Boris Johnson instructed ministers to develop ‘robust contingency plans’ for workplace absences, as the government has recognized that high levels of Covid could hit businesses hard in the coming weeks.
Public sector leaders have been urged to prepare for the worst-case scenario, with up to a quarter of staff on work stoppage as the virus continues to spread across the country, the Cabinet Office said.
Steve Barclay, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, chairs “regular meetings” with ministers to assess how the highly transmissible variant of Omicron affects the workforce and supply chains.
He is also closely monitoring the situation in the schools before the students return for the new term.
The department said Mr Johnson had tasked ministers to work with their respective sectors to test preparations and contingency plans to limit disruption caused by rising Covid infections.
He acknowledged that, despite the expedited recall program, the high levels of Covid and the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant could mean that businesses and utilities face further disruption in the coming weeks.
The news comes amid reports that the focus on working from home in England could continue for most of January.
The Cabinet Office has claimed that the disruption caused by Omicron has so far been controlled in “most parts of the public sector”.
But he said public sector leaders have been urged to test the plans against âworst case scenariosâ of 10%, 20% and 25% absence rates from the workforce.
In December, the Education Secretary called on former teachers to help tackle staff shortages related to Covid in the new year.
The call came amid reports that some schools were experiencing very low attendance among teachers and students before the Christmas holidays.
Labor claimed the PM was already missing “for days” when he should have asked ministers to draw up contingency plans.
Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said: âBoris Johnson’s lack of leadership means his government has hesitated and delayed, leaving contingency planning at the very last moment.
âBoris Johnson should have asked his ministers to start planning weeks ago, but instead he’s been missing for days.
âWith a record number of Covid infections, the Prime Minister must immediately bring the pressures on the workforce under control, keep essential services in motion, keep schools open and keep people safe. “
The most recent restrictions, set out in the government’s Plan B for England, are expected to expire six weeks after implementation, with a three-week review, which is expected on or around Tuesday January 4.
But the Daily Telegraph said the review, likely to be scheduled for MPs’ return to Westminster on Wednesday, could see work-from-home guidelines remain in place into the second half of the month.
Another 189,846 laboratory-confirmed cases of Covid-19 were recorded in the UK on Friday, another new daily record, as the British Medical Association called for new public health measures “to prevent health services are not completely submerged “.
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at Cambridge University and government adviser, said the actual number of daily cases could be closer to half a million.
However, Health Secretary Sajid Javid insisted that restrictions on liberty “must be an absolute last resort”.
The UK government was at odds with decentralized nations in choosing to keep nightclubs open and allow hospitality to function without additional measures for New Year’s celebrations.
Writing in the Daily Mail on Friday, Mr Javid said: âSince taking on this role six months ago, I have also been keenly aware of the enormous health, social and economic costs of lockdowns.
âSo I decided that we have to give ourselves the best chance to live alongside the virus and avoid strict measures in the future. “
Matthew Taylor, CEO of the NHS Confederation, said the NHS faces a ‘perfect storm’ of hospital admissions and rising illnesses from Covid, along with a growing number of frontline workers line on sick leave.
Mr Barclay said: âAs people return to work after the Christmas holidays, Omicron’s high levels of transmissibility mean businesses and utilities will face disruption in the coming weeks, particularly in due to a higher than normal staff absence.
âWe have been working throughout the Christmas season to prepare for it as much as possible, with all departments liaising closely with leaders in the public and private sectors who are best placed to manage their workforce operationally.
“The best way to fight Omicron is to be boosted and I encourage everyone who is eligible to be boosted now.”