Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: additional staff from Australia to help countdown in New Zealand

Business

Three per cent of New Zealand’s population currently have active cases, including 152,358. Video/NZ Herald

By RNZ

The countdown is bringing in reinforcements from Australia to help keep the shelves stocked as Omicron places hundreds of staff here.

You may have noticed a bit of empty supermarket real estate lately – your cat’s favorite food off the menu and empty freezers.

Countdown says it has all the products, but as spokesperson Kiri Hannifin explains, it’s all about giving them away.

She told RNZ Checkpoint the supermarket chain was being hit hard by people with Covid-19 or in isolation, with Auckland particularly hard hit.

Today, 1,800 people are off work out of its 22,000 workforce. “The good news is there’s plenty of food, so that’s great.”

Countdown spokesperson Kiri Hannifin.  Photo / Provided
Countdown spokesperson Kiri Hannifin. Photo / Provided

She says the company has been planning for months how it will deal with what happened in Australia.

However, the situation “changes every day and it’s always a bit difficult to get out of it but there is lots and lots of food around”.

To get supplies into the hands of customers, Countdown is paying to fly over a crew of New Zealanders now able to return home without having to go to MIQ or self-isolate.

They will help in the coolers by ensuring that products such as butter, hummus and yogurt are available for sale.

“We’re bringing a team here to help us…so it’s just a handful but enough to take the pressure off,” Hannifin said.

The ‘everyone on deck’ approach has also seen support desk employees move to the distribution center (where up to 45% of staff are absent) and they receive advice on handling forklifts in the in their new roles.

These shelves in a Countdown store were empty despite the company's efforts to juggle supplies.  Photo/RNZ
These shelves in a Countdown store were empty despite the company’s efforts to juggle supplies. Photo/RNZ

Members of Hannifin’s sustainability team have moved to help in online stores, while other mostly office workers are based in ‘dark’ supermarkets which specialize in dispatching orders groceries to people living in isolated communities.

“So we’re absolutely robbing Peter to pay Paul, but I guess first we’re perfecting ourselves at the same time, but we’ve done that before, we did that in August [during the Auckland lockdown]. We moved people and I’m just so grateful that our team is so open to participating.”

It’s not just Countdown staff who are sick or isolated – independent drivers, suppliers and transport systems are also affected.

“So it’s a bit like a Mexican wave. So we’re getting through it, it’s not too bad. Everyone is participating and doing what we can to help, but yeah the next few weeks will be a bit muddy for us,” said Hannifin.

She says Countdown is also juggling items loaded onto trucks heading to supermarkets with new supplies.

“So we’re trying to make sure everyone gets a bit of everything…

“We shoot and make sure we get the staple food type and the priority foods out. So there might not be six different types of capers, but there will be one type of capers, but just for a few weeks…”

The chain also makes sure to cater to communities such as Waiheke and Queenstown where there aren’t many different food vendors.

Hannifin is pleased to see that some staff are already returning from illness or isolation. “Then it’ll be better. It’s just a little dirty.”