Boris Johnson asks ministers to plan for Covid workplace absences of up to 25%

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves10 Downing Street in London, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Boris Johnson has instructed ministers to come up with “robust contingency plans” for workplace absences as it emerged that the government is concerned about the impact record numbers of daily Covid infections could have on businesses in the coming weeks.

The Cabinet Office confirmed that, despite the accelerated booster programme, public sector leaders have been asked to prepare for a worst case scenario that would see up to a quarter of workers being off work due to high Covid levels in the population.

The department claimed that, so far, disruption caused by Omicron has been controlled in “most parts of the public sector”, but acknowledged that public sector leaders have been asked to play through “worst case scenarios” of 10%, 20% and 25% workforce absence rates, PA reported.

Steve Barclay, the Cabinet Office minister and chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, is chairing “regular meetings” with ministers to assess how workforces, supply chains and schools are affected as the Omicron Covid variant is sweeping across the country.

The department admitted businesses and public services could face further disruption in coming weeks and that Johnson has tasked ministers to test contingency plans and explore solutions that are hoped to save their relevant sectors from bottleneck scenarios caused by a temporarily significantly diminished workforce.

The news comes after the Daily Telegraph reported that the government’s work-from-home guidance in England could remain in place for most of January.

Barclay said: “As people return to work following the Christmas break, the high transmissibility levels of Omicron mean business and public services will face disruption in the coming weeks, particularly from higher than normal staff absence.

“We have been working through the Christmas period to prepare where possible for this, with all departments liaising closely with public and private sector leaders who are best placed to operationally manage their workforces. The best way to combat Omicron is to get boosted and I encourage anyone who is eligible to get boosted now.”

Labour said the prime minister had previously gone missing “for days on end” when he should have been instructing ministers to draft contingency plans. Deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “Boris Johnson’s lack of leadership means his government has dithered and delayed, leaving contingency planning to the very last moment.

“Boris Johnson should have instructed his ministers to start planning weeks ago, but instead he went missing for days on end. With record Covid infection numbers, the prime minister must immediately get a grip on workforce pressures, keep essential services moving, keep schools open and keep people safe.”

A new record of 189,846 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were logged in the UK on Friday, as the British Medical Association called for further public health measures “urgently to prevent the health service being completely overwhelmed”. On Saturday, England on its own reported a record high daily total of 162,572 new cases.

Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge and a government adviser, said the actual number of daily cases could be closer to half a million.

But the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said new restrictions on freedom in England “must be an absolute last resort”.

Source: The Guardian