While half of the Swiss population could fall ill with Covid-19 in a few weeks, according to Richard Neher, a member of the Confederation’s “task force”, companies have already noticed more employee absences. But companies say they can continue their activities, especially in critical sectors such as food, transport or telecommunications.
■ Retailers show cautious optimism
Retail experts Migros, Coop and Aldi say they are ready to face the Omicron wave thanks to the hygiene and protection concepts implemented since the beginning of the pandemic. They will be able to secure their food supply mandate.
“From February 2020, Migros set up a national crisis unit, working in synergy with regional cooperatives and group companies. This framework is constantly working across multiple scenarios,” a spokesperson told AWP.
The same story at Coop, which also prepared a set of measures, in parallel with the reinforcement of Covid-19 protection concepts, which have been proven during the various crucial periods of the pandemic. Aldi counts on teleworking for administrative staff and compliance with preventive measures for sales and logistics employees for whom teleworking is not possible. “We have had very good experiences during the pandemic and therefore we currently see no reason to be concerned,” a spokesperson said.
On the supply side, companies are also optimistic. “Our warehouses are full. Until now, we have always managed to guarantee our contribution to the country’s supply. We are confident that we will also achieve this in the coming weeks. The population’s supply, therefore, is not threatened”, points out Migros. However, due to bottlenecks in global supply chains, Aldi is still seeing “some delivery delays, especially for non-food items”. “At the moment, this concerns textiles in particular. We cannot yet predict how the situation will develop in the coming weeks,” the spokesperson explained.
■ Pharmacies expect delivery delays
“As we are asking all employees with chills symptoms to stay home, we are seeing an increase in the number of no-shows,” according to Medbase. “However, we can guarantee the usual offer of treatments and services in all medical centers and pharmacies” of the group. At the moment, the company has not detected any delivery restrictions, but the situation is being continuously evaluated with the aim of keeping all health centers and pharmacies open. “If there is a shortage of staff at one location, staff at another location will provide support. If the number of absences were higher, we would have to react by reducing the opening hours a little.
At the drug wholesaler Galenica, orders are delivered within the usual deadlines, but “as everywhere, absences due to covid have increased”, says a spokeswoman. “The evolution of the last few days illustrates the unpredictability of the pandemic, which worries us. Delivery delays are therefore not excluded, but we will inform customers of this in good time.” The companies of the Bernese group have established “emergency agreements” in the event that many employees are absent due to covid. “For example, in logistics, less essential activities can be reduced and resources for the delivery of medicines can be released. In the event of an emergency, supply would thus be ensured.
■ Transport and logistics: a situation still stable
La Poste “faces cases of sick or quarantined employees”, but the number of absent employees “is currently increasing, albeit slightly”. A spokeswoman acknowledges, however, that “significant employee absences due to Omicron would present the Post with major challenges.” If the situation worsens further, the company could “reactivate the internal employment pool, transfer employees from other departments or locations, or recruit additional temporary staff.” As a last resort, it could even appeal to civil protection.
SBB emphasizes that “railway operations are stable, as are personnel resources”. The railway company is preparing for various scenarios depending on the evolution of the health situation. Swiss reports a “slight increase in the number of cases of illness”, without affecting the operational functioning of the airline. This does not find any “bottlenecks for the crew”. In addition, additional reservations are provided for on weekends.
■ In telecommunications, well-established protection measures
At Swisscom, the “protection concept is well established”, assured a spokesperson. Most employees, and even “85-90% during certain peaks”, work from home. As a provider of basic services, the blue giant “also has emergency and crisis management adapted to each level, with a corresponding concept and prioritized risks”. The Swiss telecoms number one adds that it has implemented “with every worsening situation and with every wave that breaks” additional measures for “critical functions and teams and geo-redundant sites” (duplicates to guarantee functionality in case of failure) for activities that cannot be performed at home.
Sunrise UPC explains that the operation, in particular of critical infrastructure services, is anticipated so that it is, in principle, always guaranteed. “The teleworking obligation also reduces the risks of contamination and failure.” As for stores and customer service, the operator ensures compliance with the recommendations of the authorities. Salt believes it has not yet seen “significant impacts” from its activities. “We encourage our employees to be vaccinated and a large part of our activities can be carried out in a telework regime”, according to the operator. If that is impossible, “there are specific processes to compensate for employee absences”.
■ The marked lack of manpower in the hotel and catering industry
In catering, “punctual staff shortages” are looming on the horizon, underlines a spokeswoman for Gastrosuisse. Some restaurant chains, such as McDonald’s, are successfully making up for absences through inter-branch transfers, a solution implemented before the pandemic, to respond to increased sick leave during the winter months. For now, the system is working, she says.
“Even without the pandemic, the hotel industry is already affected by the shortage of labor”, adds a spokesperson for Hotelleriesuisse. The problem is therefore accentuated. The umbrella organization has heard of hotels struggling to maintain their activities because of shortages, especially as staff is critical to quality and difficult to replace in the short term, he believes.