by Helen Holt

Some of South Canterbury’s biggest employers are applying for an exemption for workers to avoid isolation if identified as close contacts of a Covid-19 case.

The Government announced last week that “critical workers” identified as close contacts of a Covid-19 case would not have to isolate for 10 days, but instead have a daily rapid antigen test (Rat) while continuing to work.

Critical sectors include food production, distribution and sale of basic food.

Health services and other key services such as lifeline utilities, transport and critical financial services are also covered by the exemption.

Alliance’s Smithfield plant has registered for the exemption as a food producer.

Alliance Group manufacturing general manger Willie Wiese said the new close contact exemption scheme would help keep the critical supply chain running though an outbreak.

“This scheme will be vital in ensuring any of our people who are deemed close contacts can safely return to work sooner if they return daily negative tests,” he said.

“As a food producer and a significant South Canterbury employer, we are doing everything we can to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on our workforce and meet the needs of our farmers and customers during these challenging times for the country,” Mr Wiese said.

“This includes physical distancing, temperature checking, rapid antigen testing, restricting access to plants and offices to essential visitors only and separating day and night shifts at plants.

“We have our own supply of Rats for our people. However like many businesses, we will also be relying on the public allocation of Rats to ensure we have sufficient volumes.

“We expect more clarity on the delivery of these Rats in the coming days.”

A Fonterra spokesman said the exemption would be beneficial to its productions at Studholme and Clandeboye factories.

“Fonterra is considered a critical service under the new exemption scheme and will be registering to be part of it.

“Throughout the pandemic we’ve had safety controls in place which we scale up and down depending on the risk. They include such actions as essential workers only in the workplace, shift bubbles, mask and other PPE use and temperature checks on arrival at work.

“Our priorities are to keep our people safe and ensure we can continue to collect and process our farmers’ milk.”

Rangitata MP Jo Luxton said the Government’s decision was made to keep essential services running, such as South Canterbury’s food production.

“The new close contact exemption scheme will help keep critical supply chains running when the Omicron outbreak gets much bigger.

“The goal is to allow critical business to continue to operate, and avoid a situation where an entire workforce is required to isolate at home.

“In South Canterbury this scheme covers critical industries like food production, distribution and sale of basic food.

“This system aims to strike a balance, keeping people safe while allowing businesses to operate.”

Sole traders and farmers are allowed to operate as a “bubble of one” if they are vaccinated and have no symptoms.

“We are taking a pragmatic approach to Omicron and its management,” Mrs Luxton said.

The changes struck a balance between continuing to keep people safe, but also keeping businesses and services operating as smoothly as possible, she said.