Back-to-work chaos looms with a million people in Covid isolation

Ministers draw up plans to bring in the ARMY as back-to-work chaos looms, pupils face being turned away from schools, trains stop running and bins overflow with a MILLION Brits self-isolating – but Professor Neil Ferguson says Covid may be plateauing

  • Covid chaos awaits commuters and pupils today with more than a million Britons stuck in self-isolation
  • Children returning to school risk being turned away at the gates if their teachers test positive for the virus 
  • Rubbish bins and recycling containers across the country are overflowing due to suspended collections
  • Several councils up and down Britain have been forced to reduce or suspend services amid staff shortages   
  • It comes as rail commuters returning to work across Britain this week face days of delays and cancellations  
  • One in ten NHS employees not in hospitals on New Year’s Eve due to illness, according to official data 

Ministers have been told to draw up plans for bringing in the army amid fears a wave of Omicron self-isolation could cripple key services. 

Departments are being asked to consider what support they might need from the military as the New Year return to work threatens to descend into chaos.

After the latest figures showed 1,189,985 people have tested positive for Covid over the past week, NHS bosses have been sounding alarm about rising staff absences, suggesting they are more of a problem than the number of patients.  

School heads fear up to a quarter of their staff could be struck down this month, with unions warning a return to online teaching is inevitable for some this term – despite Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi insisting face-to-face classes will stay the norm.

Meanwhile employees trying to return to the office today are facing skeleton rail timetables and last-minute cancellations. And businesses say they may have to shut their doors or operate shorter hours due to so many workers being in quarantine.

Rubbish bins, recycling containers and bottle banks across the country are also overflowing as councils scale back collections in response to absence levels. 

However, in a glimmer of good news Professor Ferguson said he believes that cases could be starting to plateau in London. 

He said: ‘I’m cautiously optimistic that infection rates in London in that key 18 to 50 age group that has been driving the Omicron epidemic may have plateaued – but it is too early to tell if it is dropping’.

According to the Times, ministers in departments that oversee critical infrastructure and supply chains have been told to prepare plans in case staff shortages require the help of the armed forces.

Help is requested through a process known as Military Aid to the Civil Authorities – MACA – and officials are keen that efforts are focused as efficiently as possible. 

‘We didn’t want different departments relying on the same MACA support,’ a Whitehall insider said, pointing to the possibility that soldiers could be asked to drive ambulances as well as assist Border Force. 

A senior government source told MailOnline that the MACA applications were still ‘at the planning stage’.  

In a round of interviews this morning, vaccines minister Maggie Throup admitted she did not know exactly how many hospitals had severe problems with staffing.  

Asked about the number of NHS trusts with critical incidents, she told Sky News: ‘I think the critical incidents are announced and then they can be very short-term ones and it’s saying to the other trusts around ‘can we have some extra help, can we have some mutual aid’. 

‘Sometimes it’s just a matter of hours that the critical incident is in place for, other times it’s longer, but it’s actually reaching out to the wider NHS to say we have got a problem in this particular area and it’s sometimes quite geographical as well and for different reasons, it can be staff shortages, it could be other reasons.’

She added: ‘To be honest, I haven’t had an update this morning, as we know the (United) Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust declared one yesterday.’

Figures are thought to be less reliable due to the festive period, but a further 157,758 cases were reported yesterday – up by 44.6 per cent on the same day last week.

But the number of people dying with the virus saw a 70.6 per cent decrease, with 42 deaths reported compared to 143 on December 27.

In other developments:

  • Boris Johnson is meeting ministers to take stock today after declaring that the government will stick to existing restrictions, while warning it is ‘folly’ to think the pandemic is over;
  • The PM has rejected calls to cut the Covid isolation period again to five days, saying doing so could make the staffing crisis even worse;
  • Hospital admissions for Covid in London fell, spurring hopes that the Omicron wave may have peaked;
  • Pre-return Covid international travel tests are expected to be scrapped tomorrow. 

Commuters head back to work today in London for the first time after the Christmas holidays with children also returning to school this morning

Canada Water station in south-east London during the morning rush hour with around half of people still not wearing masks despite Sadiq Khan’s threat of a £200 fine

London Bridge was relatively quiet today as many people are still working from home due to the Government’s guidance

The West Park recycling centre in Long Eaton has seen dozens of fly tippers litter the floor with waste as people desperately tried to empty their homes of leftover materials following the festive period over New Year’s weekend

Boris Johnson, left, visited a vaccination hub in the at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in Aylesbury yesterday 

Chaos on the trains at the start of 2022 

Disruption this morning, not related to staffing issues

• Southeastern: Disruption to services through Slade Green station after a blown rail joint was discovered, with no trains running on the Woolwich line away from London

• London Overground: Trains unable to run between Clapham Junction and Surrey Quays due to a fault on a service

• CrossCountry / LNER / TransPennine Express: Problem under investigation between Darlington and York resulting in disruption to trains

• Merseyrail: Power supply problem at Kirkby is disrupting services between Liverpool Central and Kirkby

Covid-related staff shortages affecting train services

• Avanti West Coast : Says it is ‘doing everything we can to run our full timetable but there may be some short notice cancellations’. All peak restrictions removed until January 4.

