Scott Morrison has relaxed isolation rules to keep close contacts of Covid-19 cases in critical supply chains from having to isolate at home.
The changes will bring the food distribution industry and emergency services in line with requirements that already apply in some states.
Anyone who tests positive or who is symptomatic will not return to work.
Scott Morrison singled out those who are driving the truck to deliver the food, those who are stacking the shelves at night, those who are in the distribution centres, those who are in the abattoirs, those who are in the manufacturing places that are producing food will be exempt from close contact isolation rules.
The prime minister insists the country now has no choice but to “push through” the rise of Omicron cases, saying the alternative is a return to lockdowns.
“I mean, you can just shut everything down and lock everybody away, and there will be no food on the shelves, and there’ll be no children getting taught, and there’ll be no one providing health care,” he says.
The new isolation changes were agreed to by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, comprised of state and territory chief health officers.
The news comes after New South Wales announced critical workers who test positive will be allowed to leave self-isolation to ensure the state has continued access to essential goods and services.
Under the changes employees in the food logistics, manufacturing, transport, postal and warehousing industries will be allowed to leave quarantine to attend work if they are asymptomatic.
Chief Health Minister Dr Kerry Chant signed off on the updated rules.
“Workers will only be eligible to leave self-isolation if their employer determines that their absence from the workplace poses a high risk of disruption to the delivery of critical services or activities, and they are unable to work from home,” a statement from Health authorities read.
Starting January 18, Victoria has exempted close contact transport workers from isolation requirements provided they return a negative rapid antigen test every day for five days.