High numbers of staff absent due to Covid-19 could put pressure on the critical supply chain, the chief executive of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) has warned.
High levels of staff absenteeism have also been reported in the Garda and health services.
It comes as new rules on quarantine periods and the use of rapid antigen testing come into force today, designed to reduce the pressure on the overwhelming PCR testing system and enable more staff to work back to Covid-related absences.
As of today, those aged four to 39 are advised to isolate themselves if they test positive for an antigen test, and to seek a confirmatory PCR test. An antigen test will now be accepted for receiving enhanced disease benefits, which until now required a PCR test.
Ibec chief executive Danny McCoy has warned of pressure on the critical supply chain due to the high levels of staff absent from staff due to the Omicron variant.
The proportions of staff absent from work in food production and the retail distribution sector were 15 to 18 percent, he told Morning Ireland of RTÉ radio. “Those are the companies that are open and that we know about.”
Given the current level of cases and because of the current isolation period of 10 days, the number of staff absent from work would likely continue to build, he said.
“It seems like you can have up to three close contacts for each positive case and sometimes they will be asymptomatic with negative antigen tests. That’s where a lot of stress comes from, especially in critical supply chain issues.”
Mr McCoy said some companies might not open this week, while there had been “a reduction in supply”, the question still came up.
“What we are seeing on this occasion is the scale of people caught in the rules of close contact, the delivery capacity is declining across the whole economy. Some of these are quite critical, therefore the government and the health authorities have to week fairly fast trading to provide some guidance.
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“Look at other jurisdictions that are dealing with the so-called pandemic effect – they have reduced the isolation periods, to be adaptable, to learn from what is happening with the virus, to learn in real time and to do it quickly.
“That’s one of the frustrations we get from employers, we can see this wave coming and the problems that will be there, it’s best it’s done along the way.
“The rules are not clear about what is acceptable (antigen or PCR) – the other frustration is that they can not question the vaccination status of their employees.
“We need guidance and we need it in real time, because people are starting to get back into manufacturing after the Christmas period, which is really crucial for the economy.”
Meanwhile, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) has warned that the force sees significant numbers of staff absent from work due to Covid-19 and this adds to the burden of their work.
Brendan O’Connor, Vice President of the GRA, told Morning Ireland of RTÉ radio that the pandemic affected the force, whether because people were infected or had close contacts.
“We’re back to the old style, fewer people expected them to do more, so it’s an extra burden for our members.
“It’s just a fact that units are being cut off, so we have fewer people parading for duty, so maybe there are the same number of calls coming in and there are just fewer people to do them. So people might travel further distances to handle matters and we also have colleagues who may be restless to come in to fill vacancies.
“Just like any staff, there are just fewer people trying to provide services, putting more pressure on those who are still in place to provide this service.”
“Our members find it quite inappropriate that they should be put at significant risk or additional risk by reducing the isolation period if they are in close contact, come into stations, create the risk of spreading more of this virus and have more absenteeism – that is something we would be very worried about. “
This is because more than 6,000 health care workers are on coronavirus-related leave, as hospitals are arming themselves for a sharp increase in patients infected with the disease this week.
The high number of healthcare workers infected as well as close contacts of confirmed cases is expected to cause major disruption to services as hospitals return to normal operations after Christmas.
Prior to what is traditionally the busiest week of the year for the health service, sources said that the number of staff on leave due to Covid-19, which stood at 3,800 before Christmas, is now higher than the 5,000 reached last autumn than the 6,000 recorded during the turnout of last January.
The Health Service Executive will publish updated figures on Covid-related absences later this week. But her chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said one in nine workers in the intensive care unit was currently unable to work due to infection or close contact. He said one in 10 staff at Mater Hospital in Dublin was on Covid-related leave.
Dr Henry warned that the “exact force of figures” as the Omicron variant spread rapidly could still lead to hospitals coming under pressure.
“As hospitals move around, we are seeing with increasing care the rapid increase in case numbers and transmission of the virus from the community and the effect this has on staff who become infected or are considered close contacts of a case,” Drs said. Henry The Irish Times.
Some 17,071 cases of the disease were reported in the state on Sunday, a day after a record 23,281 cases were recorded on Saturday, almost three times the level seen during the peak of last January. The Department of Public Health said these figures were “preliminary” due to the high incidence of the disease.
The leaders of the three governing parties – Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Environment Minister Eamon Ryan – are due to meet tomorrow evening to discuss their reaction to the latest Covid-19 turnout for a full cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
There were more cases over Christmas than in the whole of 2020, but the growth in infections and the number of hospitals, which stood at 717 on Sunday, seems to be slowing down, although reporting on the Christmas period tends to be invalid.