• c2c : Normal service.

• Caledonian Sleeper : Normal service.

• Chiltern Railways : Operator warns it ‘may have to make some short notice changes to our timetable’ because of the ‘impact of Covid-19 on our train crews’

• CrossCountry : Removed around 50 trains from its timetables until January 8, and warns of disruption ‘until further notice’. Tells passengers to avoid travelling on New Year’s Eve due to RMT strike.

• East Midlands Railway : Revised timetable due to a ‘high level of staff sickness including drivers and train crew’. Some services being replaced by buses.

• Eurostar : Normal service.

• Gatwick Express : No services ‘until further notice’ because of the ‘ongoing effect of coronavirus isolation and sickness’.

• Grand Central : Normal service.

• Great Northern : Reduced service on all routes ‘until further notice’ because of the ‘significant ongoing impact of coronavirus, particularly in terms of staff sickness’.

• Great Western Railway : Cancellations because of ‘rising numbers of staff unavailable to work due to self-isolation requirements’ .

• Greater Anglia : Some services removed from timetable ‘due to falling passenger numbers and ‘to plan for our staff being affected by the Omicron variant’.

• Heathrow Express : Normal service.

• Hull Trains : A temporary timetable will operate until February 12 to ‘minimise disruption’.

• LNER : Reduced timetable up until at least January 7 ‘due to a shortage of train crew as a result of an increase in the number of staff self-isolating with Covid-19’.

• London Northwestern Railway : Services are ‘subject to cancellation or alteration’ due to a shortage of train drivers.

• Lumo : Normal service.

• Merseyrail : Some trains will be cancelled on certain lines from ‘today until further notice’ because of the ‘impact of Covid-19 and other sickness affecting staff availability’.

• Northern : Operating ‘several amended timetables’ because of ‘Covid and its impact on the availability of our train crew’.

• ScotRail : It is ‘being forced to bring in a temporary timetable’ until January 28 ‘as we continue to see colleagues off sick because of Covid-19’.

• South Western Railway : Services subject to ‘short-term alterations’ due to the ‘impact of the Omicron variant on staff numbers’ with new timetable coming in January 17.

• Southeastern : Warns that services may change at short notice if there ‘may be occasions when our staff are sick or self-isolating due to Covid-19’.

• Southern : Cancels a raft of services and its hub at London Victoria station will stay closed until January 10 ‘owing to the significant ongoing impact of coronavirus’.

• Stansted Express : Half-hourly service running.

• Thameslink : Reduced service on all routes ‘until further notice’ because of the ‘significant ongoing impact of coronavirus, particularly in terms of staff sickness’.

• TransPennine Express : Services may be cancelled at short notice ‘due to lack of available staff’.

• Transport for London : Mostly normal service, but delays in recent days on Bakerloo and Metropolitan lines due to cancellations.

• Transport for Greater Manchester: Reduced Metrolink services ‘due to the increasing impact of Covid-19 on tram driver staffing levels’.

• Transport for Wales : ‘Emergency timetable’ to ‘prepare for an expected rise in staff shortages due to the emergence of the Omicron variant’.

• West Midlands Railway : Some trains ‘may be cancelled at short notice’ because ‘many colleagues are currently unable to attend work’.


Students have been told to be tested between two to three times per week either at on-site facilities at their school or by testing themselves at home. Secondary school students must also wear masks in the classroom.

Parents are on edge after their children suffered extraordinary disruption to their education since the pandemic began in March 2020, spending months at home learning online. 

Experts have said that for this generation of British children, their academic progress has gone backward in almost all cases due to schools being shut. And it has also caused a growing inequality between state and private school pupils, who received a higher standard of online learning.

Ministers have vowed to keep schools open this term, saying children’s education has already suffered enough to protect others.

