Vic dips into RAT stockpile for industries

Jobs Victoria is working with Coles, Woolworths and Aldi to fill staff shortages in the sector.
Jobs Victoria is working with Coles, Woolworths and Aldi to fill staff shortages in the sector.

The Victorian government will supply rapid antigen tests to critical industries at cost price in a bid to free more workers from isolation amid the Omicron wave.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Monday announced 25,000 RATs will be distributed from the state's stockpile to critical utilities and food supply chain services, including meat suppliers.

In line with Victorian isolation rules, critical workers deemed close contacts can continue to work if they are asymptomatic and return negative antigen test results daily.

Mr Andrews said the delivery would prevent companies from having to vie for RAT kits in the open market.

"Every million of these that we land into our state takes some pressure off the real demand pressure that's out there for these tests," he told reporters.

Victoria has placed orders for more than 200 million of the tests and committed to send 14 million to schools as part of a four-week surveillance regime for students and staff.

Some 6.6 million of the RATs will be delivered to government, Catholic and independent primary and secondary schools before the start of term one, as well as kindergartens and childcare centres.

Parents will be tasked with testing their children from home twice a week and notifying the school if a result is positive.

"It's basically a partnership in trust and everybody working together to get the best outcome," Mr Andrews said.

The premier is confident Victoria has enough tests to support schools and critical industries simultaneously.

In addition, major supermarkets are leaning on the state government to fill staff shortages as many of their shelves remain bare.

Jobs Victoria has been working with Coles, Woolworths and Aldi to find staff for roles such as online order assemblers, stock fillers, cashiers, delivery drivers and forklift operators.

Kevin Gunn, executive general manager of central operations for Coles, said the chain has seen about 1000 people recruited through the government program.

Every part of the food supply chain has lost staff to isolation in the past few weeks, he added.

"Whether that's farmers, whether that's food processors, manufacturers, transport - and it's impacted in our own distribution centres in Coles and in our own stores, and the end result has been fewer products for our customers to buy."

Con Hondrogiannis, 54, said he recently started working as a forklift driver at a Melbourne warehouse two days after applying.

"There's opportunities out there," he said.

Victoria recorded a further 17 deaths and 11,695 new cases on Monday, its lowest daily infections figure in three weeks.

The result has lowered the state's seven-day case average to 17,412, down from about 32,500 a week ago.

With hospital and intensive care rates also falling, Opposition Leader Matthew Guy questioned the necessity of Victoria's system-wide "code brown" in hospitals but declined to give a date when it should end.

"NSW isn't in this position. So, for goodness sake, why are we?"

VICTORIA'S LATEST COVID-19 FIGURES:

* PCR tests processed: 21,675

* Positive PCR tests: 4488

* Positive RATs: 7207

* Active cases: 186,073, down 4985

* Hospital cases: 998, down four

* ICU cases: 119, down one

* Ventilator cases: 47, up three.

Australian Associated Press