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Public services dealing with Covid-induced staff shortages

The Rescue Department of Southwest Finland is recruiting new personnel, and other regional operators have announced special measures to keep public services running.

The Rescue Department of Southwest Finland is looking to recruit a dozen new paramedics. Image: Yle/Linus Hoffman

Accelerating coronavirus infection rates have temporarily taken large numbers of people out of the workforce, leading to shortages in a number of key public service sectors.

The City of Turku, public transport in the Turku region, and waste management in southwestern Finland have all announced that they are preparing for personnel shortages caused by the upswing in infection rates.

The Rescue Department of Southwest Finland currently has several paramedics absent due to coronavirus infections.

So far, staffing problems within the department have been addressed by internal transfers of department personnel, for example by shifting firefighters to emergency response units. Employees on holiday have been brought back in, and hourly workers have also been hired by the department.

Late last week, the Rescue Department announced that it hopes to recruit twelve new paramedics for employment lasting until the end of September.

"The situation with the pandemic looks difficult, and it won't get any easier at least in the near future, so we decided to move [planned] recruitment forward to early in the year," explains Chief Juha Virto of the Rescue Department of Southwest Finland.

According to Virto, infection rates rose among personnel during the spring and summer of last year. In the autumn, the situation eased, but since the turn of the year, absences have again increased due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

A nationwide problem

Virto says that the staffing pressures in rescue work brought on by the latest upswing in coronavirus infections are being felt all around the country.

"Indeed, this is a national problem. In the Helsinki metropolitan area, for example, the problem is at least as great as ours," Virto says.

Other public service providers, including the public transport system and waste management services in the southwest of the country, are also facing staff shortages.

The City of Turku has made plans to shift personnel resources to ensure essential services if the situation continues to deteriorate.

LSJH, the waste management operator in Southwest Finland, said last week that there may be delays in its services. Waste and environmental events and pop-up waste collection scheduled for January have also been cancelled.

LSJH says that it is monitoring the situation and is preparing to prioritise services. In practice, this may mean changes in collection schedules.

Turku region public transport Föli has had few departures cancelled, but expects that a growing number of drivers may be off work due to sick leave. Last week, it decided that its subcontractors will not be penalised if a shortage of drivers prevents them from providing all regularly scheduled services.

The pandemic is in the acceleration phase in the region and about half of coronavirus cases in Southwest Finland are in Turku. New cases are particularly prevalent in young adults, but the number of cases is increasing in all age groups. So far, however, most new infections have been largely mild or asymptomatic.

Retail sector shortages

Staff shortages are also hitting private businesses.

The current upswing in coronavirus infections is also impacting the availability of retail store workers. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

For example, last week, a working group representing retail trade companies told the Northern Finland Regional State Administrative Agency that shops in North Ostrobothnia may start seeing increasing numbers of staff off work because of coronavirus infections within the next few weeks.

The group added, though, that no lack in the availability of goods is expected and that store shelves should remain well-stocked.