The retail group welcomes Ontario’s decision to halve the isolation period for workers

People walk past a storefront and offer great discounts on Christmas Day 2 in Montreal on December 26, 2021.Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press

Canada’s largest retail industry group welcomes Ontario’s decision to shorten the isolation period for fully vaccinated people receiving COVID-19, as the growing Omicron variant exacerbates staff shortages.

The Retail Council of Canada says labor shortages have haunted retailers through the pandemic, but the recent sharp rise in infections has left many difficult to adjust schedules and keep their doors open.

Michelle Wasylyshen, the industry group’s national spokeswoman, says allowing employees to return to work more quickly after they recover will ensure sufficient staff to maintain health and safety standards such as frequent cleaning and enforcement of mesh mandates and capacity constraints.

She says the province’s announcement is welcome news for retailers who continue to struggle with staff shortages.

Ontario Health Chief Dr. Kieran Moore announced Thursday that the isolation period for most people with COVID-19 will drop to five days from 10 days.

Many retailers have responded to the labor crisis across the industry by offering incentives such as higher wages, signature and retention bonuses and more flexible schedules.

Still, Wasylyshen says retailers continue to deal with staff shortages, particularly in distribution warehouses, customer service centers and transportation networks, as online shopping remains high.

She says fierce competition for talent was particularly felt by retailers up until the Christmas shopping season.

Statistics Canada’s figures show that retail sales had one of the highest vacancies among Canadian business sectors in October, the most recent month with data available.

Vacancies in the retail trade rose for the sixth month in a row and in October reached a record high unemployment rate of 6.3 per cent.

Ontario’s decision to halve the isolation period follows a similar change by U.S. federal health officials earlier this week.

The province says the change to the required isolation period is based on growing evidence that generally healthy people with COVID-19 are most contagious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.

Ontario says individuals with COVID-19 who have been vaccinated, as well as children under the age of 12, will be required to isolate themselves for five days after the onset of symptoms.

They can complete isolation after five days if their symptoms improve for at least 24 hours and all public health and safety measures, such as masking and physical distancing, are followed.

People who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or immunocompromised should be isolated for 10 days.

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