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Lights on, nobody applying: skills shortage bites as Australia reopens

By Byron Kaye

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3/3
Lights on, nobody applying: skills shortage bites as Australia reopens
© Reuters. Maddison Thomas, a business manager at MSS Security provider, works in the company’s mostly empty office following an extended coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Sydney, Australia, October 26, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

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By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY (Reuters) – After two years of stop-start COVID-19 lockdowns Australia is ready to party, but venues from restaurants to sporting stadiums are facing a difficult summer after a huge exodus of holiday workers and foreign students.

Strict border closures have left a gaping hole in the market for casual workers, with hospitality-focused firms like Sydney’s AlSeasons being forced to turn down some jobs even as the economy opens up.

“Prior to lockdown, you could place an advertisement and have hundreds of applicants,” said Rhondda Everingham, hiring manager at the hospitality labour hire company.

“Now you’re lucky if you get five and you might have three that are suitable, and by the time you get a hold of them, they’ve got another job.”

The labour shortages are hitting hardest at public-facing businesses, those already most affected by months of rolling lockdowns in the two biggest cities of Sydney, which ended many COVID-19 curbs on Oct. 11, and Melbourne, which moved late last week.

Government statistics show the number of non-resident workers in the country — often travellers with work visas — was down by two-thirds in the June quarter of 2021 from the start of 2020.

The fall in international students has been nearly as dramatic, said Peter Hurley, a researcher of education policy at Victoria University. There are now some 300,000 fewer foreign students living in Australian than at the start of the pandemic, a drop of more than half.

That has left businesses in Sydney, home to a quarter of Australia’s 2.2 million casual workforce, struggling to find staff as the city emerges from four months of lockdowns.

In the first big test of event staffing, a stadium soccer match was given eight days to find 730 cooking, serving, cleaning and security staff for 22,500 permitted spectators on Oct. 25.

Stadium operator, VenuesLive, got the headcount because there were no other big events on at the same time, a company representative said, noting that “hospitality businesses everywhere are encountering staff challenges.”

JOB LAG

The government of New South Wales state, of which Sydney is the capital, plans to resume taking modest numbers of international students and has said it wants immigration into Australia to double from pre-COVID levels to 400,000 people a year to fill labour shortages.

For now, the federal government, which enjoyed popular support for hardline border closures early in the pandemic, is sticking with a staged reopening. It says only Australian citizens, residents and their family members may enter the country at present.

Even when foreign nationals return, many employers face a delay hiring them because they demand staff with local experience and proficient English, said AlSeasons’ Everingham.

So, employers are adding incentives.

Australian Venue Co, owner of 160 pubs and clubs around the country, said it was offering A$1,000 ($745) vouchers for new kitchen and floorstaff who stay longer than three months due to difficulty finding personnel.

MSS Security, which guards university, corporate and government buildings around Sydney, will spend A$1 million a year to bankroll industry-required training and help fill vacancies that have doubled to 400 since early 2020, said managing director Geoff Alcock.

Pompei’s, a popular Italian restaurant at Bondi Beach, traded through lockdown offering takeout and delivery, but is now closing for weekday lunches and all of Monday for the first time in 20 years because half its staff have left the country, said owner George Pompei.

Despite advertising a A$2,000 cash “sign-on bonus” for waitstaff and bar staff, nobody has shown up for an interview.

“Before, you couldn’t wait to hear the phone ring and people wanting to book and queuing out the front. Now you almost don’t want that,” Pompei said. “This is the new ‘COVID-normal’.”

($1 = 1.3414 Australian dollars)

Coronavirus

WHO expects to have more information on Omicron transmission ‘within days’

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WHO expects to have more information on Omicron transmission 'within days'
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: WHO Technical lead head COVID-19 Maria Van Kerkhove attends a news conference organized by Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, at the WHO headquarters in Gene

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization expects to have more information on the transmissibility of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus within days, its technical lead on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said in a briefing on Wednesday.

That was faster than the “weeks” the WHO had predicted last week that it would take to assess the data available on the variant after designating it a “variant of concern”, its highest rating.

Whether the variant is more transmissible or evades vaccines are some of the major questions that still need answering.

Vaccine developers have said it will take about two weeks to assess whether their shots are effective against it.

