“It’s not just community pharmacies that would be impacted but hospitals.”

Geoff Gwilym, chief executive of the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce, said the state government had “failed to understand the supply chain issues” and he expected half of the state’s car dealerships to shut by next week.

The closures, combined with a global slowdown in car manufacturing, could cause a shortage of spare parts, Mr Gwilym said.

“In some regions we will effectively run out of cars and we will run out of some parts as well,” he said. “If we hadn’t waved auto manufacturing offshore with such glee we might be able to rely on the manufacturing plant in Broadmeadows [a former Ford site].”

Cars ‘can’t be fixed online’

But Kristian Aquilina, interim chairman and managing director of Holden, said the business had rapidly rearranged rosters in consultation with unions and the workforce, and was still able to function.

“Our Holden spare parts warehousing and distribution team have had to react quickly to the new Victorian government stage four restrictions on business,” Mr Aquilina said.

“We have consulted with staff and unions, rearranged rosters for two-thirds capacity and issued the necessary permits to those essential workers involved.

“Those arrangements are in place and functioning, and I am confident that we can continue to meet national demand for Holden spare parts from our Dandenong facility.”

Holden operates a large spare parts warehouse and distribution operation in the outer Melbourne suburb of Dandenong, which supplies vital parts to mechanics around Australia for the 1.6 million Holdens on the road, some of which are police cars.

Holden says it can keep meeting demand for spare auto parts, despite having to slash staff numbers at its spare parts warehouses. Arsineh Houspian

It has cut back its workforce on site from 120 to 80 under the new lockdown rules.

However, other car dealers and repair shops are confused about whether they are allowed to fix and service cars of non-essential workers during the lockdown.

“It’s the repair and maintenance and service that we’re worried about,” Mr Gwilym said. “You can sell cars online but you can’t change a brake pad online, and you can’t fix the handbrake that doesn’t work online.”

Under stage four restrictions, automotive, machinery and equipment repair and maintenance are allowed to operate, “where providing support to a permitted service or industry or where required to maintain the health and safety of Victorians at home or at work.”

Richard Dudley, chief executive of the Motor Trades Association, said that while wholesalers could keep selling parts online, it was not clear whether workers were allowed to go into work to get parts, package them up, and post them.

There was also a lot of confusion about how businesses should make sure COVID-19 safe processes were being followed, he said.

Warehouse fears

The Australian Logistics Council (ALC) has urged the Victorian government to keep working with industry to reduce potential supply chain disruptions.

National distribution centres in Victoria handle supplies of clothing, appliances and other everyday items for shops around the country, said ALC CEO Kirk Coningham.

“The industry remains deeply concerned that the requirement to reduce staffing levels in these Victorian-based warehouses and national distribution centres to 67 per cent of daily total capacity will have a flow-on impact beyond Victoria,” Mr Coningham said.

Companies that provide logistics services and operate warehouses said demand for warehousing space outside Victoria had risen amid fears that warehousing operations in the state would be curtailed.

“Some retailers which only had Victorian-based warehouses decided they needed to mitigate the risk of Victorian distribution centres being shut down and subsequently, we saw a big spike in demand for NSW warehousing space,” said Leigh Williams, CEO of eStore Logistics.

Qantas Freight services are only slowly returning after its Melbourne terminals were closed due to some staff being infected with COVID-19.

The terminals are closed until at least midnight Thursday, meaning most freight could not be lodged or collected, although urgent medical domestic shipments were still able to be sent to Melbourne.

Qantas said staff were gradually returning to the terminals.