As England reported 162,572 new cases and 154 further coronavirus-related deaths this Saturday 1, the Government is bracing itself for a possible shortage of public workers. Boris Johnson has asked his ministers to draft an emergency plan to ensure the public sector keeps going despite a massive lack of workers.
Despite reducing the self-isolation period from ten to seven days, public workers who test positive for the virus still have to be away from work.
Following Christmas, New Year’s Eve celebrations and the growing number of Covid cases identified every day, there are fears that thousands of workers could be in isolation in the early weeks of 2022.
Their absence would wreak havoc on many public services, including the NHS, transport networks and schools.
In January, some rail services have already been cancelled, or emergency timetables introduced amid soaring staff sickness.
In England, the NHS saw 24,632 personnel missing on Boxing Day.
The number was more than double the 12,240 who could not work for that reason on Sunday 12 December and 31% up on the 18,829 recorded on the Sunday before Christmas, 19 December.
As a solution to teacher shortages, the Government asked ex-teachers to come back to the classrooms for a short time and help out.
According to the Cabinet Office, public sector leaders have been asked to test plans against worst-case scenarios of workforce absences of 10%, 20% and 25%.
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Steve Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has been put in charge of monitoring the impact of Omicron on workforces, supply chains, and schools, said in a statement: “As people return to work following the Christmas break, the high transmissibility levels of Omicron mean business and public services will face disruption in the coming weeks, particularly from higher than normal staff absence.
“We have been working through the Christmas period to prepare where possible for this, with all departments liaising closely with public and private sector leaders who are best placed to operationally manage their workforces.
“The best way to combat Omicron is to get boosted, and I encourage anyone who is eligible to get boosted now.”
The Labour Party has accused the Government of only acting “to the very last moment” on this contingency plan.
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Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, said: “The prime minister’s lack of leadership means his Government has dithered and delayed, leaving contingency planning to the very last moment.
“Boris Johnson should have instructed his ministers to start planning weeks ago, but instead, he went missing for days on end.
“With record Covid infection numbers, the prime minister must immediately get a grip on workforce pressures, keep essential services moving, keep schools open and keep people safe.”