Coronavirus: The omicron variant complicates the operation of essential services and the activity of key economic sectors | Society

A woman undergoes a COVID screening test this Monday in New York.
A woman undergoes a COVID screening test this Monday in New York.JEENAH MOON (REUTERS)

The marked incidence of the new wave of the coronavirus has stressed basic services, such as health care, which were already exhausted after almost two years of pandemic. The high transmissibility of the omicron variant is decimating hospital personnel, but also firefighters, emergency or rescue services, among many others on the front lines of the virus. It also particularly affects airline crews, or workers in bars and restaurants, two sectors that see their activity suspended daily as the chain of infections becomes general. The key, for the most affected countries, is to stop the transmission of the virus without further damaging economic activity. Hence the reduction of the isolation period for those affected announced this Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, federal health agency) in the US, or the new restrictions adopted by the French Government, to minimize the exposure to the virus, and therefore slow down its advance, without harming economic activity. Four countries hit hard by omicron – the US, the UK, France and Italy – are trying to find the key, although they are also preparing for an explosion of cases in January, after the massive Christmas celebrations.

United States, assistance network to the limit

Restaurants closed due to staff contagion, theater functions and sports appointments suspended, and thousands of domestic and international flights canceled due to crew casualties are the most obvious signs of the impact of the omicron variant in the United States, where it is already responsible for three-quarters of contagions. With an increase in cases of 83% in the last 14 days, the health care network is at the limit in some states, such as New York, where the positivity rates exceed those registered in the peak incidence of winter 2020. The The fact that tens of millions of Americans have not received a single dose of the vaccine complicates health forecasts.

In New York, scheduled interventions have been put on hold to address the emergency, at a time when hospitalization for covid of children (half, under the age of five) has multiplied by four since December 5. Some states, like Massachusetts, have announced that they will mobilize the National Guard to ease the burden on hospitals.

Throughout the world, either because of the infection or because of the quarantine of crew members, the disruption of air traffic has caused the cancellation of 2,400 flights on Monday – around 900 of them in the United States -, while the chief medical advisor of The White House, Anthony Fauci, raised the possibility of declaring the vaccination certificate mandatory to fly. The flights canceled today are added to the trail of operations suspended since Friday, with special incidence in China, Indonesia and the US (a quarter of the total), according to the website’s registry. Fligthaware. In total, more than 8,000 planes have been grounded during the long Christmas weekend. This Tuesday, 800 cancellations are expected.

The new wave is changing the behavior of US consumers, marked by a retraction in credit card spending since December 8 and a 10% decrease in reservations in bars or restaurants, which require proof of mandatory indoor vaccination . In any case, the experts warn, the economic impact of the omicron variant will not be fully noticed -as well as the contagion figures- until January, although it is already being perceived in the tourism sector, which was beginning to take flight after the long pandemic shutdown.

United Kingdom, health and fire brigade

The blow of the omicron variant in the United Kingdom has forced the closure of the closed sign at dozens of shows, dismantled the travel plans of thousands of people and imposed an unwanted lock on the cultural industry. And the most worrying thing, in the midst of the debate on whether to reinforce the measures in England: it is leaving tens of thousands of health workers at home, precisely the sector that the Boris Johnson Government intends to protect with an eventual tightening of the restrictions.

The record numbers recorded almost daily are inevitably reflected in the way the country works. At airports, British Airways is the most affected airline, with more than 120 flights canceled since Christmas Day; and among the rail operators, LNER, which links London with the north of England, has withdrawn more than a dozen daily trains, while others, such as Avanti, which connects the capital with Scotland, warn of “last minute cancellations”.

London is the epicenter of the disaster and although the emergency services say they have managed to respond normally, groups such as the fire brigade have seen up to a third of the trucks left out of play due to the isolation of the workers. The scene in the West End is bleak too, with shows as popular as Hamilton, Matilda The Cabaret with the doors closed at the last minute, while Cinderella, the great bet of Andrew Lloyd Webber, has decided to stop until February to avoid the current uncertainty.

France, back to teleworking

France is looking to avoid paralysis or collapse due to the multiple sick leave due to coronavirus planned for the return of the Christmas holidays, when the country already exceeds 100,000 daily infections due to the “brilliant” advance of the omicron variant. It is not a vain threat: last week, the independent scientific committee advising the president, Emmanuel Macron, warned of a “possible disorganization of a certain number of essential services” in January, such as schools, transport or hospitals due to “absenteeism” and “sick leave” due to the “large number of infections by omicron”.

During the weekend, some train trips were canceled, as were many flights. “We are already seeing a very strong rise in sick leave,” Health Minister Olivier Véran confirmed this Monday. And the numbers will not stop increasing: “At the beginning of January, the number of infections will exceed 250,000 daily,” he has advanced. Given this perspective, the Government has announced that it will lighten the isolation conditions for infections and cases of contact with positives, which currently range from 7 to 17 days. However, the new deadlines will only be known at the end of the week, once scientific bodies and labor managers have been consulted. What has already been decided, Prime Minister Jean Castex has announced, is that as of January 3 and for at least three weeks, teleworking will once again be compulsory at least three days a week, and up to four where and when possible. On the contrary, and always in line with limiting the paralysis of the economy as much as possible, the return to school is maintained on January 3.

Italy, nightclubs closed and tourism collapse

The omicron variant and the threat of an exponential increase in infections, together with the possibility of the Government imposing new containment measures, have had a devastating effect on tourism. A Demoskopika poll, confirmed by industry organizations, estimates that at least eight million Italians have canceled accommodation reservations for their Christmas holidays. Another survey by Confcommercio, the federation of trade and tourism business associations, shows that six out of ten Italians consulted will spend a maximum of only two days away from home, without leaving their region.

In addition, the Executive of Mario Draghi established on December 23 a series of restrictions to save activity during the holidays, including the use of a mask outdoors. It has also limited access to numerous entertainment venues such as bars, restaurants, cinemas and theaters only to those vaccinated or those who have passed the COVID-19 infection.

The authorities have also decreed the closure of discos, dance halls and similar venues until January 31. Entrepreneurs in the nightlife sector are on a war footing against the Government and accuse it of having given the coup de grace to thousands of companies already hard hit by the pandemic, accumulating losses of more than 4,000 million euros. The business associations of the sector assure that the night of the end of the year represents 15% of their annual turnover and they request help from the Executive to mitigate losses. They also ask you to go back and keep open the premises with limitations, for vaccinated or carriers of a negative coronavirus detection test.

The excess of infections has not affected the hospitals; in some regions such as Calabria or Friuli-Venezia Giulia they have a high occupancy rate, but without reaching the limit. There are problems with screening tests in some locations due to high demand.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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