Ministers have been tasked with developing “robust contingency plans” for workplace absences, as the government warned rising cases could see up to a quarter of staff off work.**
Public sector leaders have been asked to prepare for “worst case scenarios” of 10%, 20% and 25% absence rates, the Cabinet Office said.
The UK has seen record numbers of daily cases over the festive period.
Transport, the NHS and schools have already seen the effect of absences.
Rising case numbers have led to large numbers self-isolating and being unable to go to work. This has particularly affected industries where staff are unable to work from home.
Cabinet Office Minister Steve Barclay is chairing regular meetings with ministers to assess how the spread of the Omicron variant is affecting workforces and supply chains, the Cabinet Office said.
The prime minister had asked ministers working with their respective sectors to test preparations and contingency plans to limit disruption, it explained.
Mr Barclay said the highly transmissible Omicron variant meant businesses and public services “will face disruption in the coming weeks, particularly from higher than normal staff absence”.
However, his department said that so far disruption caused by Omicron has been controlled in “most parts of the public sector”.
Rising cases are affecting the NHS, with 24,632 staff at hospital trusts ill with coronavirus or self-isolating on 26 December, up 31% on the previous week and nearly double the figure at the start of the month, according to NHS England. COVID hospital admissions are at their highest level since January 2021.
“Optimists” may claim “death rates are down”, “Omicron’s just like 'flu”, “herd immunity prevents sickness” and so on but one of the worst characteristics of COVID, especially Omicron, is its transmissibility. This has always meant variable, but increasing, numbers of people “taking time off sick”, whether they be infected or suspected, working or not.
This has been apparent for months in the service and supply industries, but the arrival of Omicron has changed the picture completely. In the last week in the UK, over 1,000,000 people have been confirmed as COVID positive and will, for the most part, isolate themselves for 7 days or more from society. At that rate, at least 4,000,000 people will be taking at least a week’s “break” from society in January. The impact of such a mass “absence”, whether from work or family, will be devastating.