The trucking company which supplies much of the food and produce into Canberra's Woolworths supermarkets is bracing itself for possible logistics upheavals as the Victorian/NSW border goes into lockdown at midnight.
The head office of Ron Finemore Transport is in Wodonga, on the Victorian side of the border, and it runs more then 250 prime movers around the clock in its freight operations up and down the eastern seaboard of Australia, as well across to South Australia.
The company had successfully negotiated its way through the COVID-19 border restrictions imposed in Queensland and South Australia by having a signed company declaration which gave its trucks unfettered freight passage through the border controls.
Those declarations were signed back in March and are on the dashboard of every Finemore's interstate prime mover. The company is updating all those declarations as a stop gap measure to keep the freight moving through the NSW border until all drivers are issued with government permits.
Finemore's managing director, Mark Parry, said the swiftness with which this specific NSW/Victorian lockdown had been set up created its own set of challenges.
One of Australia's most sophisticated road transport operators, Finemore's runs at a 99.7 per cent on time delivery rate because of the tight time frames in which heavy vehicle access is granted to supermarkets, and the need to get the fresh produce out of the distribution warehouse and into stores.
"We are an essential service for food and fuel so we are reasonably confident there won't be any freight delays at the border for our customers, which includes many of the Canberra Woolworths stores," Mr Parry said.
"We're in constant contact with our clients, of course, and they know what's happening, but there are a number of unknowns involved and we're working through these.
"One major issue we face is getting our workforce in place without knowing what the potential extent of the border delays will be in them getting to work.
"We have between 200 and 250 drivers and support staff who need to get across the border after midnight to start their shifts over the following 24-hour period.
"We run a 24/7 operation with tightly scheduled pick-up and delivery times.
"From a driver's perspective, there are specific hours they can drive for, and mandatory rest times between shifts and out on the road, so everything has to be worked into that schedule.
"It would have been useful to have had the cross-border permit system in place and set up before the restrictions were imposed but that being said, we understand the situation is fluid and we're very supportive of what the state governments need to do in this COVID environment."
Mr Parry said that the supermarkets were aware of the potential for delivery issues and said the first 24-36 hours of the border lockdown "will be challenging".
"If there are delays and the goods don't get there [to the supermarkets] when they are supposed to, that's when there is a reaction from the public side," he said.
"People see there's shortages of certain things and that triggers panic buying."
On Tuesday, Woolworths announced it was all product sales limits, except those on toilet paper.
It said it had "more than enough stock" to support all grocery needs but would "continue to monitor the situation closely and will not hesitate to reinstate product limits if needed".