Empty shelves are pictured at a Giant grocery store in Bethesda, Maryland on Thursday a consequence of both the Omicron variant and a recent snow storm. Photo: AFP

Supermarket shelves go bare as Omicron disrupts U.S.

By Delphine TOUITOU and Juliette MICHEL

As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 sweeps the United States, empty supermarket shelves have become the latest sign of the pandemic's ongoing disruption to the country's supply chains.

"It's not as bad as Sunday but there are still plenty of empty shelves, lots of products are missing," Justin Toone, a regular shopper at a Giant supermarket in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Maryland, told AFP.

Shortages have been a recurring feature of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, with a run on toilet paper marking its early days, but a wider range of items have gone out of stock lately, particularly in areas struck by bad winter weather like snow storms.

"Last week for several days in a row, there was nothing, no fruit, no vegetables in this Giant store and also in all grocery stores around," Toone said.

Honey, eggs, milk and meat disappeared from the shelves in nearby stores.

Patrick Penfield, a professor of supply chain management at Syracuse University, said that previous COVID-19 waves affected different parts of the country over a period of time, allowing grocery stores to adjust their supply chains.

"Since the Omicron variant is so contagious, it's impacting the entire United States all at once. So many U.S. grocery stores and food producers are dealing with employees being out sick, or being asked to quarantine," he said.

Further up the supply chain, there are issues producing enough food, delivering it and even unloading it once it gets to the grocery stores.

This has left grocery stores to adapt by restocking shelves with what they have in stock and, for items that are in short supply, limiting how many they put out so customers don't buy them all at once.

Parts of the country that face disruptive weather are most vulnerable to such shortages, Penfield said.

Grocery stores are most likely to run out of perishable goods like fresh produce that can't be stockpiled, hence why shelves in some Washington-area stores remained empty days after a recent snowfall.

The United States is seeing massive numbers of new COVID-19 cases as Omicron tears through the population, and Penfield warned that shortages at grocery stores could persist until the end of March, assuming "everything goes back to normal and we have no new variant."

The National Grocers Association (NGA), which represents independent players in the food distribution industry, said the challenges businesses nationwide have faced finding enough employees "strain critical industries, including grocery and the food industry at large."

In a recent survey of their 1,500 members, some reported operating for brief periods at half capacity during the height of the outbreak.

"While there is plenty of food in the supply chain, we anticipate consumers will continue to experience sporadic disruptions in certain product categories as we have seen over the past year and half due to the ongoing supply and labor challenges," the NGA said in an email.

© 2022 AFP

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.


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All of the supermarkets I go to are filled. I must just be lucky.

4 ( +10 / -6 )

with a run on toilet paper

I will never get that. Worst case wipe your a$$ with newspaper or leaves.

-3 ( +8 / -11 )

What ‘leaves’, *@Reckless 11:40am ***? - It’s winter! **And, most ‘media’ these days, including this one, are strictly ‘digital’.

@Reckless 11:40am: [*with a run on toilet paper**] “*I will never get that. Worst case wipe with newspaper, or leaves.” -

5 ( +6 / -1 )

If there are hoarders buying items by the truckloads and selling them out to others like scalpers do to sport and entertainment tickets, I hope the police arrest them all! This is ridiculous and unwarranted panic buying.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Omicron is adding to the staff shortages which are also hitting trucking companies and delivery companies. Many workers have left their former employments to seek new adventures. This coupled with an infrastructure badly in need of an upgrade.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Always so happy we have a washlet toilet.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Not just in the US. Supermarkets in Australia are also having supply issues with so many infected by covid having to isolate they are not at work creating supply chain issues. Fresh meats are in short supply with almost empty shelves now a common sight at some supermarkets.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I always wondered if it’s good or bad they only your product remains.

seems bad as no one wants it. But if forced to buy it they might try it and actually like it.

or it has nothing to do with any of that and your product is the one that was just unloaded and stocked and will also be gone soon too.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

A friend of mine is still working his way through the roomful of toilet paper his wife panic-bought in the days following 3/11.

Some people just lose all sense of perspective and create problems which nobody needs.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Essentials are one thing, but the average American supermarket, leastwise the one's I have been too, have way too much garbage on their shelves anyway.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

And it is about to get a lot worse. Canada is mandating vaccines for cross border truckers this weekend and the US later this month. A trucker strike is planned.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

And it is about to get a lot worse. Canada is mandating vaccines for cross border truckers this weekend and the US later this month. A trucker strike is planned.

yes and rightly so. if they aren't vaccinated by now, this will enforce it . What sympathy do they think a trucker strike will hold?

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

And it is about to get a lot worse. Canada is mandating vaccines for cross border truckers this weekend and the US later this month. A trucker strike is planned.

> The new rule could encourage reluctant workers to roll up their sleeves. One Montreal-based logistics company offered a $10,000 bonus last month to all drivers who received their first vaccine dose by mid-January in the hopes of retaining employees and boosting inoculation rates. from cbc news

Wish I was paid 10K to get a vaccine!

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

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