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Supermarkets short on staff as lockdown extended

As the level 4 lockdown across New Zealand was extended, more than 1000 Countdown team members were off work around the country after their stores were listed as ‘locations of interest’ in Covid-tracking efforts, undergoing deep cleaning, or for other related reasons. 

Late on Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the level 4 lockdown would be extended by a full week in Auckland – now set to end at 11.59pm next Tuesday – and by four more days across the rest of the country – until Friday – as the government tried to stop the spread of the highly contagious Delta version of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

More than 100 New Zealanders have tested positive for Covid since the latest outbreak began about a week ago, traced to a traveller from Sydney.   

Under level 4 rules, all but essential retailers must remain closed and people are required to stay home unless sourcing essential supplies, medical attention or for a limited amount of exercise each day. 

Supermarkets have remained open, except for stores listed as places visited by someone who has tested positive for Covid-19, including 16 Countdown supermarkets. 

Kiri Hannifin, Countdown’s GM corporate affairs, safety and sustainability, said just over 1000 of its staff were isolating because their store was visited by a Covid-positive person, because they have a family member who had visited a location of interest, because they don’t have childcare available or are potentially vulnerable to the virus. Several stores were closed because there was insufficient staff to operate them.

“We’re expecting this number will continue to increase, and we’re managing this as best as we can,” she said. “The safety of our team and customers is our top priority.”

Supply reassurance

During last weekend, customers may have experienced empty shelves in some categories, especially of meat, But Hannifin said this was caused by a technical issue relating to meat ordering in the North Island. 

“This is now fixed and meat is on its way to stores everywhere. Our supply chain is looking in good shape this morning,” she said yesterday.

“There is plenty of food, meat and groceries to go around.”

Countdown’s online shopping service is experiencing high and the company is working hard to ensure slots are available for people who need it – especially Priority Assistance customers and those who are having to stay home and isolate. 

“Anyone who can shop in-store should do so to help free up online shopping slots for other people who cannot go to supermarkets.” 

Prime Minister Ardern struck a reassuring note to citizens on Monday evening. 

“Delta has changed the rules of the game, but we have changed our response too,” she said announcing the lockdown extension. “It is absolutely possible to get on top of this.”

But she urged Kiwis to keep up their vigilance, observe the level 4 rules and observe social distancing, staying at home unless absolutely necessary. 

“The safest option for all of us right now is to hold the course for longer. If the world has taught us anything it is to be cautious with this variant of Covid-19,” she added.

New Zealanders ‘supportive’ of anti-Covid measures

Meanwhile, rival supermarket group Foodstuffs cited research showing New Zealanders are supportive of the Ministry of Health’s recent announcements for people aged 12 and over to be required to wear a face covering when visiting any essential services and for essential workers to be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccination.

Almost every shopper questioned said they supported a mandate to wear face coverings while visiting an essential service – 88 per cent of them “strongly agreeing” with the decision. 

“We welcome the government’s mandate for customers and team members to wear face coverings as a way to keep everyone safe,” said Steve Anderson, CEO at Foodstuffs South Island. “We have seen good compliance since this measure was introduced earlier in the week and think this is great advice for New Zealanders who have already increased their mask-wearing habits significantly.”

Furthermore, 95 per cent of New Zealanders somewhat or strongly agree that the ministry was right to fast-track vaccinations for essential workers, including supermarket staff. 

“Making it quicker and easier for our team and customers – whether they’re customer facing, in our supply chain, or our supplier partners – to stay safe and get a vaccination is the right thing to do and we fully support this opportunity for our essential workers,” said Chris Quin, CEO at Foodstuffs North Island. 

The online survey consisted of 1001 Pak’nSave and New World shoppers across New Zealand, questioned between August 19 and 20.

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