Van Kerkhove said one possible scenario was that the new variant, which was first reported in southern Africa, may be more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant. She said it was not yet known if Omicron makes people more ill.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said the agency believes the existing COVID-19 vaccines will work against the variant.

Mike Ryan, WHO’s emergency director, reiterated the agency’s opposition to the blanket bans on flights to and from southern Africa that have been imposed by Britain and other countries, saying it would not prevent the variant’s spread:

“The idea you can just put a hermetic seal on some countries is not possible. I can’t see the logic from an epidemiological or public health perspective.”

Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

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U.S. FDA evaluating effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against Omicron

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U.S. FDA evaluating effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against Omicron
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A vial and a syringe are seen in front of a displayed stock graph and words “Omicron SARS-CoV-2” in this illustration taken, November 27, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

(Reuters) – The U.S. Food & Drug Administration said on Tuesday it was evaluating the effectiveness of authorized COVID-19 vaccines against the Omicron coronavirus variant and expects to have more information in the next few weeks.

The agency is currently evaluating the vaccines to see if and how well they work against the variant, first detected in South Africa, Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement.

She said if the review shows a modification to the current vaccines is needed, the agency and companies will work together to develop and test such a modification quickly.

The new variant has sparked worries around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. health regulatory agency maintained that the authorised vaccines remain highly effective at preventing COVID-19 and serious clinical outcomes associated with the infection and urged people to get vaccinated.

The FDA is also evaluating the potential impact of the variant on the currently available diagnostics and therapeutics. It said a preliminary review showed that high volume PCR and antigen tests, widely used in the United States, have low likelihood of being impacted by Omicron.

Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

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Coronavirus

Omicron variant could outcompete Delta, South African disease expert says

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Omicron variant could outcompete Delta, South African disease expert says
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Syringes with needles are seen in front of a displayed stock graph and words “Omicron SARS-CoV-2” in this illustration taken, November 27, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Alexander Winning

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The Omicron coronavirus variant detected in southern Africa could be the most likely candidate to displace the highly contagious Delta variant, the director of South Africa’s communicable disease institute said on Tuesday.

The discovery of Omicron has caused global alarm, with countries limiting travel from southern Africa for fear it could spread quickly even in vaccinated populations and the World Health Organization saying it carries a high risk of infection surges.

“We thought what will outcompete Delta? That has always been the question, in terms of transmissibility at least, … perhaps this particular variant is the variant,” Adrian Puren, acting executive director of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), told Reuters in an interview.

If Omicron proves even more transmissible than the Delta variant, it could lead to a sharp spike in infections that could put pressure on hospitals.

Puren said scientists should know within four weeks to what extent Omicron can evade the immunity generated by vaccines or prior infection, and whether it leads to worse clinical symptoms than other variants.

Anecdotal accounts by doctors who have treated South African COVID-19 patients say Omicron appears to be producing mild symptoms, including a dry cough, fever and night sweats, but experts have cautioned against drawing firm conclusions.

Puren said it was too early to say whether Omicron was displacing Delta in South Africa, since local scientists have only produced 87 sequences of Omicron so far.

But the fact that cases have started to rise rapidly, especially in the most populated Gauteng province, is a sign that some displacement might already be happening.

Delta drove a third wave of COVID-19 infections in South Africa that peaked at more than 26,000 cases per day in early July. Omicron is expected to trigger a fourth wave, with daily infections seen topping 10,000 by the end of the week from around 2,270 on Monday.

Anne von Gottberg, a clinical microbiologist at the NICD, said it looked like infections were rising throughout the country.

On Monday, an NICD presentation a flagged a large number of COVID-19 admissions among infants aged under two years as an area of concern. But von Gottberg cautioned against linking that with Omicron just yet.

“It looks like in fact some of those admissions might have started before the emergence of Omicron. We are also seeing that there was an increase in influenza cases just in the last month or so, and so we need to be really careful to look at the other respiratory infections,” she said.

“We are looking at the data very, very carefully, but at the moment I’m not too sure that we can link it definitively to Omicron.”

South Africa has been praised for alerting the global scientific community and WHO so quickly to Omicron — a brave move given the damage that travel restrictions imposed by multiple countries including Britain will do to its important tourism sector.

The country has reported close to 3 million COVID-19 infections during the pandemic and over 89,000 deaths, the most on the African continent.

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