Washington: Eyeing an Omicron surge that has exacerbated US labor stress especially in front-line industries, President Joe Biden’s administration is betting shorter Covid-19 quarantine times will lessen the economic hit from the latest variant.
The announcement Monday to cut isolation times in half was cheered by airlines and hospitality industries, but sharply criticized by labor unions who question whether public health concerns have been short-changed.
Economists generally offered muted praise as they analyze the Omicron impact, which caused staff shortages that led to thousands of flight cancelations over the holiday weekend, halted theater performances and professional sports competitions, and is expected to slow growth in the first quarter of 2022.
“I don’t think the new CDC guidance is going to have a material effect on the economy,” Joseph LaVorgna, chief US economist at Natixis. “But it does help at the margin, it has a psychological impact.”
The new guidance cuts the isolation period for asymptomatic Covid-19 cases in half to five days followed by five days of wearing a mask when around others. It is a relief to business that already had been struggling to fill open positions and return to normal.
Houston restauranteur Dimitri Fetokakis, whose three-restaurant chain employs about 120, welcomed the announcement both because of the tight labor pool and as a sign of progress in navigating the pandemic.
Oren Klachkin, lead economist at Oxford Economics, said it is still “early days” to gauge the hit from Omicron, but like others he expects lower first-quarter growth followed by a rebound. The CDC move “will definitely have an impact and alleviate some of the labor shortage issues that we’ve seen,” Klachkin told AFP.
Andrew Rigie, chair of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, described Omicron as a “gut-punch” to the city’s recovery, leading to numerous party cancelations over the festive period, and forcing some restaurants to close because of workers who contracted or were exposed to the virus.
The CDC announcement “allows people to get back out and live their life sooner, which means in many cases they are spending money and going to restaurants,” he said.