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Ryanair missed its target in December following the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus which forced governments around the globe to reintroduce restrictions on international travel. 

The sudden emergence of the Omicron variant and the media hysteria it generated in December, forced many European governments to reimpose travel restrictions in the run-up to Christmas, which significantly weakened peak Christmas and New Year bookings and fares,” Ryanair said.

While the airline’s goal was to reach 11 million passengers in December, it reached just 9.5 million. 

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has said that while the airline had seen a “strong bounce back” in bookings post-Christmas, the outlook remains largely uncertain and, as such, will continue to offer lower prices to attract an increase in customer numbers.

"While recent bookings have improved, following the easing of travel restrictions, the booking curve remains very late and close-in, so Q4 traffic requires significant price stimulation at lower prices," O'Leary said.

The figure is by far the highest tally since the census bureau began to survey employee sicknesses in April 2020. The most recent survey, conducted between December 29 and January 10, includes employees who called in sick after testing positive for Covid-19 as well as those who have had to take time off to care for others infected with the virus.  

The previous record high was recorded in January 2021, when 6.6 million Americans called in sick from coronavirus before vaccines were made widely available. 

Omicron’s impact on the US labour market comes at a time when employers are struggling to find staff across all sectors. On top of this, “The Great Resignation” has continued to maintain a steady pace with an increasing number of employees feeling dissatisfied with their current roles. In November 2021, 4.5 million people quit their jobs in the US the highest number on record. 

In recent weeks, labour shortages have severely impacted a number of industries including trucking, air travel, food sales, and essential services such as policing and waste collection. 

Meanwhile, a report from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) revealed 79% of businesses are experiencing difficulties recruiting people, particularly construction and hospitality firms. 

The findings further contribute to the evidence that the arrival of the omicron variant of coronavirus has setback the UK’s economic recovery. 

According to the REC’s survey of 400 recruitment agencies, shortages of qualified employees were most severe in the health and care sector, compounded by staff having to take sick leave after contracting or being exposed to the virus. Employers said factors such as uncertainty around the pandemic, fewer foreign workers, and a low unemployment rate contributed to candidate availability. However, they also said that this was gradually improving. 

The REC’s survey found:  

2022 will be the year we discover staff shortages will outlive the pandemic as an economic issue,” said REC chief executive Neil Carberry

This survey shows again how tight the labour market was at the end of last year. Demand for staff is growing across every sector and region of the UK, and candidate availability is still falling.”

The expansion will include over 30 new stores with relocations already underway. Four of the new stores will be amongst the largest in the Poundland group. The first of the large stores will open in Nottingham Riverside Retail Park in February. It will have over 18,000 square feet of retail space, making it three times larger than a typical Poundland store. Meanwhile, the discount retailer also plans to extend its chilled and frozen food lines to around 100 more stores between now and September. 

The coming year will see us step up our transformation programme – including some of our largest stores and widest ranges – as we become the Poundland we know our customers want us to be,” said Poundland managing director Barry Williams. 

From groceries to clothing, homewares to frozen food, day by day we’ll continue to bring much more to customers in new and exciting stores tailor-made for where they live and how they want to shop.”

Poundland’s expansion comes as over 35,000 UK retailers find themselves in significant financial distress amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus. 

According to the Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), a survey from IHS Markit, private sector growth waned to its weakest in nine months, with the eurozone’s index score dropping to 53.3, down from 55.4 in November. Any score exceeding 50 indicates growth, meaning this decline represents a slowdown instead of a contraction. However, GDP in Germany appeared more concerning, with a PMI of 49.9, suggesting that business activity in the nation may be shrinking. 

Manufacturers in Europe expanded faster than services businesses for the first time since last summer. This suggests a return to the pattern seen at the beginning of the pandemic when physical goods productions and sales were stronger than those involving in-person transactions. Nonetheless, factory bosses remain concerned about the potential of a renewed slowdown. 

In Germany, car manufacturers account for approximately one-tenth of the country’s economy. Those in the industry have reported increasing pessimism, with the ifo Institute warning that the business situation has been worsening for the past five consecutive months. 

Several Wall Street banks and investment firms, including Citigroup, Jefferies Financial Group, and Bank of America, have reversed efforts to get staff back to the office as the Omicron variant of the virus spreads across the Northeast. 

Deutsche Bank has encouraged its New York staff to work remotely for the last two weeks of the year and are likely to continue working remotely for several weeks into 2022. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo has also delayed its return-to-office plans. In a statement, the bank saidGiven the changing external environment, we are delaying our return-to-office plans.”

We are continuing to closely monitor the environment with the health and wellbeing of our employees as our priority,” Wells said. “We look forward to fully returning our teams back to the office.”

New York City is being hit hard by Omicron. Last week, cases rose by around 60%. 

Speaking to Reuters, Neal Mills, chief medical officer for the professional services firm Aon said that, while employers are targeting February as a date to make the return, the situation is changing fast. As such, employers “are reluctant to do any communications”, Mills said. 

According to data from VoucherCodes, sales figures on 26 December — typically one of the biggest shopping days of the year — will total approximately £4 billion, down 10% on 2019’s $4.4 billion figure. This is assuming non-essential shops will not be told to close doors amid rising Omicron cases in the country. 

