Australian and New Zealand governments strengthen COVID-19 response

Australia and New Zealand have significantly stepped up measures to try and contain the rapid spread of the global Coronavirus pandemic.

Australia has enforced new Stage 1 restrictions on social gatherings, with the closures of non-essential services, such as restaurants, bars, cafes, gyms and libraries etc. The Australian Government has also restricted non-essential gatherings to no more than 500 people outside or no more than 100 people inside and advises against non-essential travel.

New Zealand has introduced almost identical measures, which it refers to as Stage 3. Essential services will remain open, such as supermarkets, banks, GPs, pharmacies, service stations, couriers and other important frontline service providers. Stage 4, is expected to be implemented in the coming days. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says has strongly recommended workplaces should have everyone working from home.

Following a meeting on Monday afternoon, the advice from Hort NZ is that the Ministry for Primary Industries considers all orchards, packhouses, cool stores and export entities are essential services. They can continue to operate, but there will be strict rules in place that allow them to continue to do so. In addition, all food and beverage producers and processors, and their supply chains, are deemed to be essential services. However, which essential businesses are included in the definition of the supply chain is still being discussed with MPI.

Some Australian states are preparing to bring in extra measures, with all people entering South Australia and Western Australia, to isolate for 14-days from their arrival.

It follows the decision from the Tasmanian Government to implement the same measures last week. However, ships will continue to carry freight to and from mainland Australia, allowing local businesses to continue to operate and employ Tasmanians. While, jurisdictions are working closely with the major supermarket chains to overcome obstacles in supply chains, such as restrictions on trucking movements.

These latest restrictions posed more concerns for the horticulture industry in Australia, with the National Farmers Federation (NFF) reiterating the need for agriculture and the food supply chain to be deemed an essential service, for the purpose of the COVID-19 response.

"The NFF has been assured (by Government) that agriculture and the food supply chain will not be interrupted, despite the closure of travel between some states,” NFF President Fiona Simson said. “The continued provision of quality fresh produce is paramount to safeguarding the wellbeing and health of the nation."

She added that while the agriculture industry takes human health seriously and is taking appropriate measures to ensure this is a priority, the transport of produce from farm to market must be able to happen unobstructed – this includes across state borders.

“Likewise, for the logistics that ensure the flow of essential agricultural inputs such as fertiliser and crop protection products," Ms Simson said. “Discussions also remain active about how to protect the workforce of key facilities, should there be a positive COVID-19 test. We understand a list of essential services may be developed by states. It is absolutely critical that there is consistency across states in the recognition of the importance of food production and the supply chain."

The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) welcomed the state's Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes’ confirmation that Victorian agriculture and agribusiness are an essential service.

VFF President David Jochinke said the VFF has been working closely with the Victorian Government to ensure that agribusiness can continue to operate.

“Victoria’s agricultural sector is the backbone of our state and a fundamental component of our economy. We are the lifeblood of many regional centres and rural towns,” Mr Jochinke said. Victoria produces more than $13 billion worth of milk, fruit, vegetables, meat, fibre, eggs and grains and supports a processed food industry worth $38 billion according to recent Victorian Government data. These are unprecedented times. The silver lining in all of this is the close relationship and partnership that VFF has established with the government.”

It follows reassurances from leaders of the horticulture industry in Queensland, who have sought to reassure consumers that there will be a steady and stable supply of fresh fruits and vegetables in store despite the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Queensland is blessed to have a variety of growing regions and climates, so every day of the year there’s something being harvested here in the Sunshine State. Through winter we produce many of the vegetables eaten around Australia,” Joe Moro, mango grower from Mareeba and chair of the Queensland Horticulture Council said. “While we do have some concerns for the supply of some inputs like chemicals and packaging, our greatest challenge appears to be finding enough workers to harvest our crops because we do normally employ a number of backpackers who are now deciding against or are unable to travel. As an industry, we’re quickly establishing what our shortfall in workers might be, and working with state and federal governments on initiatives to fill any gaps.”

Australia's Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud announced a new measure to maintain agricultural production and supply chains through the COVID-19 response, with Mark Tucker appointed as Senior Agriculture Industry Engagement Officer

“Mr Tucker will be the key liaison between my department and agriculture, fisheries and forestry stakeholders affected by COVID-19,” Minister Littleproud said. “He understands the ag sector through-and-through from his distinguished career working closely with this industry’s stakeholders and peak bodies. He’ll be working with Commonwealth Departments and State Governments to ensure agriculture industry perspectives inform our decision-making. This role will give us regular status updates on key issues in this sector and it’ll help us respond exactly where we need to.”

Note: All information is correct as at 5pm (Australian Eastern Daylight Saving Time), but is subject to change very quickly due to the rapidly evolving situation.

The horticulture industry stakeholders in New Zealand can keep up to date with Hort NZ's latest information by clicking here

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