The run on toilet paper experienced by Australian shoppers during the first wave of COVID's Delta variant has returned, with the Omicron surge forcing the nation's largest supermarket chain, Woolworths, to reintroduce a national limit of two packs per customer across toilet paper and painkillers.
Woolworths described the actions as a "precautionary move following recent food and grocery supply chain constraints and pockets of increased demand across select categories".
It says the limits "will ensure more customers have fair access to toilet paper and analgesics".
This is in addition to the current Woolworths limit of one pack per purchase of rapid antigen kits.
Woolworths previously introduced two-pack limits on toilet paper in December 2020 in NSW and Victoria, then again in NSW midway through last year when greater Sydney and surrounding districts went into lockdown.
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However, the latest surge in the highly contagious Omicron variant has ramped up supply chain pressures even more than what was seen during previous outbreaks, causing high rates of absenteeism in distribution centres and in supermarkets as staff are forced to isolate when they, or their close contacts, test positive to COVID-19.
Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci said late last week that more than 20 per cent of distribution centre staff and more than 10 per cent of store workers were absent.
Director of stores Jeanette Fenske described it as "an anxious time for our customers across the country", but said the supermarket chain would remain open and operational as an essential service.
"We will continue to closely monitor product availability across our stores, with stock continuing to be sent to stores daily," she said.
"Customers will notice some gaps on shelves, but we're doing all that we can to meet demand.
"We encourage everyone to be mindful of others in the community and to continue shopping in reasonable quantities."
Supermarket chain Coles had already introduced one-pack-per-customer limits on toilet paper, and a two-pack-per-customer for medicines such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin.
In all states except Western Australia, Coles has also placed limits on purchases of chicken breast and thighs, mince, and sausages.
Woolworths has placed limits on the purchase on those products in Western Australia, but not as yet in the eastern states.
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