Return to work chaos is expected as NHS, schools, police and transport all hit by coronavirus absences
The return to work after Christmas and New Years is expected to be chaotic in Greater Manchester this week – with thousands affected by covid.
The government has asked public sector bosses to prepare for the 25% absence of staff, everything from schools and hospitals to law enforcement and garbage collection, which may be carried out.
READ MORE: The latest Covid-19 ‘black spots’ in Greater Manchester – where cases are among the highest in the country
It comes as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly in Greater Manchester.
More than 53,000 people in the region tested positive last week, a 45% increase from the previous seven days.
As of December 29, there were over 10,000 positive cases in a single day.
And three boroughs – Stockport, Wigan and Salford – have infection rates above 2,000 cases per 100,000.
The rules now allow people to end self-isolation if they test negative on days 6 and 7 and have no symptoms.
But a shortage of lateral flow testing (LFT) means that many people may not be working anyway.
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NHS services continue to come under particular pressure, with warnings that many trusts have already issued ‘critical incidents’ in recent days.
The most recent figures released by NHS England showed just over 6,000 employees were absent, for whatever reason, on Boxing Day in Greater Manchester.
More than 12,000 working days were lost to Covid in the region during this week, up 62% from the previous week.
Meanwhile, doctors and nurses have expressed concerns over the difficulty of accessing PCR tests and the days to wait for their results, despite being classified as essential workers.
As the NHS rules dictate, they cannot return to work without a negative PCR test.
This week, the availability of PCR tests evaporated across the country, following “spikes in demand.”
This prompted a GP to share his concerns with the MEN that hospitals, GP surgeries and nursing homes will go into ‘lockdown’ because there are ‘not enough staff to care for patients “.
Meanwhile, disruptions are expected in the public sector.
Manchester council has had to cancel green bin collections “until further notice” due to a combination of staff absence from Covid-19 and the nationwide shortage of heavy truck drivers.
Residents are advised to put food waste in the general gray bin for now – and store garden waste in the green bins until collection resumes.
And on New Years Eve, Metrolink canceled services on multiple lines due to COVID-related staff absence.
No service is operated on the Ashton, Eccles and Airport lines after 5 p.m.
A spokesperson for Transport for Greater Manchester said: ‘We are working closely with tram operator KeolisAmey Metrolink to maintain regular tram service and deal with the impact of Covid-19 on drivers and staff tram.
“We plan to roll out a full service over the next few weeks, but we may need to adjust the tram frequencies if the situation regarding staff absences deteriorates.
“This is a situation that we are constantly monitoring, as well as passenger demand, and we will only make changes if absolutely necessary.
“We make sure that our customer information channels are continually updated so that people are aware of their travel options, and we always encourage people to plan their trips in advance and to check the website.” of TfGM for the latest guidance, including information on planned engineering work. “
Network Rail warned passengers should expect last minute changes or cancellations on trains due to reduced crew availability.
In Manchester Piccadilly on Monday afternoon, warnings were put in place for services such as CrossCountry, TransPennine Express and Transport for Wales.
And Stagecoach warned last week that a number of its Manchester bus routes, including the 142, 192 and 250, would be affected by the staff absence.
The government has said keeping schools open during the Omicron wave remains one of its top priorities.
But many school leaders in Greater Manchester face an uphill battle ahead of the new term.
Glyn Potts, principal of John Henry Newman RC College in Oldham, is among more than 20 of the school’s 200 staff (10 pc) who received a positive PCR over the Christmas holidays.
Struggling with the symptoms of the virus, that means he will have to work from home for the start of the new term.
He told the Manchester Evening News: “I am concerned about the growing number of cases and the potential disruption, but I am committed to doing everything possible to remain open to students.”
It will be a challenge.
“If this continues, even with the isolation time reduced, it will be tight for us,” he added.
The government reintroduced some measures to support schools, including recommending the wearing of masks in high school classrooms, plans to provide 7,000 air purification units to schools and colleges, and an outing for school inspectors. Ofsted so that they can focus on teaching.
In December, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi called on former teachers to help deal with Covid-related staff shortages in the new year.
Despite these efforts, there is growing speculation that some students may need to resume at least part of online learning.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham last addressed the pressure on the public sector on December 21 following a meeting of the Greater Manchester Emergency Committee.
He then said the absence of staff in the region’s NHS was around 10%, 7% in Greater Manchester Police and around 15% in transport.
Mr Burnham said executives would closely monitor the situation throughout the Christmas period, adding: “It is an uncertain picture at the moment, but it is true to say that business and service continuity is a major concern for the Greater Manchester system at the present time. “
It is understood that a further meeting of Greater Manchester leaders will take place on Wednesday.
Today Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Omicron will continue to pressure the NHS over the coming weeks.
But new restrictions are not expected to take effect when the government reviews the data on Wednesday.
Today, Chris Hopson, CEO of NHS Providers, said the number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals in the North West has increased by 108%.
This includes both patients who were admitted for the virus and those who tested positive upon admission for other reasons.
“Challenges [hospital] trusts bring us back around three familiar issues, ”Mr Hopson tweeted.
“Growing number of patients with covid. Rapid increase in staff absences, as covid infection rates rise in local communities.
“All against the backdrop of huge, broader pressure on the health and care system.”
The latest data shows that London, where the Omicron wave first started, is showing signs of dramatically reduced hospital admissions.
And Mr Hopson said hospitals are not seeing large numbers of critically ill elderly patients in covid wards.
“So it is increasingly clear that the problem for the NHS is not the acuteness / size of the workload of very ill elderly people,” he added.
“But the number of staff absences and general admissions with covid add to the existing pressures.
“It further expands the NHS in a very significant way.”
Duchy of Lancaster Chancellor Steve Barclay said: “As people return to work after the Christmas holidays, Omicron’s high levels of transmissibility mean businesses and utilities will face disruption in weeks to come, in particular due to a higher than normal staff absence.
“We have been working over 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 get Boosted and I encourage everyone who is eligible to get Boosted now.”