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Retailers are calling on the government for more support as surging staff absences caused by the Covid-19 Omicron variant hit store operations.

Several industry bodies have likened the ongoing shortages to last year’s ‘pingdemic’, which was caused by self-isolation alerts sent out via the NHS test-and-trace system.

Although retailers have had to react to absences before, the transmission rate of the Omicron strain has led to store owners unsure how they will keep their doors open.

Newsagent GW Hurley in Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, was one of a number of local shops forced to close this week due to staff self-isolating following positive test results.

Premium stationery in high demand following government’s work-from-home guidance

Amit Puntambekar, owner of Ash’s Shop in Fenstanton, Cambridgeshire, told betterRetailing the challenges created by absences in the past month had been a “nightmare”.

“Last week, we had four different staff rotas ready to go, but then another member of staff tested positive at three in the morning, which caused everything to get messed up,” he said.

“We have till cover, which has helped, and part-time staff have started working longer hours.”

Six of Puntambekar’s 13 staff were absent, and he had to increase his own working hours to offset the impact. “My family has had to help out at the store,” he said.

“I’ve also had to work longer hours, usually 8am to 9pm most days.”

Click-and-collect Covid-19 test kits now available in PayPoint Stores

Multi-site retailer Harj Dhasee revealed he was operating with half of his team in his Gloucestershire stores over the Christmas period.

“We have had a really tough time,” he said. “When it happened, we had to get on with it. “We have quite a few part-timers and they helped us out a lot.

“We also had staff members who were at university come back to work with us, on top of me working longer hours.”

Absences at suppliers are also threatening availability on key convenience lines. For instance, Nisa told stores last week that there would be no availability on Co-op 1pt milk lines due to staff absences at Muller’s Belshill depot.

EXCLUSIVE: First-time buyers flock to convenience stores in pandemic property boom

Just before Christmas, the government reacted to growing concern by cutting the self-isolation period by three days from 10 to seven days with a negative test.

However, Iceland’s managing director, Richard Walker, said the move wasn’t enough to alleviate the pressure across the industry, and instead called for the isolation period to be further reduced.

Prime minster Boris Johnson has also been criticised for forgetting retail workers in plans announced last week, allowing 100,000 critical workers to take a test on every working day.

Retailers are calling on the government for more support as surging staff absences caused by the Covid-19 Omicron variant hit store operations.

Several industry bodies have likened the ongoing shortages to last year’s ‘pingdemic’, which was caused by self-isolation alerts sent out via the NHS test-and-trace system.

Although retailers have had to react to absences before, the transmission rate of the Omicron strain has led to store owners unsure how they will keep their doors open.

Newsagent GW Hurley in Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, was one of a number of local shops forced to close this week due to staff self-isolating following positive test results.

Premium stationery in high demand following government’s work-from-home guidance

Amit Puntambekar, owner of Ash’s Shop in Fenstanton, Cambridgeshire, told betterRetailing the challenges created by absences in the past month had been a “nightmare”.

“Last week, we had four different staff rotas ready to go, but then another member of staff tested positive at three in the morning, which caused everything to get messed up,” he said.

“We have till cover, which has helped, and part-time staff have started working longer hours.”

Six of Puntambekar’s 13 staff were absent, and he had to increase his own working hours to offset the impact. “My family has had to help out at the store,” he said.

“I’ve also had to work longer hours, usually 8am to 9pm most days.”

Click-and-collect Covid-19 test kits now available in PayPoint Stores

Multi-site retailer Harj Dhasee revealed he was operating with half of his team in his Gloucestershire stores over the Christmas period.

“We have had a really tough time,” he said. “When it happened, we had to get on with it. “We have quite a few part-timers and they helped us out a lot.

“We also had staff members who were at university come back to work with us, on top of me working longer hours.”

Absences at suppliers are also threatening availability on key convenience lines. For instance, Nisa told stores last week that there would be no availability on Co-op 1pt milk lines due to staff absences at Muller’s Belshill depot.

EXCLUSIVE: First-time buyers flock to convenience stores in pandemic property boom

Just before Christmas, the government reacted to growing concern by cutting the self-isolation period by three days from 10 to seven days with a negative test.

However, Iceland’s managing director, Richard Walker, said the move wasn’t enough to alleviate the pressure across the industry, and instead called for the isolation period to be further reduced.

Prime minster Boris Johnson has also been criticised for forgetting retail workers in plans announced last week, allowing 100,000 critical workers to take a test on every working day.

Find out more on our coronavirus information hub for retailers