June 2, 2023

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Omicron leaves US supermarket shelves almost empty

Omicron leaves US supermarket shelves almost empty

Almost empty shelves in a supermarket in Bethesda, Maryland on January 13, 2022 – AFP

“It’s not as dramatic as last Sunday, but there are still a lot of empty shelves,” said Justin Ton, a regular customer at the supermarket. The pandemic continues to affect supply chains, and many supermarkets in the United States are facing product shortages.

“For several days in a row, there were no fruits or vegetables in this giant (Bethesda), nor in other supermarkets in the industry, Trader Joe’s and Safeway,” says Toone.

In other stores, honey, eggs, milk and meat disappeared from the shelves. In Washington and the neighboring states of Maryland and Virginia, snowfall has exacerbated a recurring shortage problem since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There aren’t enough truck drivers and because they are under strict regulations regarding hours of work and rest, they say ‘let’s stop’, OK, they stop and they don’t fill us up,” explains an employee at Giant supermarket in Bethesda who asked not to be identified.

When it snows, the situation is even worse.

At the beginning of the epidemic, fearing shortages, there was a great avalanche of demand for some products such as toilet paper, which caused shortages.

“This time is different,” the official said.

“The Omicron variant is so contagious that it has an almost simultaneous effect in the United States,” asserts Patrick Benfield of Syracuse University.

Many employees in the food production chain are sick or in quarantine, completely disrupting the supply chain.

This phenomenon is widespread across the country, but it is more significant in regions that also experience severe weather conditions, such as Washington.

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And in the case of fresh and easily perishable products, it is impossible to store them too early, in anticipation of bad weather.

Hence the shelves were completely empty on Sunday after the snow fell overnight from Thursday to Friday. For the professor, the food shortage should last until the end of March.

That is, “if everything goes back to normal and there is no new variable,” he says cautiously.

The National Trade Association (NGA), which includes independent members of the food retail sector, also states that labor shortages persist “at the national level, putting pressure on essential industries such as supermarkets and industrial food in general.”

In a recent survey of its 1,500 affiliates, many reported “operating their stores at less than 50% of their normal operating capacity, for short periods, at the height of the pollution wave”.

In addition, the union is warning consumers that they should still expect “sporadic outages,” as they have been for a year and a half.

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