Schools leaders are unsure how many teachers will turn up for work this week while they wait for staff to email in Covid test results. Across the public sector, leaders have been told to prepare for potential worst-case scenarios of between 10 and 25 per cent of staff being absent.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of heads’ union ASCL, told The Guardian: ‘Schools and colleges desperately want to be able to maintain face-to-face teaching on a consistent basis, but the reality is that if large numbers of staff are absent this will cause disruption, which may include having to send home classes or year groups for short periods of time to learn remotely.’

Mr Zahawi told BBC Breakfast yesterday that teacher shortages were likely to be worse than before Christmas. He admitted that some pupils might have to learn remotely.

The Department for Education suggested combining classes and said infected teachers could deliver lessons from home via streaming to supervised classrooms.

Its dedicated remote learning resource, Oak National Academy, said it was ‘ready for increased demand’.

Caroline Derbyshire, head of Saffron Walden County High School in Essex, said: ‘Staff shortages will be a factor and there will be schools in particular parts of the country where rates have been extremely high. You’ve suddenly got the inability to run a year group – that’s when you start having either year groups or whole parts of schools having to go online.’

Masks have been reintroduced in secondary school classrooms, while all secondaries have been asked to provide on-site testing for students ahead of their return. They can stagger starting days but all pupils should be back by Monday next week.

Mr Johnson said yesterday he was not happy about the return of masks and the precaution would be axed as soon as possible, but it was necessary for the moment. 

The Government is still asking people to work from home if they can.

Rail bosses have warned passengers returning to the office this week to expect last-minute cancellations, more crowded trains and delays caused by engineering works.

Nearly a third of rail services at some stations were axed over Christmas after as many as one in ten staff called in sick.

Operators who have already announced reduced timetables include Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, Greater Anglia, London North Eastern Railway, Northern, TransPennine Express and Transport for Wales.

David Josephs of All Greens, which supplies fruit and vegetables to restaurants, said around 15 per cent of staff had been absent and some of the firm’s outlets might need to close if this worsened. 

Meanwhile, councillors in London, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Buckinghamshire have said bin collection services have been scaled back as workers continue to fall sick with the virus, just as families aim to get rid of an abundance of material following the festive season. 

Several London boroughs have announced there may be future delays to services, with Manchester and Birmingham City Councils also declaring suspension and cancellation of services while apologising for disrupted collections over the Christmas period.  

Chelmsford City Council confirmed 23 members of staff were absent and cancelled three days’ worth of food waste collections, while North Somerset Council said they had been unable to pick up 1,000 recycling bins on New Year’s Eve as crews remain ‘stretched due to staff sickness’.

Councils across the UK are having to redistribute staff between essential services to keep everything running, and the public sector has been asked to prepare for a worst-case scenario of up to a quarter of staff off work.

The Cabinet Office said that, so far, disruption caused by Omicron had been controlled in ‘most parts of the public sector’, but it said leaders had been asked to test plans against 10, 20 and 25 per cent workforce absence rates. 

Stephanos Ioannou, a Conservative councillor in Enfield, said the number of complaints about missed bin collections was roughly double the average for this time of year.

‘I’ve been driving round my ward and seeing bins overflowing and Christmas trees are left outside,’ he told the PA news agency.

‘Over the Christmas period, usually I get on average 30 emails a week on waste services.

‘I checked my inbox yesterday… and had about 50 or 60.’

Gloucester meanwhile has been hit with ‘terrible problems’ as bin collectors work in close-knit teams and quickly pass the virus onto one another, multiplying the number of staff off sick at one time, Liberal Democrat councillor Declan Wilson said.

Mr Wilson said recycling collections were stopped altogether over Christmas, caused by a combination of Covid-related absences and driver shortages.

‘The reason for it is driver shortages and Covid as well.

‘It’s Brexit and Covid as well. We have brought this up in council meetings.

‘What they tell us is they’ve got the drivers working in cells so there’s two or three working together, so one of them gets Covid and that means two or three of them are off.

‘It hasn’t been great.’

Rubbish bins, recycling containers and bottle banks across the country are overflowing as severe staff shortages brought about by rising Covid cases have decimated council services. (A view of an overflowing recycling point in Ashford, Kent. Picture date: Monday January 3, 2022)

A person walks past Christmas trees discarded on the pavement, in west London, Britain, January 3, 2022. Many people are simply throwing their Christmas trees outside to rot

Recycling bins and bottle banks are overflowing with councils unable to arrange collection services due to staff shortages (glass bins pictured in Kent, today, Jan 3)

Overflowing bins at a recycling point in Ashford, Kent, after Christmas are pictured this afternoon

The Christmas tree recycling point on Hove Lawns in Brighton is busy as the festive season comes to an end on Bank Holiday Monday in England (pictured today, Jan 3)

Christmas trees begin to pile up ready for the council to collect them and mulch them down, people discard their trees before twelfth night. Christmas tree recycling, Clayfield Copse, Berkshire, UK – 03 Jan 2022

Dozens of unwanted Christmas trees are pictured discarded on the lawn along Brighton’s seafront today, Bank Holiday Monday

Several London boroughs have announced there may be future delays to services, with Haringey Council warning the ‘uniquely challenging times’ had impacted their workforce.

