TORONTO — Canada’s largest retail industry group is applauding Ontario’s decision to shorten the isolation period for fully vaccinated people who contract COVID-19 as the surging Omicron variant intensifies staffing shortages.

The Retail Council of Canada says labour shortages have dogged retailers throughout the pandemic but the recent sharp rise in infections has left many scrambling to adjust schedules and keep their doors open. 

Michelle Wasylyshen, the industry group’s national spokeswoman, says allowing employees to return to work sooner after they recover will ensure adequate staffing to maintain health and safety standards like frequent cleaning and enforcing mask mandates and capacity restrictions.  

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

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health 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 industry-wide labour crunch by offering incentives such as higher wages, signing and retention bonuses and more flexible schedules. 

Still, Wasylyshen says retailers are continuing to deal with staffing shortages, especially in distribution warehouses, customer service centres and transportation networks as online shopping remains high. 

She says stiff competition for talent was particularly felt by retailers in the lead up to the holiday shopping season. 

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

Job vacancies in retail trade increased for the sixth month in a row to reach a record high vacancy rate of 6.3 per cent in October. 

Ontario’s decision to cut the isolation period in half follows a similar change by federal health officials in the United States 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 infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop. 

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

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

Individuals who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or immunocompromised will be required to isolate for 10 days. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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