The Week in Business: Travel Troubles

It was a bad week for anyone with a flight to catch. With staff shortages partially driven by the spread of the Omicron variant, many airlines began canceling flights the day before Christmas, and the cancellations continued during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The airlines shoulder some of the blame. While they had begun to fill out the ranks that were thinned early in the pandemic, they have yet to restore their prepandemic work force. Even with all the cancellations, airports were busier than they’ve been since the pandemic began. But the number of people screened at airport security checkpoints around Christmas was still down 18 percent from a comparable period in 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

In an effort to ease some of the staffing shortages affecting airlines, retailers and other industries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said some infected Americans could leave isolation after five days, half as long as the previous recommendation. The agency cited science showing that the coronavirus is most contagious one to two days before an infected individual develops symptoms and two to three days after. Some unions have expressed concern that workers could be pressured to come to work sick, especially those whose employers do not provide paid sick leave.

After the nearly four-month-long trial of the Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, jurors ended a sixth day of deliberations, with no indication of when they might return with a verdict. They are scheduled to return on Monday. The key question before the jury is whether to believe the prosecution’s argument that Ms. Holmes “chose fraud over business failure” or whether Ms. Holmes acted in good faith — that she believed in her start-up’s blood-testing technology and that its failures were not the result of malicious intent.

One of the most consistent themes of 2021 was companies setting dates for workers to return to the office only to have the dates postponed and postponed again. Wall Street banks were a notable exception, until Omicron and a surge of cases in New York led many banks to tell employees who had been working at the office to return home. Goldman Sachs, however, stepped up its vaccine and testing requirements instead of sending employees home. It announced plans to test workers on-site twice a week starting on Jan. 10 and mandate boosters for eligible employees starting Feb. 1. Some large employers have held off on imposing their own vaccine mandates as legal battles and the rising number of virus cases have complicated their plans. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on Friday on the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate.

As we head into a new year, inflation continues to rattle the American consumer. With the higher prices coming at the same time as the spread of another coronavirus variant, the economic recovery is no longer certain, with many events canceled and venues closing. The conventional wisdom, that inflation would be short-lived and would lessen as factories reopened and supply-chain issues resolved, appears to be less and less likely. The Federal Reserve, which has bolstered the economy since early in the pandemic, has signaled that it will pull back some of that support in 2022 and that it could raise interest rates several times next year in an attempt to cool inflation.

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved two new treatments for Covid-19, from Pfizer and Merck, though both are reserved for high-risk individuals. Pfizer’s Covid-19 pill, Paxlovid, is approved for patients 12 and over with medical conditions that put them at a higher risk for severe disease or for patients who are vulnerable because of their age. Merck’s treatment, molnupiravir, is approved for vulnerable adults who have no other treatment options. While the Pfizer pill appears more effective than Merck’s, it’s likely that the Pfizer treatment will be more difficult to obtain. The company, which has enjoyed tremendous success with its vaccine, is expected to provide enough Paxlovid pills for 265,000 Americans before the end of January.

Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty of conspiring with the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein to recruit, groom and sexually abuse underage girls. Apple closed about 20 of its retail stores after a wave of Covid-19 cases among employees had left the stores unsafe and understaffed. And supply-chain woes have come to the nursery.

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