Newham Council has temporarily suspended the collection of bulky waste items due to ‘higher than normal levels of staff absence’.

Green food and garden recycling bin collections have been cancelled ‘until further notice’ by Manchester City Council due to the number of staff in isolation.

Residents are being told to put food waste into ‘grey general waste bins’ and store garden waste until normal collections resume.

Meanwhile Birmingham City Council apologised for missed collections over the festive period, saying crews had been affected by Covid in the week leading up to December 30.

It comes after ministers asked public sector leaders to make ‘contingency plans’ for worst-case scenarios in which up to a quarter of staff would be absent.

Asked on Times Radio whether such shortages were likely to occur, Health Minister Edward Argar said: ‘I think we model a range of scenarios up to things we think are highly unlikely, but you still do it because that’s what a responsible Government does in preparing for all eventualities.’

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils across England, said crews have been badly impacted by the spread of the Omicron variant and called for workers be prioritised for Covid tests.

An LGA spokesman said: ‘As cases of Covid-19 rise in light of the omicron variant, councils are concerned that these existing staffing issues may get worse.’

Festive rubbish begins to accumulate at waste points in the town. Some rubbish collection days over Christmas and New Year have been affected due to coronavirus cases (Reading, Berkshire, UK)

Glasgow-based Joe McCauley, culture spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said there had been an ‘increase in reports of bins overflowing’ in recent weeks

An overflowing recycling point in Ashford, Kent, is pictured this afternoon, with plenty of cardboard packaging

Clothes and other materials have been left outside Oxfam bins at an overflowing recycling point in Ashford, Kent, today

This dog bin off in Canford Heath near Poole in Dorset has been ‘overflowing for days’ according to one social media user

Covid-related staff shortages have also had a considerable impact on transport and healthcare, with many rail services cancelled and one in ten NHS staff off sick. 

In the health service, one in ten NHS employees were not in hospitals on New Year’s Eve due to illness, according to official figures – but less than half had coronavirus, amounting to fewer than 50,000 of the 110,000 not in work. 

Boris bats away calls for Covid isolation to be slashed to FIVE days

Boris Johnson today batted away pleas for Covid self-isolation to be slashed to five days, warning it could make staff shortages even worse.

Calls have been mounting for the UK to emulate the US by trimming the period again to stop the economy and key services being crippled by absences.

However, the PM insisted that going below the current seven days could have the ‘perverse’ effect of speeding the spread, as three times more people would still be infectious when they return to workplaces.

On a visit to a vaccination centre in Stoke Mandeville today, Mr Johnson urged people to ‘stick to Plan B’ stressing that that Omicron is ‘plainly milder’.

But he cautioned that the health service will be under ‘considerable pressure’ for weeks to come, suggesting staff will be moved to plug gaps. 

Asked about the idea of easing isolation rules – already reduced from 10 days as long as people are negative on lateral flow tests on day six and seven – Mr Johnson said: ‘We’ll continue to look at the infectivity periods, but the key thing is we don’t want to be releasing people back into the workplace when they’re still infectious.

‘And the risk is you’d increase the numbers of people going back into the workplace who are infectious by a factor of three. So you might perversely have a negative effect on the workforce if you see what I mean, so that’s the argument we’re looking at.’ 

James Jamieson, chair of the Local Government Association, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘There are existing pressures that were already there before Christmas – bins, due to a shortage of HGV drivers, that’s certainly been an area of pressure.

‘But our biggest concern is social care, because not only will we potentially see plenty more staff absences, we’re actually going to see more demand as the NHS seeks to discharge more people to hospital.’

He added that more ‘redeployment’ of workers would be required to minimise disruption to services in the event of a 25 per cent absence rate. 

In recent days the number of NHS workers staying at home for Covid reasons has doubled.

NHS figures show that on December 12, NHS England recorded 12,240 staff absent due to Covid sickness or self-isolation. Two weeks later, on December 26, this had doubled to 24,632, and by New Year’s Eve it had doubled again to almost 50,000 – accounting for nearly half of all staff absences, The Sunday Times reported.

