How will critical businesses such as food production and freight turn the wheels when the force of omicron hits full force?
A modeler predicts it could infect up to half the population and depending on who is considered a close contact, that could mean many people are taking time off from work and self-isolating.
Business NZ boss Kirk Hope said Checkpoint the biggest concern for businesses is understanding who needs to self-isolate and for how long.
“Some of these delays are going to be real pinch points, especially with the number of people potentially infected with Omicron.”
He said people had not thought about the impact of some households having to self-isolate for 24 days if they had a case and close contacts.
“This is going to have a huge impact on every home and every workplace throughout the year.”
Large companies have prepared under Delta to divide their workforces into shifts or shifts and, where possible, encourage people to work from home.
“The reality is that once Omicron comes in…it’s going to be really hard to deal with.”
Other tools would be needed to manage risks among the workforce to detect the presence of Covid-19 such as PCR tests and rapid antigen tests.
Rapid antigen tests will be essential but they are “extremely difficult” to obtain, Hope said.
“Almost every company we know of tries to order them [rapid antigen tests] but they have real difficulties. It’s frustrating and disappointing and quite reactive.”
He said almost all businesses find this, including those working in border, logistics and critical infrastructure.
“It’s a pretty wide range.”
He said it took “a group of companies” to band together to force the government to lift the import ban on RATs, which at least meant there was stock in the country.
“It’s too slow and too reactive…and it makes it really, really difficult for companies to operate in what Omicron is going to bring.”
Regarding the operation of critical industries, he was aware that the Ministry of Health was considering exemptions for certain workers, so that they would not have to self-isolate for the full 10 days.
Permanent mask-wearing and regular PCR testing are among the options being considered, and the department deserves some credit for that work, Hope said.
The 10-day isolation period for close contacts was too long, as overseas experience proves.
“The government needs to look at this very, very closely to allow the economy and the communities to continue to function.
“It’s going to start affecting us very, very soon.”
Five to seven days would be best, he said.
It was disappointing that the government took a week to provide details of what the three stages of the Omicron community outbreak meant for businesses.
Business people didn’t understand what the trigger points for localized lockdowns would be in stages one through three, he said, and they needed a lot more clarity.
Businesses facing the prospect of no staff and no customers also needed to know if they would receive financial support.
“Costs are going to increase further for businesses. It will not be different from previous situations that we have seen during shutdowns.