Soaring Covid cases could cause major shortages across industry, hospitality and healthcare, ministers have been told, as rail companies cancelled services and Royal Mail said it was experiencing high staff absences.
According to cabinet sources, Boris Johnson and England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said at a briefing that rising cases would be likely to affect businesses with mass worker absences. Whitty also told ministers to expect a “significant increase” in hospital admissions.
West End shows have been cancelled because of the surge in suspected Omicron cases, while waste collections, deliveries and schools are all under threat from shortages. No 10 emphasised there had not been “any discussion or any warning about hospitals or clinical settings having to close as a result of this variant”.
Johnson’s spokesperson said public services should be able to continue to operate without disruption. “We have strong measures in place and robust, and now tested, procedures to ensure they can continue.” Asked if modelling had been done on the impact on staffing essential services, he said: “I think given the lack of hard data on things like severity, transmissibility and its impact on different vaccines and boosters etc, I think that would be hard to model.”
The leader of Britain’s A&E doctors said on Tuesday that Omicron could lead to high numbers of hospital staff having to take time off ill just as the NHS was grappling with winter pressures.
“The biggest challenge to staff at the moment is going to be the numbers going off sick,” said Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine. “I was on a shift yesterday and during my day shift four doctors went off Covid-positive,” she told an all-party parliamentary group coronavirus evidence session.
Cases assigned to date of publication.
Data: data.gov.uk, updated