Labour shortages exacerbated by growing problem of long Covid

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In an otherwise positive report about the airport “coming back to life after two years”, Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye warned that resources were “stretched” and that it was “unclear whether the surge in demand is sustainable”.

Labour shortages have hit the aviation industry particularly badly, limiting its ability to bounce back from the depths of the pandemic when tens of thousands of staff were let go.

British Airways and easyJet had to cancel scores of flights last week because of a lack of staff, including those suffering from rising numbers of Covid-19 infections. Heathrow plans to hire 12,000 new workers, but in the meantime holidaymakers have been warned to expect disruption when travelling over the spring and summer.

Absences caused by Covid-19 continue to exacerbate problems across the public sector too. This weekend NHS leaders hit out at the UK government’s “living with Covid” strategy, as the number of people in hospital with the virus spiked and the number of NHS staff off-sick continued to rise.

Labour shortages could also result in the British food industry shrinking permanently, according to a UK parliamentary report last week. In the US, industries from retail to holiday resorts are bumping up starting pay to attract new recruits and increase the wages of their existing staff as inflation soars at its fastest rate in 40 years.

Another growing problem for the business world is the effect of long Covid. As our Big Read explains, an estimated 100mn people worldwide are suffering from the debilitating condition, which has left many unable to return to their previous working lives.

The illness is so new that governments have yet to make it clear whether the condition should be treated as a disability or an occupational disease — what does seem to be certain is that the numbers are growing.

One in five patients hospitalised with Covid-19 were still not working five months later, according to a UK study, with a similar proportion having to change their job because of health issues.

Other data have shown a jump of 200,000 in the number of people not working or looking for a job because of long-term ill health, while a quarter of British companies say long Covid is one of the main causes of absence. Official figures last week put the number of Britons living with the condition at the highest level since the data were first collected.

In the US, another study suggests long Covid could account for 15 per cent or more of the country’s 10.6mn unfilled vacancies.

American labour shortages are also being complicated by political disagreements over immigration, with employers’ support for a relaxation of the rules rubbing up against Republicans who want to keep Trump-era restrictions in place.

Latest news

  • Covid vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna announce new CFOs

  • China approves new online games as crackdown on tech companies eases

  • War has cost Ukraine’s economy ‘up to $600bn’, according to KSE estimate

For up-to-the-minute news updates, visit our live blog

Need to know: the economy

EU member states are still arguing over the possibility of a ban on Russian energy. Although Moscow is edging closer to its first default since 1988, an extra $3.4bn in oil and gas revenues thanks to rising energy prices have helped to stabilise its currency and prevent a financial collapse. Ukraine has asked commodity traders to stop handling Russian oil.

Emmanuel Macron will square off against Marine Le Pen in the French general election run-off on April 24 after the president and his far-right rival came out top in yesterday’s first round of voting. A Le Pen victory would have huge consequences at home and abroad and plunge the EU and Nato into turmoil. Here are the results from the first round in charts.

Latest for the UK and Europe

The UK economy was said to be “fragile and due to weaken further” in the words of one analyst after new data showed less than expected growth of just 0.1 per cent in February. Growth in services, which account for 80 per cent of UK output, fell from 0.8 per cent the previous month to 0.2 per cent, while other sectors also fell. But house prices continue to soar: in London they grew 7.4 per cent in the first quarter, the fastest rate since 2016.

The UK, along with Italy and France, is also faring poorly in new OECD data on European economic growth for March, the first clear indication of the effects of the war in Ukraine.

New Financial Times analysis shows how investment by a UK local authority has driven a retail revival in a deprived northern town. However, online sales are holding on to their share of consumer spending, evidenced by new data released today showing that orders for the building of warehouses doubled in value in 2021 from the previous year.

Global latest

Shanghai’s lockdown continues to hit global supply chains and is having a serious effect on Chinese stocks. The city’s trade links to East Asia mean delays in deliveries for items such as semiconductors could have spillover impacts in South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. Shanghai yesterday reported a new record of 25,000 new infections.

Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif is to become prime minister of Pakistan after Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote. Sharif, the former chief minister of Punjab, the country’s most populous province, inherits a $6bn IMF loan programme, which has led to unpopular measures such as raising utility prices.

Need to know: business

France’s Société Générale, which along with Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank and Italy’s UniCredit is one of the western European financial institutions with the largest presence in Russia, became the first of the three to find a way to exit the country. It will take a €3.1bn hit after selling its stake in Rosbank to an investment company founded by billionaire Vladimir Potanin.

A surge in first-day trading for GoTo, the Indonesian “superapp” company, highlighted the investment potential of tech stocks in the world’s fourth most populous country. The Lex column is more sceptical about its prospects.

War in Ukraine is exacerbating inflationary problems faced by companies already hit by Covid-19 and a tight labour market. Many are reacting by raising prices but rising costs are starting to show up in reduced earnings projections as well as raising concerns about the effect on low-income customers.

A new wave of pandemic-related litigation — mainly over whether insurance policies should have paid out over lockdowns — is expected to keep London lawyers busy over the next two years. The recent victory of restaurant owners Corbin & King in a business interruption case is likely to prompt other companies to follow suit.

Wall Street giants are likely to report a significant slowdown in investment banking revenue as first-quarter earnings season gets under way this week. After a stellar 2021, the big banks have been hit by market jitters following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. JPMorgan Chase is the first to announce on April 13, followed by Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley on April 14 and Bank of America on April 18. Retail banks look to be more attractive bets, says the Lex column.

The FT editorial board says the financial crisis, pandemic and war have focused corporate minds on the vulnerability of global supply chains in periods of stress. The solution, however, “is not beggar-thy-neighbour trade wars but shifts in both domestic policy and international institutions to help save what is best about globalisation”, it argues.

The World of Work

You may not be able to choose your workplace family but — unlike your real one — you can always ditch them and move on. Columnist Emma Jacobs discusses one of the key advantages of being back in the office.

The BBC’s new goal of having a quarter of its workforce come from “a lower socio-economic background” by 2028 highlights how little social mobility in the UK has changed since the second world war, notes the Lex column. Change, it suggests, needs to come from the top.

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And finally . . . 

From furry shoes to models dressed as upholstered chairs or musical instruments, many of this season’s looks take inspiration from surrealist masters Miró, Magritte and Dalí, says fashion writer Alexander Fury.