Omicron sweeps the UK, public sector could face up to 25% of absenteeism

The Cabinet Office said public sector leaders were asked to prepare for "worst-case scenarios" of absenteeism of 10%, 20% and 25%.

Daily new cases in the UK during the Christmas and New Year festivities have hit record highs several times.

Transport, the NHS and schools have already been affected by absenteeism.

The rising number of cases has led to a large number of people self-isolating and unable to go to work. This particularly affects industries where employees cannot work from home.

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Minister Steve Barclay is holding regular meetings with ministers to assess how the spread of the Omicron variant affects the workforce and supply chains, the Cabinet Office said.

The office also said the prime minister had urged ministers to work with their respective departments to test preparedness and contingency plans to reduce confusion.

Barclays said the highly contagious Omicron variant meant businesses and public services "will face disruptions in the coming weeks, particularly higher than usual employee absenteeism".

However, his ministry said the disruption caused by Omicron had so far been contained in "most of the public sector".

Current Self-Isolation Guidelines

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, people who test positive for Covid-19 must self-isolate for at least seven days. After ending self-isolation, two rapid antigen tests must be carried out 24 hours apart - the first no earlier than the sixth day.

In Scotland, those who test positive must isolate for 10 days.

Across the UK, contacts of positive cases are also required to isolate for 10 days if they have not been vaccinated.

Some have called for an American-style self-isolation regime for as little as five days, but UKHSA said doing so would backfire and exacerbate staff shortages if more people were infected.

The two systems do not correspond one-to-one, the agency explained in a blog post. In the UK, the self-isolation "bell" starts to count when a person develops symptoms or tests positive, whichever comes first. But in the U.S., self-isolation begins after a positive test result — which can be days after symptoms appear.

The UK Health Security Agency said its modelling showed 10-30% of people were still infectious by day six, depending on how quickly they got their test results after they developed symptoms.

The bureau said that at the end of the seven-day self-isolation with two negative rapid antigen test results would be equivalent to the protection of 10 days of self-isolation, in which 5% of people are still infectious.

"It's going to be very difficult"

Ian Wilson, owner and director of Bellcare, a home-based service for the elderly and disabled in Cumbria, fears those in need will not get it - because there isn't enough people provide services.

"The number of people in need of care itself means you've got a lot of work to do," Wilson told the BBC. "Once your staff (because of Omicron) starts to drop, it becomes very, very embarrassing."

While Bellcare has been able to raise the minimum wage on government subsidies from April last year until now, Wilson said: "It's going to be very difficult if people don't come."

Wilson's company employs about 120 people and easily needs 40 to 50 more caregivers at certain times.

"We still have the Brexit regime, we had overseas staff before," Wilson said. "We can now apply for a licence to hire overseas staff, but to be honest, the process is time-consuming and expensive, so it's not going to be resolved next week. problem."

Wilson said: "I don't know what the government's plan is for contingency measures. We're just going to work with what we have on hand, and we've got people on hand that can only do so many hours a day, so yes, it's going to be very difficult. "

The UK Health Security Agency said it would continue to monitor the situation, but believed the current rules were "current best practice".

In December, the education secretary urged retired teachers to return to classrooms to help tackle the new year's coronavirus-related staffing shortages.

At the end of last semester, some schools had to close early or switch to online teaching due to staff shortages.

Several train operators have had to reduce service hours due to understaffing.

The increase in the number of new cases has also affected the NHS. According to the NHS England, 24,632 staff at the agency were ill with the new crown or were self-isolating on December 26, 31% more than the previous week and almost double the number at the beginning of the month.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said Prime Minister Boris Johnson should have asked ministers to start planning for absences weeks ago.

"Boris Johnson's lack of leadership has meant his government has been indecisive and delayed, pushing contingency plans to the last minute," she said.

"Amid record-breaking numbers of Covid-19 infections, the Prime Minister must immediately address the workforce pressure in the workplace, keep critical services running, keep schools open and keep people safe."

England reported 162,572 new cases on Saturday (January 1) - a five-day record - and hospital admissions to Covid-19 are at their highest level since 2021.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland did not release figures on Saturday.

The new coronavirus variant strain Omicron spreads globally, what do we already know?

England is currently in a "Plan B" of epidemic prevention restrictions, including mandatory wearing of masks in most indoor public places, the use of new crown passes in nightclubs and other large venues, and instructions for people to work from home where possible.

The measures will expire in six weeks - expected to end on or around January 4, and will be reviewed three weeks later on January 26.

Other parts of the UK have already imposed stricter restrictions on dining establishments.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said any further restrictions in England "must be a last resort".



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