Chris Hopson, chairman of NHS Providers, said staff absences were having a greater impact than during last January’s Covid wave. He tweeted: ‘Staff flat out, especially given level of staff absences. We will need to ask them to perform flexible heroics again if hospital Covid numbers continue to rise. We can’t keep doing this.’ 

Rail firms all over the country have been removing hundreds of trains from their timetables in recent weeks as the Omicron isolation staffing crisis deepens for industries after days of short notice cancellations. 

A total of 23 UK train companies from Southern to Merseyrail and Great Western Railway to Northern have either already reduced services or will do so in the coming days in response to pandemic-related staff shortages.

Among those also impacted include East Midlands Railway, Thameslink, Avanti West Coast, Greater Anglia, Hull Trains, London Northwestern Railway, Great Northern, Thameslink and TransPennine Express.

The Rail Delivery Group said nearly one in ten staff (8.9 per cent) across all UK train firms were off sick in the week to last Wednesday due to all causes including Covid – up from 8.7 per cent last week and 7.6 per cent last month.

It comes after analysis by yesterday found passengers at Manchester Airport have been among the worst hit, where 30 per cent of scheduled services were axed on New Year’s Day.

On New Year’s Eve 30 per cent were also cancelled and 26 per cent on 30 December.

Operator Southern has announced that no trains will run into or from London Victoria, Britain’s second busiest station, until January 10. This is due to high levels of ‘coronavirus isolation and sickness’ among staff. 

Many other operators have cancelled trains due to staff being off sick or isolating amid soaring Covid infections.

They include Avanti West Coast, Greater Anglia, London North Eastern Railway, Northern, ScotRail, TransPennine Express and Transport for Wales.

How other countries compare to UK’s isolation requirements 

The UK is being urged to follow the lead of others and cut Covid isolation requirements down to five days from the current seven. Here are the requirements in the other countries with five day limits:


Americans who test positive for Covid only have to isolate for five days, as long as they have no symptoms. Those who leave isolation must still wear a mask everywhere – even at home around others – for at least five more days, according to official guidance. People who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive can also leave isolation after five days of being alerted.


Greece followed the US lead in halving quarantine for people who test positive. According to new guidance by Greece’s public health agency, people infected with Covid can return to work after five days if they have no or mild symptoms, and must wear high protection masks.


Yesterday, France announced that fully vaccinated people who test positive will only have to isolate for seven days, and can leave quarantine after five days if they show a negative test. People who test positive for the virus, but who are not fully vaccinated, can leave quarantine after seven days if they have a negative test. 


Self-isolate for ten days after a positive test or when your symptoms start, although negative tests on days six and seven mean you can leave the house early.

At least nearly one in ten rail staff across all train firms are thought to be off with Covid-related sickness. 

Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent watchdog Transport Focus, called on operators to temporarily withdraw some services on a planned basis.

He said this would avoid chaotic last-minute cancellations, adding: ‘These are harder for passengers to deal with and more likely to lead to overcrowding.’

A Rail Delivery Group spokesman said: ‘Our colleagues, like those in other industries, have been impacted by the virus.

‘While we’re working hard to provide a reliable train service to key workers and other passengers with reduced staff, some rail companies are introducing amended timetables owing to much less demand for train services.’ 

Further disruption will be caused while Network Rail finishes the last of 370 engineering works projects scheduled over the Christmas and New Year period.

Passengers on the West Coast Mainline face disruption between tomorrow and 12 January while flood protection upgrades are carried out between Milton Keynes and Rugby.

Trains will be diverted via Northampton, adding at least 25 minutes to journeys.

It means London Northwestern Railway will run fewer services between Crewe and London Euston, with passengers needing to change trains at Rugby.

James Dean, Network Rail’s West Coast South route director, confirmed the works would mean fewer services, more tightly packed carriages and longer journey times.

Meanwhile upgrades to signalling and track on the Transpennine Route will hit services in and out of Manchester until at least tomorrow.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent watchdog Transport Focus, called on operators to temporarily withdraw some services on a planned basis.

He said this would avoid chaotic last-minute cancellations, adding: ‘These are harder for passengers to deal with and more likely to lead to overcrowding.’

While England’s quarantine rules remain in place – negative tests on days six and seven mean you can leave the house – the number of NHS staff off sick or isolating continues to rocket.

America was the first country to shorten the isolation period, followed by Greece and France.

Professor Tim Spector, who leads the Zoe Covid Study at King’s College London, has described the five-day period as ‘sensible’ as long as the individual has had two negative lateral flow tests.

‘A reduction in isolation days would help many frontline services by allowing low-risk staff to go into work and avoid people staying home unnecessarily,’ Professor Spector said.

