Staff absenteeism a challenge for businesses, but preferable to total lockdown: Retail Council of Canada

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The Retail Council of Canada says staff absenteeism due to the surge in Omicron variant cases is a challenge for businesses, but is preferable to a total lockdown which would be 'detrimental'.

According to the Retail Council of Canada, up to 20 per cent of workforces across the country are absent, either in isolation as they wait for COVID-19 test results or due to a confirmed case of the virus.

"Without a doubt, every wave of this pandemic has given retailers a range of challenges, but because of how highly transmissible the Omicron variant is, we're seeing very significant absenteeism," said John Graham, director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada's Prairie Region.

"However, when one-fifth of your staff are missing, it makes it very challenging in the best of times to operate a store."

Graham said some small businesses – those with a smaller group of employees or run by a family – are being forced to close due to the shortage of staff.

He said dealing with these shortages of staff may mean under-servicing customers, but it is still a better option than a full lockdown.

"The concept of a hard shutdown, as in previous waves, was detrimental to a lot of businesses. To completely shut a business down in a number of cases would be meaning permanent closures," Graham said, adding the absenteeism due to self-isolation is the best strategy to reduce Omicron cases in the community.

"However, most importantly, right now is to maintain strict sick policies, protect the workplace both for the employees and for the shoppers, and maintain mandatory masking and physical distancing and all these precautions that will create a safe environment."

Currently in Manitoba, physical distancing measures and masks are required in stores.