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Covid continues to cause staff absences, sick pay backlog

Finland's social benefits agency Kela has already paid 91 million euros in Covid-related allowances so far this year.

Some supermarket outlets have had to temporarily shut down as employees do not have the chance to work from home. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Some 120,000 people in Finland have received sick pay after contracting coronavirus during the first four months of 2022. The figure is nearly as high as the total number of recipients for the entire year of 2021.

Retail giant S Group, which employs around 40,000 workers, said that rising absences have forced the chain to restrict opening hours or temporarily close down some of its outlets.

"The beginning of the year was a challenging time when Omicron started to spiral out of control. Our outlets have really been stretched by the lack of workforce," S Group Human Resources expert Matti Räisänen told Yle.

Finland's benefits agency Kela has paid 91 million euros in benefits so far this year, compared to 115 million during the entire year of 2021.

The agency said it has had to hire 50 new workers to help clear the backlog, adding that some 125,000 Covid allowance applications are currently waiting to be processed.

The high figures have been linked to an unprecedented spike in coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and Covid-related deaths during the first five months of this year, although health authorities said in April that the pandemic has now likely peaked in Finland.

The improving situation has been reflected in a steadily dropping number of both Covid patients in hospitals and Covid allowance applications. Nevertheless, Kela is receiving some 3,000 applications a day, the agency added.

The Covid allowance is paid to employers on account of employees who have been ordered to quarantine or have cared for a sick child. The allowance compensates for the lost wages in full.

"The financing of Covid allowance is of great social significance," said Milla Kaitola, director of the Benefits Department at Kela, adding that the compensation also helps relieve the economic blow of the pandemic on companies.