But allowing people to stop isolating five days after they experience Covid symptoms could actually spread the virus and worsen NHS staff shortages, the UK Health Security Agency said.

It said that between 10 and 30 per cent of people would still be infectious after five days, compared with 5 per cent under the seven-day rule.

Health minister Ed Argar said the Government had not yet received scientific advice on cutting the isolation period.

Has Omicron peaked in London? Hospital admissions FALL in the capital for first time since new strain took hold while UK’s Covid cases rise by another 45% to 157,758 with deaths down 70% to 42 in a week

  • Department of Health bosses reported a further 157,758 cases today, a rise from the 109,077 cases last week
  • Number of people dying with the virus saw a 70.6 per cent decrease, with 42 deaths reported in the UK today 
  • Ministers insisted there is ‘nothing in the data’ to suggest Covid restrictions must be tightened in England
  • Boris Johnson said strain is milder and the country should stick to Plan B but rejected cutting isolation period
  • The PM warned that the NHS is likely to be under ‘considerable pressure’ for weeks to come due to Omicron 
  • Nadhim Zahawi said  ‘pattern’ from Omicron was in contrast to Delta with fewer patients needing ventilator

 ByJames Tapsfield Political Editor For Mailonlineand Mark Duelland Bhvishya Patel For Mailonline

The UK’s Covid-19 infections have increased by 44.6 per cent in a week as Boris Johnson today suggested NHS staff could be moved to plug shortages amid fears about the Omicron wave triggering a lockdown by default.   

Department of Health bosses reported a further 157,758 cases today, a rise from the 109,077 cases which were reported in the country last Monday. 

The number of people dying with the virus saw a 70.6 per cent decrease, with 42 deaths reported in the UK today compared to 143 on December 27. 

This is the thirteenth day in a row that cases have been above the 100,000 mark as the country moves out of the festive season and comes just days after the week-on-week increase was as high as 72.5 per cent on December 29.     

Meanwhile the number of people being admitted to hospital in London has fallen, with 314 patients admitted to hospital on January 1, a 28 per cent decrease from the 437 admitted last Monday. 

Today Professor in Medicine Paul Hunter said the latest data from the ZOE Covid study app suggested that infections in London peaked just before Christmas.

He wrote on Twitter: ‘Latest Zoe app data suggests that infections in London did peak a day or so before Christmas and are probably peaking nationally about now, though still region to region variation.’

And scientist Tim Spector, who works for the PREDICT studies and the ZOE Covid study app, tweeted: ‘Covid cases in London now decreasing + UK slowing – it is great to see no real change in Covid deaths over last month. 

‘The health crisis is in danger of being driven by staff problems due to over- cautious isolation rules. Lets reduce this to 5 days!’ 

It comes as the PM today revealed that the government is looking at redeploying personnel after the public sector was warned to brace for a worst-case scenario of a quarter of staff – around 1.4million people – being off work.

One in ten NHS employees were not in on New Year’s Eve, according to official figures – although just 50,000 of the 110,000 total was related to coronavirus.

United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust has declared a ‘critical incident’ linked to ‘extreme and unprecedented’ staff shortages.

Nearly a third of rail services have been axed at some stations in recent days, after as many as one in ten staff called in sick with illnesses including Covid – while major engineering works on key commuter routes are scheduled to continue until midway through next week.    

Councils across the UK are having to redistribute staff between essential services to keep everything running. 

Schools are being urged to make contingency plans to deal with staff absences when they return from the Christmas holidays this week. 

On a visit to a vaccination centre in Stoke Mandeville today, Mr Johnson urged people to ‘stick to Plan B’ and Omicron is ‘plainly milder’.

He cautioned that it would be ‘folly’ to assume the pandemic is over the health service will be under ‘considerable pressure’ for weeks to come, saying the government is ‘looking at what we can do to move people into those areas that are particularly badly affected’. 

But he batted away calls for the self-isolation period to be cut to five days – saying that could make staff shortages worse by fuelling spread. 

‘I think the way forward for the country as a whole is to continue with the path that we’re on. We’ll will keep everything under review,’ the PM said.

‘The mixture of things that we’re doing at the moment is, I think, the right one.

‘So, number one, continue with Plan B, make sure that people take it seriously, do what we can to stop the spread, use the Plan B measures, work from home if you can, wear a mask on public transport… take a test before going out to meet people you don’t normally meet, think about the the requirements under Plan B, but also get the boost.’

He said: ‘I think we’ve got to recognise that the pressure on our NHS, on our hospitals, is going to be considerable in the course the next couple of weeks, and maybe more.’ 

