Boris Johnson has asked ministers to come up with “robust contingency plans” for a wave of Covid staff absences in the new year, with concerns that up to a quarter of the public sector workforce may be off work due to coronavirus in the coming weeks.
The UK has recorded unprecedented numbers of cases in recent weeks, with a record 189,846 on New Year’s Eve.
And this figure is thought to be significantly lower than the true figure due to constraints on testing; modelling from the Office of National Statistics suggesting that more than one in 25 people in England are currently infected, with one in 15 in London.
The Government acknowledged that the unprecedented number of cases could hit businesses across the UK and said it was taking action to minimise the impact on public services and supply chains.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Steve Barclay, is chairing regular meetings with ministers to monitor the impact of the highly infectious Omicron Covid variant on workforces, supply chains and schools.
Ministers have been instructed to work with their respective sectors to create plans to cope with the absences, with public sector leaders asked to test the contingency plans against “worst case scenarios” of staff absences of 10, 20 and 25 per cent.
In December, the Education Secretary called for ex-teachers to return to schools in January to ease staffing shortages.
Nadhim Zahawi issued a plea those who are recently retired, or trained as a teacher and moved career, to “consider whether they can find even a day a week for the spring term to help protect face-to-face education.”
The Department for Education warned that Omicron was “expected to continue to cause increased staff absence levels in the spring term and said that “some local areas may struggle to find sufficient numbers of supply teachers available unless former staff come forward.”
Figures released yesterday showed that Covid-related staff absences at NHS England trusts soared by more than 30 per cent in a week, while healthcare bosses have warned that NHS workers are “dropping like flies” with staffing “floored” by the surge in Omicron cases.