By Kantaro Komiya

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s industrial output likely fell for a second month in January as the fast spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant disrupted car production, a Reuters poll showed.

While the coronavirus outbreak is on a downtrend, concerns loom for a current-quarter contraction as the Ukraine-Russia crisis fuels fresh uncertainties for the economy reliant on imported energy, raw materials and manufacturing parts.

Industrial production likely declined 0.7% in January from the previous month, the median forecast in the poll of 18 economists showed, after a 1.0% fall in December.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 Omicron variant since the start of the year forced output cuts to carmakers, which had already suffered from chip and parts shortage,” Shumpei Fujita, an economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting, wrote in a note.

Major automakers including Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co Ltd have reduced production in their Japanese plants due to Omicron-related disruptions, such as infected workers and component supply bottlenecks.

Japan’s new COVID-19 infections peaked in early February, but deaths are still rising.

Meanwhile, retail sales were seen rising 1.4% in January from a year earlier, following a revised 1.2% growth in December, according to the poll.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will release both industrial production and retail sales data on Feb. 28 at 8:50 a.m. (Feb. 27 at 2350 GMT).

Japan’s unemployment rate and jobs-to-applicants ratio likely stayed flat in January from the prior month at 2.7% and 1.16, respectively, the poll also showed. Job figures are due on Mar. 4 at 8:30 a.m. (Mar. 3 at 2330 GMT).

(Reporting by Kantaro Komiya; Editing by Kim Coghill)