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Worker shortage fears on Omicron explosion

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Bahamian employers yesterday voiced fears that the rapid explosion in Omicron cases could result “in our whole system being challenged” by the absence of key workers.

Magnus Alnebeck, general manager of the Freeport-based Pelican Bay resort, told Tribune Business that it was not just the private sector but essential public services - hospitals, police, Customs and Immigration - that could suffer acute staffing shortages from COVID-infected workers and their contacts being forced into 14-day quarantine.

“I think our problem as it looks right now is having a lot of people sick in January and February,” he explained. “Keeping everything going will be a problem. The airport, Immigration, Customs. I think it’s going to be a problem for our whole system, not necessarily the hotel. That’s going to be our challenge.

“Once we start testing, we’re going to find so many people who have the virus and are sick. We have a vaccination rate at the hotel of close to 80 percent of staff, and the ones not vaccinated have to present a test once a week. We’re telling anyone who has symptoms, don’t come to work; get yourself tested.”

Dr Michael Darville, minister of health and wellness, yesterday indicated that some 130 public sector medical personnel are off work due to COVID-19, while 31 police officers are in the same position, highlighting that Omicron is likely to present greater human resource management challenges than any COVID variant seen to-date.

Peter Goudie, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) labour division chair, yesterday confirmed to Tribune Business he was already aware of companies - especially in the retail sector - who were asking healthy staff to work longer hours to cover for colleagues absent due to COVID-related issues.

“I have to think any business is worried about shortages of people,” he said. “I know some businesses had to have people work longer hours because others were out with COVID and had to quarantine. I think we’re all concerned, and we have to be concerned.”

Pointing to the worldwide Omicron response, which has seen places such as Canada’s Ontario province reimpose restrictions on indoor dining and businesses such as health clubs, Mr Goudie added: “With the numbers we’re getting I’m worried about that happening here. It’s serious. It’s serious.”

The Bahamas recorded 1,966 cases from December 27 to January 2. That record weekly number of cases includes the two highest daily numbers since the start of the pandemic: 520 on December 30, 2021 and 477 on January 2. And Monday’s 315 new cases brought the figure to 2,311 for an eight-day period.

Omicron, which current data suggests is more contagious but less deadly than previous COVID variants such as Delta, has produced an explosion of infections with 1,850 new cases recorded in The Bahamas between Thursday, December 30, and Monday, January 3 for a daily average of 370. Hospitalisations have also risen, albeit more slowly, to 58 with three in intensive care.

Mr Goudie said that while Omicron does not appear as deadly as previous COVID variants, such as Delta, its rapid spread was “scaring people and people are getting COVID who you would not normally expect to”.

“My answer to you is that the private sector has to be concerned about the way it is spreading, and having staff shortages,” he added. “I know of some businesses where that’s happening already and people are having to work longer hours. Retail especially because they don’t have any choice. It’s difficult. It’s really difficult. It’s been difficult for two years.

“Businesses are going to have to work out contingency plans. Period. No doubt. Businesses have to make contingency plans because of potential problems, and they should be making them. It’s no different from hurricane season.”

Comments

ThisIsOurs 7 months, 1 week ago

Im so baffled. We keep doing this same dance every 4 months. Tourism is open again! The airport is packed with visitors! Let the tourists party (someone have to serve drinks). Oh no, look the numbers going up, someone save tourism!

What am I missing?

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ohdrap4 7 months, 1 week ago

They have to change the protocol yo 5 days quarentine and have them go back to work as soon as the fever breaks.

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