Earlier, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi insisted the ‘pattern’ of the mutant strain was not the same as Delta – with fewer patients needing a ventilator and generally staying in hospital for a shorter time.

In a round of interviews, he highlighted the ‘really good’ signs on infection rates coming out of London, and stressed that the health service is experienced at moving staff around to deal with shortages.    

In other Covid developments:

  • Daily reported coronavirus cases in Scotland have reached the highest on record at 20,217;
  • More than a quarter of a million people got a booster or third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine over New Year’s Eve and the weekend, figures from NHS England show;  
  • In a brighter sign, the Fuller’s pub group said absence rates were improving in London and now appeared to be past their peak;
  • Mr Zahawi said entire classes may need to be merged into larger groups or sent home to work remotely due to teacher absences caused by coronavirus
  • Fewer Covid patients in hospital are relying on ventilation compared to previous peaks during the pandemic, it has been revealed.

LONDON: Cases in the capital have been plateauing recently although holiday reporting  glitched could be to blame. The grey bars are incomplete data and will rise 

Images show very few motorists along the M1 and A41 today following the New Years holiday period

The UK recorded 137,583 new Covid infections yesterday, a week-on-week increase of 14.7 per cent – a slower rate of growth than preceding days, but not including an update from Scotland.

In contrast to the mood music south of the border, Scots have been warned that April could be ‘too early’ to be planning large parties in a sign that Nicola Sturgeon’s tougher Covid rules could be extended for months.    

Ministers will review the restrictions in England on Wednesday, with mounting confidence that there will not be an additional tightening. 

The latest figures suggest growth in Covid hospitalisations in London – seen as a leading indicator of what may happen in the rest of the country – slowed in the run-up to New Year, although holiday reporting glitches could be affecting the total.

There were 319 patients admitted to hospital in London on December 31, a 14 per cent rise on the same day a week before, and 450 on 30 December which is a 15 per cent rise week-on-week.

While a holiday effect may be artificially keeping those numbers low, the rate of increase is well behind the days before that saw a 32 per cent increase on December 29 to 511 admissions.   

Army could fill staff shortages 

The Armed Forces may be called in to help cover shortages of key workers caused by self isolation.

Cabinet ministers are being asked to draw up contingency plans for military intervention in critical infrastructure areas.

‘The virus is spreading very quickly so different regions could be hit at the same time so their capacity to offer mutual aid will be impacted,’ a senior government source told The Times.

‘Departments have been tasked to look at their plans afresh.’


Mr Zahawi told BBC Breakfast that Plan B measures would be reviewed on Wednesday, but added: ‘There’s nothing in the data that gives me any concern that we need to go beyond where we are at.

‘There’s some really good data from London that it looks like the infection rates are plateauing, if not yet coming down. But we are seeing leakage into the over-50s in terms of infections, and it’s generally the over-50s who end up with severe infection and hospitalisation.’

The minister said on Sky News: ‘The number of people in hospital with coronavirus has begun to rise in the over 50s, which we are concerned about. But on the whole actually the number of people in ICU has come down, which is good news…

‘On the whole we are not seeing the same pattern as with Delta where we had a much greater number of people on ventilation and there seems to be a shorter period of time for people in ICU as well.

‘And those who are being admitted with Covid, rather than for Covid, is also about a third of that number.’

Mr Zahawi said the health service has ‘infrastructure’ to deploy staff to fill gaps in provision. ‘The NHS is very good at being able to move staff around within the system,’ he said. ‘They have an infrastructure to do that. We now have 10,000 more nurses and 3,000 more doctors than we had last year working in the NHS.

‘But the NHS is very good at sort of making sure that staff shortages are monitored and dealt with pretty well. They’ve done it over many years in winter when we’ve been, you know, have big flu viruses around.’ 

But Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said it currently faces a ‘state of crisis’.

‘In many parts of the health service, we are currently in a state of crisis. In the face of high levels of demand and staff absence some hospitals are having to declare a ‘critical incident’,’ he said.

‘Some hospitals are making urgent calls to exhausted staff to give up rest days and leave to enable them to sustain core services. Many more hospitals are having to ban visitors to try to reduce the spread of infection. NHS England is continuing to plan for surge capacity.

‘Community and social care services, which were already massively overstretched, are at breaking point. In many areas, ambulance services are unable to meet their target response times. Primary care is having to add caring for Covid-19 patients and trying to keep them out of hospitals to driving the booster programme and dealing with unprecedented underlying demand which is driven in part by the millions of unwell people waiting for appointments and operations.’ 

