Australia is seeing its COVID case count increase exponentially, logging a total of one million cases since the pandemic began. Yet half of these cases erupted only in the past week.
Experts believe the surge proves the higher transmissibility of the Omicron variant.
The latest wave, however, has greatly affected frontliners in the food processing and manufacturing sectors, particularly supermarket staff.
Grocery store owners said as much as half of their workforce had been forced into quarantine after being exposed to one or more close contacts. These staff shortages have led to disruptions in the supply of essential goods.
The situation has caused state governments to rethink their isolation rules. Authorities in New South Wales and Queensland announced the easing of restrictions concerning workers forced to quarantine.
People working in critical or essential services who come into contact with a COVID-positive individual may be permitted to step out of quarantine if their work is vital to food supply and emergency services.
In a statement on Sunday, health officials in NSW said: "Critical workers in the food logistics and manufacturing sectors furloughed as close contacts will be permitted to leave self-isolation to attend work if they have no symptoms of COVID-19, to ensure the state has continued access to essential goods."
While reports earlier claimed the death toll from the new variant has purportedly been lower, NSW recorded its deadliest day – with 16 patients succumbing to COVID on Sunday.