Sixth wave causes further labor shortages in restaurants, retail and manufacturing

After two years of intermittent closings, Rachel Reinders felt a surge of hope last month as pandemic restrictions eased and spring dawned on the cusp of a new patio season.

But Reinders, who runs the administration of the Lieutenant’s Pump pub in Ottawa, has had to scale back once again, closing its lunch kitchen for a week in March because four cooks were on sick leave simultaneously.

“We don’t have all the necessary staff in the kitchen, so we couldn’t even really lose one. And we lost four,” she said. “Those left behind worked double time to pick up the slack.”

Businesses across Canada are struggling to cope with an apparent sixth wave of COVID-19 as staffing shortages hamper sectors from healthcare to hospitality and retail⁠ – although the disruption remains more manageable than last winter’s Omicron variant push.

Dr. Kevin Smith, chief executive of the University Health Network in Toronto, said on Wednesday that the number of cases in his hospitals had increased in the past few days, “so much so that staffing is again difficult.”

In Montreal, parka maker Quartz Co. recently saw about 10 of its nearly 100 employees stay home with symptoms of COVID-19, although co-founder François-Xavier Robert says the absences were shorter than in january.

“That’s just as much as we had in December,” when the company closed its flagship store in Montreal and a pair of pop-up storefronts there and in Toronto. “Almost everyone who hasn’t had one over the winter has had it in the last two weeks.

“Nobody really got sick. People were off for a day or two and then went back to work,” Robert added. “This time it’s easier.”

Still, retailers, gyms and event spaces are taking another hit as workers fall ill or avoid those areas altogether, fearing further closures, said Ryan Mallough, senior director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“The impact is felt at all levels, in terms of absences,” he said. “Some of that nervousness is starting to come back into the mindset a bit.”

Several Canadian provinces are beefing up their defenses against the virus amid signs of a sixth wave. Quebec and Prince Edward Island have extended their provincial mask mandates until later this month and Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia plan to expand access to fourth doses of the vaccine.

A shortage of staff, particularly pilots, continues to plague parts of the airline industry, while more flight attendants have had to call in sick in recent weeks.

Pilots say a Transport Canada backlog is delaying medical certification, resulting in months-long delays before they can get back in the air. According to the Air Line Pilots Association, a significant number of pilots deemed fit to fly by aviation medical examiners have been waiting a year or more for approval from Transport Canada. Many have been laid off or furloughed during the pandemic, contributing to the current bureaucratic bottleneck.

However, Retail Council of Canada spokeswoman Michelle Wasylyshen says labor disruptions have largely “stabilized” for its 45,000 businesses.

“I don’t think they’re having as big of a disruption as January. The peak seems to have been then,” she said. had been programmed.”

Meanwhile, some offices are moving forward as planned with return-to-work policies, although these often involve hybrid arrangements, such as at Mouvement Desjardins.

“Although the number of employees affected by COVID-19 is increasing, this situation does not affect the quality of the services we provide to members and clients,” said spokesperson Jean Benoît Turcotti.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 8, 2022.

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