Mutant Omicron empties store shelves in the United States
Bethesda (US): The situation is “not as dire as it was last Sunday, but there are still a lot of shelves empty,” says Justin Ton. The COVID-19 outbreak continues to disrupt supply chains as many stores in the United States face product shortages.
“For days in a row, there were no fruits or vegetables in this supermarket, not even in other supermarkets such as Trader Joe’s and Safeway,” says Ton while shopping at the Giant store in Bethesda, describing the situation as catastrophic.
For her part, 60-year-old Clara regrets that some spices are still missing. “A few days ago, it was impossible to find yeast to make candy bars,” she says.
In other stores, it’s honey, eggs, milk, or meat that has disappeared from the shelves.
In Washington and neighboring Maryland and Virginia, snowfall has exacerbated the problem of frequent shortages since the start of the pandemic.
“There aren’t enough truck drivers and because they have strict regulations on hours and rest, they say ‘we’ll stop’… they stop working and we are not supplied with goods,” explains Cooper, who has been an employee at Giant’s store in Bethesda for eight years.
And when it snows, the situation becomes worse.
At the beginning of the epidemic, fearing that they would run out, there was a rush on some products such as toilet paper, which caused a shortage in their supply. “This time, it’s different,” Cooper adds.
Patrick Benfield of Syracuse University asserts that “M. omicron is so infectious that it has had an almost simultaneous effect on the whole of the United States.”
A large number of employees in the food production chain are sick or in quarantine, completely disrupting the supply chain.
“We can’t produce as much food as we need,” Benfield points out. There are not enough people to deliver it, and even when it is delivered to supermarkets, there is no one to unpack it and put it on the shelves.”
This phenomenon is widespread throughout the country, but is more pronounced in areas that also experience bad weather, such as the Washington area.
– perishable –
For perishable fresh produce, it is impossible to store them for a long time in anticipation of bad weather.
Patrick Benfield estimates that the food shortage is likely to continue until the end of March “if everything goes back to normal and no new mutant appears”.
The National Federation of Grocers, which represents independent actors in the food retail sector, says labor shortages continue to be “nationally pressing on essential industries, such as supermarkets and the food industry in general”.
In a recent survey of its 1,500 members, a number of them reported that they “operated their stores at less than 50% of their maximum capacity, for brief periods, at the height of the wave” of infections.
“While there is a lot of food in the supply chain, we expect consumers to continue to experience sporadic disruptions to certain products, as they have in the past year and a half, due to ongoing supply and employment challenges,” the union explained in an emailed statement.