While the Government has confirmed that no new coronavirus restrictions will be brought in in England prior to Christmas day, it remains unclear what will happen after December 25, with prime minister Boris Johnson not yet ruling out the possibility of telling non-essential shops to close. 

Between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, a total of £13.9 billion is expected to be spent, down 9% on 2019. Online spending is set to reach £1.43 billion, a 25% increase compared with 2019 sales, but a 16% drop from Christmas 2020 when online sales hit £1.7 billion as much of the country was put under tough new “Tier 4” restrictions. 

If the UK is placed into a full lockdown come December 26, with non-essential shops told to close, then the research suggests that total sales on Boxing Day will drop 1% compared to 2020 and down 10% on 2019.

According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), growth was up 21% in the period, compared with 32% last month. The CBI also noted that this was the slowest rate of growth since the three months to April. However, it remains significantly above the long-run average of 4%. 

Substantial challenges remain for businesses heading into Christmas: labour and materials shortages, rising costs and new Covid measures are restricting business’ ability to trade during this crucial period,” said CBI Lead Economist Alpesh Paleja.

With uncertainty rising – associated with the sharp rise in Omicron cases – it’s no surprise that the near-term growth outlook has dampened. The new support measures announced by the Chancellor provided welcome breathing space to boost confidence and will help hospitality and leisure businesses to keep their doors open.”

“But with the potential of further measures still weighing on firms, the Government must monitor the situation closely,” Paleja added.

In the three months to December, only manufacturers saw an acceleration in growth. Meanwhile, business and professional services, consumer services, and distribution firms all reported slower growth.

It is expected that growth will slow again in the coming three months, accounting for the spread of the Omicron variant. 

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted by a majority to act amid pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) who warned it against further delays. The MPC also voted to maintain the amount of quantitative easing at £895 billion. 

According to recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), inflation in the UK rocketed to its highest level in over a decade in November, climbing to 5.1%. This is a figure that comes in significantly higher than the Bank of England’s 2% target and notably above its 4.5% prediction, largely due to the rising cost of fuel, clothing, and second-hand vehicles. 

"Bank staff expect inflation to remain around 5% through the majority of the winter period, and to peak at around 6% in April 2022, with that further increase accounted for predominantly by the lagged impact on utility bills of developments in wholesale gas prices," the Bank of England said.

The 5.1% figure, reported on Wednesday, sparked intrigue as to whether the Bank of England would hike interest rates despite the rapid spread of Omicron through the country. However,  inflation hit a rate not expected by the Bank until spring 2022, seemingly outweighing concerns around the new coronavirus variant. 

Hospitality venues in the UK have not yet been forced to reintroduce measures such as social distancing or mandatory mask-wearing, but industry leaders have warned that the “Plan B” measures are already causing damage to the sector. 

Trade body UKHospitality predicts that takings will be down by as much as 40% for the festive period, which is usually the sector’s busiest and most profitable time of the year. 

Data from UKHospitality for Monday to Sunday of last week showed a 13% decrease in trade and a 15% increase in cancellations, compared with pre-pandemic levels. Central London saw takings drop by 40% amid the new “Plan B” measures and a 25% jump in Christmas bookings being cancelled. 

The government’s official advice since the arrival of Omicron and the introduction of plan B has been very clear: go ahead with Christmas and new year parties as long as you are not showing any symptoms of Covid,” the head of UKHospitality, Kate Nicholls, said

Hospitality operators have invested heavily to ensure the safety of staff and customers, focusing on better ventilation, hygiene and sanitation … As a result, pubs, bars, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs are safer places in which to socialise with family and friends than at home this Christmas.”

Soon after government scientists raised the Covid-19 alert level to 4 on a 5-point scale, the Prime Minister announced that the UK’s booster vaccine programme must speed up. 

A fortnight ago I said we would offer every eligible adult a booster by the end of January. Today in light of this Omicron emergency I’m bringing that target forward by a whole month,” the Prime Minister said in a hurriedly arranged national address on Sunday night. “Everyone eligible aged 18 and over in England will have the chance to get their booster before the New Year.”

The pound sterling dropped 0.4% to $1.3225, though remained largely steady against the euro at 85.29 pence. 

Earlier in December, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated Omicron as a “variant of concern”, with scientists currently unsure as to whether or not the Omicron strain is more severe than previous Covid-19 variants. 

New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that GDP rose just 0.1% in the month, below the 0.4% forecasted by economists, thanks to ongoing supply chain disruptions and staff shortages.

The figure remains below the pre-pandemic level of 0.5% seen in February 2020 and suggests that the UK economy was struggling even before the emergence of the Omicron variant in late November.  

The ONS said that services output grew back to its pre-pandemic levels, growing 0.4% in October. Meanwhile, output in consumer-facing services was up by 0.3% on the month largely due to an 8.1% increase in the wholesale and retail trade. However, output at hotels and restaurants dropped by 5.5%. 

Growth disappointed in October, reinforcing concerns about the resilience of the UK’s economic recovery to the Omicron variant and the impact of further restrictions,” Alpesh Paleja, CBI lead economist, said.

We need to create consistency in our approach and build confidence by reducing the oscillation between normal life and restrictions as we learn to live with the virus and its variants."

Meanwhile, supply pressures remain acute and further rises in inflation are looming. We expect growth to build further momentum ahead, but more action is needed to address longer-term challenges, including “scarring” from COVID and poor productivity."

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