Quarter of retail stores have had to close for period or reduce hours due to Covid

Retail, hospitality and food industry call for change to close contact rules

A quarter of retail stores have been forced to close for a period of time in recent weeks as a result of Covid-related staff shortages, a survey by Retail Excellence has found.

The recent surge of Covid cases as a result of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant is having a huge knock-on effect across the economy, as many sectors report staff being unable to work due to either testing positive for the virus or being designated a close contact.

Duncan Graham, managing director of Retail Excellence, said many of it members were operating with a “skeleton staff” as upwards of 20 per cent of employees were off work due to Covid-related issues.

"About 25 per cent said they had been forced to close for a period of time, which could be shorter hours or closing for a full day or something," Mr Graham said.


“If things don’t improve, 50 per cent said they would anticipate having to close for a period of time in the coming weeks.”

Mr Graham said this is another blow for businesses, particularly smaller ones, which have been badly hit since the onset of the pandemic.

“At the moment, you’ve got a situation where you don’t know whether from one day to the next what your staffing situation is going to be like tomorrow morning,” he added.

Mr Graham said it was “primarily” a result of the close contact isolation rules, and if they were eased in some way then the situation would improve.

“Clearly there are people who are off because they contracted the virus, but it’s the close contact rules that are causing the biggest problem.”

Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI), said currently about 30 per cent of restaurants were unable to open due Covid-related issues.

“The close contact rule is having an awful effect on our industry because if you lose somebody in the kitchen, then the whole kitchen is down and the place closes, even if those within the kitchen have no symptoms,” he said.

Paul Kelly, director of Food Drink Ireland at Ibec, said staff shortages had been increasing steadily since Christmas, and while supply chains had not been disrupted yet, the sector had seen challenges.

Mr Kelly highlighted that the rules on asymptomatic close contacts were the biggest challenge. In some businesses, the number of people off work due to being close contacts is three times the number who have tested positive, he said.

Paul Reid, chief executive of the HSE, said the "most immediate impact" the latest surge of cases is having on the health services is on staff numbers.

Nearly 15,000 staff are out due to Covid, he said, out of a total complement of about 120,000, plus agency staff.

“The number of staff we have out with Covid is really hurting hard,” he added.

RTE reduced the number of its news bulletins over Christmas and in the first week of January due to the impact covid was having on staff levels, but a spokeswoman said full service would resume from Monday.

Irish Rail said 96 per cent of its services would be operating this week, with cancellations being largely confined to a minority of Hazelhatch/Newbridge to Grand Canal Dock services.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times