According to officials, the shortage of lateral flow devices may contribute to the widespread disruption as hospital trusts announce “extreme and unprecedented” staff absences. Councils in several cities including Manchester, Essex, Somerset and Buckinghamshire have scaled back or suspended waste collections as members of staff have either tested positive for COVID-19 or are isolating.
Chelmsford City Council said 23 members of staff are currently absent and have cancelled three days’ worth of food waste collections, while 1,000 recycling bins were not collected in North Somerset.
The decision comes as the Government asked public sector leaders to plan for a worst-case scenario of up to a quarter of staff being absent as the COVID-19 cases continue to sweep the country.
Ed Argar, Minister for Health, said asking leaders to make contingency plans was “the responsible and sensible thing”.
However, he argued clinical and scientific advice had urged against slashing self-isolation from seven days to five days to combat absences, as critics have demanded.
The Cabinet Office said on Saturday that, so far, disruption caused by Omicron had been controlled in “most parts of the public sector”.
But it said leaders had been asked to test plans against ten percent, 20 percent and 25 percent workforce absence rates.
Asked whether he thought such absence levels were likely to occur, Mr Argar told Times Radio: “I think we model a range of scenarios up to things we think are highly unlikely, but you still do it because that’s what a responsible Government does in preparing for all eventualities.”
It comes as the public continue to struggle to access rapid tests, exacerbating staff absences as they are unable to end isolation early without two negative tests.
READ MORE: Covid in 2022: A look at history and the future of the pandemic
An LGA spokesman told The Telegraph a recent survey of members found around half of councils had seen services disrupted due to staff absences.
The spokesperson told the publication: “As cases of COVID-19 rise in light of the Omicron variant, councils are concerned that these existing staffing issues may get worse, potentially impacting on service delivery in some areas and they are putting in place contingency plans to address this.”