What happens to Woolies in lockdown

As medical experts continue to urge the Government to place Australia into a full lockdown, there's speculation that such draconian measures are now a matter of when, not if.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus across the country continue to rise and Thursday marked the deadliest day, with four Aussies succumbing to the disease in 24 hours.

Strict social distancing measures, dubbed 'stage two' by the Government, have shut down pubs, restaurants, casinos, theatres and other venues that attract large numbers of people.

"There will be a stage three," Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews warned yesterday.

But what happens to supermarkets in the event of a total lockdown and how will Australians get the food they need for an extended period confined to their homes?

 

Supermarket shelves across Australia were stripped bare by panic buyers in recent weeks. Picture: AAP
Supermarket shelves across Australia were stripped bare by panic buyers in recent weeks. Picture: AAP

 

Woolworths chief executive officer Brad Banducci said it's a scenario the company is living in right now across the ditch in New Zealand.

At midnight on Wednesday, New Zealand entered a full lockdown meaning that everyone except workers in essential services must stay home. The measures could stay in place for four weeks.

If Australia follows suit, either at a national level or in some individual states, like New South Wales and Victoria, what happens to supermarket operators like Woolworths?

"We are an essential service and we will be operating under any scenario," Mr Banducci said in an interview on ABC News Breakfast today.

"I would say to all of our customers, there is no need to surge stock up now. All surge demand does is cause a number of issues in our supply chain and it leads to the stock-outs."

 

Woolworths is hiring 20,000 new staff members, including home delivery workers. Picture: Supplied
Woolworths is hiring 20,000 new staff members, including home delivery workers. Picture: Supplied

 

Should stricter measures be implemented in Australia, Mr Banducci said Australians getting the food they need would actually be easier.

"In the context of a lockdown, if that's where we go, it will be easier for us to make sure the product is on shelf so there is no need to panic."

A lockdown would see many people rely on supermarket home delivery services, but in recent weeks those services have been stretched to their limits as people panic buy.

Mr Banducci announced that Woolworths is urgently recruiting 20,000 new staff and one of the three major areas is home delivery.

"We need it," Mr Banducci said.

"We know that's the best way to keep the vulnerable customers safe and so we are working literally 24 hours a day to stand it back up.

"We are operating today. It is true that we don't have enough capacity and we needed to make tough choices and prioritising the orders, so we meet those most in need first."

Supermarkets would be deemed an essential service in order to continue the supply of food across the country.

Part of that essential operation would be the distribution and restocking of food at stores.

And Woolworths is looking at international examples where lockdowns have occurred or countries have restricted the movement of people in a bid to combat coronavirus.

"I spend every night on the phone talking to retail colleagues in Italy, South Korea, Japan, you name it," Mr Banducci said.

In the interim, Woolies is reducing its operating hours at 41 supermarkets in a bid to ramp up its restocking efforts.

Mr Banducci also confirmed that as part of the company's recruitment effort, some 800 offers had been made to Qantas workers - some of the 30,000 Qantas workers who were recently stood down by the airline.

"There are so many skills they can bring to us actually and I think they would be a great addition while we have them as part of the team," he said.

Originally published as What happens to Woolies in lockdown

 

Police officers distributed toilet paper and paper towels at a Sydney supermarket earlier this month to calm panic buyers. Picture: Storyful
Police officers distributed toilet paper and paper towels at a Sydney supermarket earlier this month to calm panic buyers. Picture: Storyful

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