A recent News.com.au article Scott Morrison announces change to isolation rules for workers in critical supply chain industries quotes Australia's Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly:

[he] said that Woolworths and Coles were struggling with a 30 per cent to 50 per cent absenteeism rate, as the nation grapples with empty supermarket shelves and meat shortages.

I want to know

  • Are there any empty supermarket shelves (I have not observed this myself)
  • Are the empty supermarket shelves caused by absenteeism due to COVID?
  • 1
    I personally almost never interpret the phrase "empty shelves" literally...
    – user11643
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 1:43
  • It is worth noting that previously in Australia we had empty shelves due to panic buying. There was no issue with the food amounts but everyone bought more just in case resulting in issues. This appears to be having an impact currently (no toilet roll etc)
    – sam_smith
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 2:11
  • @sam_smith: [citation-needed]
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 3:00
  • 7
    Can we agree that "empty shelves" means "many more product lines than normal are sold out", rather than "All the shelves are completely bare" or "My favourite shaving cream was sold out, and in my online order, they substituted a brand I don't like" (as a completely invented example that has no correspondence to exactly what happened to me on Thursday)?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 3:09
  • Here is an article from 2020 talking about the panic buying. I am not saying the current situation is not exacerbated by the staff shortages but this has been a factor in the past.
    – sam_smith
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 3:20

1 Answer 1


More or less true, although the issues seem to be specifically with the transport workforce, and mainly in certain parts of the country.

According to this recent ABC article there have been significant disruptions in the trucking industry:

Logistics operators reported between a third and half of their workforce were missing each day due to COVID illness or isolation.

This in turn causes problems resupplying supermarkets. The above article includes a photo of an empty shelf in a Woolworths in Brisbane, taken by an ABC journalist. The other major supermarket chain, Coles, has placed limits on a small number of items (outside of WA). The article also suggests that the biggest impact is in NSW and Queensland.

  • My experience (Brisbane) is that meat shelves are empty and packing and distribution centres are understaffed since the beginning of January.
    – Jay
    Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 2:12

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