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Biden bets on shorter Covid-19 isolation time amid labour crunch

NEW YORK (AFP) -Eyeing an Omicron surge that has exacerbated United States (US) labour stress especially in frontline industries, US President Joe Biden’s administration is betting shorter Covid-19 quarantine times will lessen the economic hit from the latest variant.

The announcement on Monday to cut isolation times in half was cheered by airlines and hospitality industries, but sharply criticised by labour unions who question whether public health concerns have been short-changed.

Economists generally offered muted praise as they analyse the Omicron impact, which caused staff shortages that led to thousands of flight cancellations over the holiday weekend, halted theatre performances and professional sports competitions, and is expected to slow growth in the first quarter of 2022.

The new guidance cuts the isolation period for asymptomatic Covid-19 cases in half to five days followed by five days of wearing a mask when around others.

It is a relief to business that already had been struggling to fill open positions and return to normal.

Houston restauranteur Dimitri Fetokakis, whose three-restaurant chain employs about 120, welcomed the announcement both because of the tight labour pool and as a sign of progress in navigating the pandemic.

United States President Joe Biden. PHOTO: AFP