British companies are warning of the impact of the lack of staff in Omicron


British retail, manufacturing, tourism and health companies have warned of staff shortages as more workers report Covid-19 as a variant of the Omicron coronavirus. sweep the earth.

The UK Health Security Agency estimated that around 200,000 new Omicron infections occurred on Monday, which could lead to more than a million new cases by the weekend if the trend continues. Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, told ministers on Tuesday that a sharp rise in cases was likely to lead to mass absenteeism.

An increasing number of sick staff have already raised concerns in labor-intensive industries, and some executives fear a return to the kind of supply chain disruption we saw during the summer “pingdemia” when people were forced to isolate themselves after contact with Covid.

Gary Grant, CEO of Entertainer, a toy retailer, said: “We now have more Covid positive cases in the company than ever since the pandemic began.”

Grant said the situation was made worse by staff being told to be tested after contacting Covid.

Double-vaccinated contacts of Omicron sufferers in England no longer have to be isolated for 10 days, but have to take a lateral flow test every day – a challenge given the generally reported test deficiencies.

Royal Mail said the absences of workers this Christmas were almost double the level of 2018, causing problems in some parts of the country, while the disease among train crews began to affect the railway network.

Another retail director said staff were more cautious about coming to work before Christmas, saying the “fear factor” had risen because “people don’t want to be caught and get Covid.” He added that many EU citizens who plan to return home for Christmas have already left.

Labor issues were raised with Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary, in a meeting with business groups on Monday, according to people familiar with the debate, and again between retail chiefs and business minister Paul Scully on Tuesday night.

Scully acknowledged concerns about staff shortages, but tried to reassure people on the call that the new daily testing regime would address “pingdemia” issues.

Scully was also under pressure as the government planned next, but reduced the possibility of closure. He argued that government policy would create a “breathing space” to assess the impact of the new variant.

One retail director said the shortage of staff was not as great as during the summer “pingdemia”, but that an increasing number were a cause for concern.

Other traders said there was no general increase in absenteeism rates, although they were “ticking” in some places.

Neil Bowker, president of the UK Warehouse Association, said some warehousing operators were under pressure at a time of rising seasonal demand. “Demands for seasonal handling have increased and as experienced warehouse operators isolate themselves with the virus, the challenges are growing,” he said.

Verity Davidge, director of policy at Make UK, said the rise in new variants was “an alarm for many manufacturers who, despite continuing to adhere to various security measures, will not be able to stop the expansion on their own and seek support from the government.” .

She said switching from self-isolation to daily testing would help, but added that more needed to be done “to protect potential staff shortages and the risk of shutting down production lines again”.

Make UK wants an immediate renewal of the legal salary for sick leave and additional efforts to ensure that testing at work and at home is available free of charge.

Nursing homes have already suffered staff shortages due to the requirement that all employees be vaccinated. Robert Kilgour, founder of the Renaissance Care chain in Scotland, said the latest wave of infections is increasing pressure. “We see that an increasing number of our staff are not testing positive and it is of great concern to us right now to ensure that we have enough staff to care for our vulnerable senior residents,” he said.

There are signs that the spread of the virus is beginning to affect health care. Matthew Taylor, executive director of the NHS Confederation, which represents health organizations nationwide, said: “Health leaders tell us they are experiencing some staff absences because of Covid.”

While the NHS has been doing its best to keep the services running, “leaders are very concerned about what’s to come, especially given the high patient demand and vital focus on the reinforcement program,” he added.

Business groups want a broader package of financial assistance for companies experiencing work disruptions and disappearing after the government recommended people work from home.

Tim Foster, founder of Yummy Pubs, said his Somers Town Coffee House in Euston was fully filled with more than 400 covers for Wednesday a month ago, but that dropped to just 22. “Today, tomorrow and Friday would be ours The busiest days of the year, we lost 857 front pages from the three days so far, and more will come, ”he said. “London is falling apart.”

Alasdair Murdoch, CEO of Burger King UK, said the chain was not yet significantly affected by staff shortages due to quarantine guidelines, but warned: “We will all soon run into absences because everything comes over the hill very quickly.”

Additional reports by Jonathan Eley, Harry Dempsey and Philip Georgiadis


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