The high levels of panic buying witnessed in Western Australia in the early stages of the covid-19 pandemic is set to return as the states border is planning to be re-opened to the rest of the country on Monday 5th February.
Supermarket shelves are being left empty due to a supply chain crisis caused by the worsening spread of Omicron cases among transport, distribution and retail workers in the country's east.
Pierre Sequeira, the manager of the Preston Street IGA in Perth's southern suburbs, said although his store was currently well stocked, he was unsure what would happen when the state's border reopens in February.
Mr. Sequeira has noticed that customers are already starting to stock up on essential items.
"We're trying to tell people not to panic buy because, I think, that just ends up with a few people buying too much. I would say the last few days we've had busier trading days and I think it's partly because of the weather but I think it's partly because people are starting to buy,” says Pierre Sequeira.
“I had a situation last time where a lady bought a whole heap of pasta and they don't eat pasta at all. So, it's things like that. People just with the herd mentality decide to buy certain goods because everyone is and they do the same thing with toilet paper,” continued Mr. Sequeira
Pierre Sequeira believes that although Western Australia has remained relatively free of covid-19, the state government must clarify how businesses should manage future outbreaks.
"That's where we want to get the definition of a close contact, how we manage that and how many days they've got to isolate because that's going to be a tricky thing to manage. We've got a decent number of staff but the minute we've got a few of them drop out it's going to be hard to manage the store, so it's almost a wait-and-see situation, but we are a bit concerned because we haven't got some of the answers,” says Pierre Sequeira.
Mr Sequeira also strongly believes that rapid antigen tests for employees should be supplied to all businesses across the state.
WA Independent Grocers Association president John Cummings said the new wave of panic buying was exacerbating grocers' capacity to restock some items.
"That's causing some orders to go up from stores, which is putting delays on deliveries from the warehouse and putting pressure on the supply chain," says John Cummings President of WA Independent Grocers Association.
Mr Cummings said he believed the pandemic-induced shortage of manpower to stock shelves in the eastern states would most likely occur in Western Australia once covid-19 became rampant in the community and people fell sick.
Mr Cummings says that the industry had already been struggling with a workforce shortage over the past two years but he expected it would soon worsen.
"We tend to pool from the same workforce in hospitality, in cafes and all those areas … a lot of our workforce is casual as well, so we're all competing for the same market. The logistics come down to a simple thing: In Western Australia, in the grocery sector, there's about 4 or 5 million cartons of stock that has to go on shelves each month,” says WA Independent Grocers Association president John Cummings.
"That equates to about 300,000 cartons of stock that needs to be delivered to stores and put up on the shelf each day for people to go shopping the next day and that needs truck drivers and people. I think we can learn a lot from what's occurring in the eastern states to keep these places open. I think it's a combination of rapid antigen testing, of looking at who's actually a close contact, who can go to work and who can't go to work,” says John Cummings.