have serious impacts on the supply of produce, impact the welfare of animals, and cause economic losses to agribusinesses.
To ensure business continuity, the Queensland government has identified agriculture and fisheries production workers as 'critically essential workers' allowing them to continue providing essential services while they are classified close contacts, provided they meet strict health criteria. This change is designed to ensure the ongoing supply of essential goods and services to the community. To be eligible to work during the usual close contract quarantine period, workers must be fully vaccinated, wear a mask and be asymptomatic. If at any stage they develop symptoms, they need to return to quarantine immediately.
In addition to these criteria, workers must travel to and from work in a private vehicle, wear appropriate PPE while travelling and working, maintain personal hygiene (hand washing etc), undertake regular symptom surveillance, undertake a RAT on day six, consistent with the requirements for all close contacts and follow all other quarantine requirements.
Shoppers can rest assured that Australia does not have a food security problem. In fact, we're one of the most food secure countries in the world. The change in COVID-19 workforce policy is necessary to combat this disruption and sustain the supply of produce onto shelves and, in turn, consumers' plates during the pandemic. While things remain uncertain, consumers are reminded to support farmers growing the produce we depend on, by purchasing Australian made and grown food items at the supermarket checkout.