Reduce quarantines to limit absences, the bet of the Biden administration

Faced with rising Covid-19 contamination that nails planes to the ground, disrupts restaurants and cancels shows, the Biden administration has limited the duration of quarantines in hopes of reducing absences, a move the economic world has embraced from various ways.

The initiative has been welcomed by companies, particularly airlines and restaurateurs hoping to replenish their equipment, but is instead criticized by unions who fear putting pressure on employees.

For economists, the measure should only have a marginal impact on the country’s activity as a whole.

Above all, it marks the idea that the pandemic has become an element that companies must take into account on a day-to-day basis.

“If there is no risk, why not? I think it can help us to the extent that it is difficult to find people,” says Dimitri Fetokakis, owner in Houston, Texas, of three restaurants that employ about 120 people.

Since the start of the pandemic, he has had to constantly adapt, including fluctuating recommendations from health authorities, he told AFP. “We must continue to live, we must continue to run our businesses.”

– Fatigue in the face of the pandemic –

US health authorities cut the recommended quarantine period for Covid-19 positive people in half, from 10 days to 5 days for asymptomatic people, and from 14 to 5 days for unvaccinated contact cases.

Queue outside a Covid-19 testing site in Times Square in New York on December 28, 2021 (AFP – Bryan R. Smith)

Most infections occur in the two days before and three days after the onset of symptoms, justified the authorities, who must strike a delicate balance between protecting health and economic problems.

Delta Airline, which had publicly called for the change, welcomed the Biden administration’s decision, which it said allows “more flexibility in organizing crew and employee schedules during the busy period. Year-end celebrations.”

In fact, thousands of flights have had to be canceled in recent days around the world due to the meteoric growth of the highly contagious Omicron variant, which has contaminated or exposed flight crews on a large scale.

For the federation representing traders, NRF, the measure is also “welcome”, in particular because it brings “more clarity”.

In New York, it will be able to help restaurants that, in addition to having many end-of-year events canceled, were forced to close when their cooks and waiters had to isolate themselves, says Andrew Rigie of the Hotel Alliance. and catering trades.

“Life must go on, carefully, but we can’t just stop the economy every time,” he told AFP.

Unions are more reluctant.

When the administration decided last week, already, to shorten the isolation periods for caregivers with Covid-19, and no longer impose the quarantine on fully vaccinated caregivers exposed to the virus, the NNU nurses union had predicted “more transmission. , sickness and death “.

The union of flight attendants and flight attendants AFA, for its part, fears that companies will pressure workers to return to work after five days, even if they do not feel better.

“We cannot allow pandemic fatigue to lead to decisions that extend the duration of the pandemic or hold workers accountable for it,” the union said in a statement.

– Psychological effect –

For Joseph LaVorgna, chief economist at Natixis, the new health recommendations will not have “a substantial effect on the economy” but could have a positive “psychological effect.”

“People were worried a few weeks ago about having to face a new period of confinement,” he told AFP. The new rules “remove that perspective, pushing people to move on with their lives faster.”

It is still too early to accurately quantify the impact of Omicron, especially as the holiday season in general tends to confuse the indicators, believes Oren Klachkin of Oxford Œconomicus.

However, the reduction of the quarantine period will alleviate “at least temporarily the problems of labor shortages,” he argues.

But, also points out the economist Joel Naroff, “this will not make existing problems go away”, such as difficulties in the supply chain outside the United States, the low participation rate in the labor market or the end of government aid.

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