Freight and transport workers will be exempted from close contact home isolation under new conditions announced by the Victorian Government.
According to the Victorian public health team, more essential workers will be provided with an exemption from close contact home isolation requirements to attend their workplace as the number of COVID-19 close contacts rapidly escalate.
From 11:59pm, Tuesday 18 January, transport and freight workers along with those staffing emergency services, education, critical utilities and custodial facilities will join workers in the food production sector as being eligible for the exemption.
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 announcement comes as supermarket shelves lay empty with thousands of truck drivers off work and drastic labour shortages resulting from vaccine mandates and self-isolation requirements.
The exemption, according to the Victorian Government, will apply to attending work only, not any other settings.
In order to be eligible, the worker must first notify the employer of their status as a contact, and critically, both parties must consent to the worker returning to the workplace.
Workers in these industries are already required to be fully vaccinated.
Under the measures, workers will be required to reduce the risk of a contact attending work while ‘infectious’.
These include the worker undertaking a daily Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for five days and returning a negative result prior to attending work each day.
They must wear a face mask at all times, with exceptions in the case of eating or drinking, or safety reasons, and a P2/N95 respirator is preferred.
The worker cannot enter shared break areas and the employer must try and facilitate solo break time. The employer must also take reasonable steps to deploy the worker in areas where transmission risk is lower.
If at any time the worker develops symptoms or tests positive on a RAT, the exemption no longer applies – they are a case, must isolate for seven days, and must notify others including their employer.
The exemption order is identical to that granted by Victoria’s public health team for key food and beverage workers, and is designed to protect the state’s essential workforce during the continuing Omicron wave.
This exemption also currently applies to hospital workers, disability workers, residential aged care facility workers, and ambulance workers, but the use of an N95 mask at the workplace is a requirement, not a preference.
Close contacts, otherwise known as household and household-like contacts, are people who have spent more than four hours with a case inside a house, accommodation or care facility.
The Department of Health has also updated its contact management guidelines to require workplaces to notify the Department when five cases have attended the work premises within seven days.
Previously, workplaces were required to advise the Department and Worksafe of single cases.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews insisted the new measures were about helping Victorians keep food on the table, lights on in the house and staff on in hospitals.
“It’s safe and sensible in the eyes of our public health team, but to further protect themselves and the community, workers will have to use a rapid antigen test every day and wear a mask at all times,” he said.
“The worker’s rights are protected, and they can’t be directed to work if they are a contact – the worker has to agree to come in, just as they have to agree to the various preventative measures that will reduce risks for others.”
It was also announced that up to 400,000 foreign students will be able to work extra hours under a temporary relaxation of visa rules to ease crippling labour shortages.