Despite ministers holding the line in England, Scotland’s national clinical director has delivered another hammer blow to the hospitality industry by hinting that the ban on large public gatherings amid high Covid cases could last well into the spring.

PM says masks will be axed in schools as soon as possible

Boris Johnson has admitted he does not like the idea of schoolchildren having to wear facemasks – and has promised they would not be kept longer than ‘is necessary’.

The Prime Minister – under pressure after a series of sleaze allegations engulfed the Tories last year – insisted science backed the restrictions.

His own MPs have criticised the guidance, which will also see every secondary school pupils be tested for Covid. 

Mr Johnson said there was scientific evidence the face coverings could cut transmission rates.

He added: ‘There’s an increasing body of scientific support for the idea that face masks can contain transmission.

‘We don’t want to keep them. I don’t like the idea of having face masks in (the) classroom any more than anybody else does, but we won’t keep them on a day more than is necessary.’

It came as schools said the Government’s plans for more testing and the facemasks will be ‘challenging’ and could inadvertently spark the return of online learning. 

The Department for Education says head teachers have access to their own supply of coronavirus swabs to meet demand. 

Pub, restaurant and nightclub bosses believe firms in Edinburgh missed out on around £20million on Hogmanay due to coronavirus measures.

But Professor Jason Leitch played down calls for the famous New Year street party to be rescheduled to April, saying it could be too soon for mass events. 

His comments come as hospitality firms continue to struggle under Ms Sturgeon’s restrictions, which mean pubs and restaurants must have table service only and one metre social distancing between groups. 

Nightclubs were closed on December 27 for at least three weeks, and officials have been warned that some hospitality businesses currently closed will never reopen. 

A further 137,583 Covid cases were reported yesterday, while figures on New Year’s Day showed a 33.4 per cent week-on-week increase in new cases.

Covid figures for Scotland were not available yesterday, and hospitalisations are not updated on Sundays.  

Meanwhile, secondary school pupils will be told to wear face masks from the moment they arrive until they leave when they return to classrooms this week.

In an effort to protect the education of millions of youngsters amid a sharp rise in cases of the Omicron variant, Ministers have requested that pupils cover their faces all day – including while they are being taught. They are already asked to wear masks in communal areas.

Mr Johnson admitted he does not like the idea of schoolchildren having to wear face coverings, but said there was scientific evidence they cut transmission rates.

He added: ‘There’s an increasing body of scientific support for the idea that face masks can contain transmission.

‘We don’t want to keep them. I don’t like the idea of having face masks in (the) classroom any more than anybody else does, but we won’t keep them on a day more than is necessary.’

Schools have raised concerns that plans for more testing and masks will be ‘challenging’ and could inadvertently trigger the return of online learning. 

The Department for Education says head teachers have access to their own supply of coronavirus swabs to meet demand.

This is despite there being a nationwide test shortages – with ministers saying a stash has already been sent to each school. They will be swabbed on site on the first day, then pupils will be expected to take lateral flow tests themselves at home twice a week as well.

Pub, restaurant and nightclub bosses believe firms in Edinburgh missed out on around £20 million on Hogmanay due to coronavirus measures. But national clinical director Jason Leitch (L) dismissed calls for the famous New Year street party to be rescheduled to April, meaning restrictions brought in by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (R) are likely to last until spring.

Lincolnshire hospitals declare staffing emergency 

Hospitals in Lincolnshire have declared a staffing emergency amid Omicron-fuelled absences — as the NHS draws up plans to recruit reservists to help ease winter pressures.

United Lincolnshire Hospitals warned in leaked documents that so many doctors and nurses were now absent from shifts that care was ‘compromised’, especially for stroke and heart patients.

The trust — which runs four major hospitals in the county — had 7.5 per cent of employees, or 643 out of 8,500, off sick on December 26, including 150 who were absent due to Covid.

Yesterday it declared a ‘critical incident’, meaning hospital bosses are calling in support from nearby trusts to help manage the crisis.

It comes amid mounting concerns over a staffing crisis in the NHS 110,000 employees — or one in ten — off sick due to the virus in late December, including 50,000 suffering from Covid. Trusts have been told to brace for one in four being absent.

The news on masks was met with concern from Robert Halfon, the Tory chair of the Commons education select committee, who said he feared the move could damage children’s mental health.

But Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said he would rather have face coverings worn in classrooms than children stuck at home. 

MPs are due to return to the Commons on Wednesday following the Christmas recess. The Government is set to review its Plan B measures on the same date.

The regulations are not due to expire until January 26, but Downing Street said at the point they were announced in December that a review would take place three weeks after implementation.

The likelihood of Scots facing an extended ‘fun-ban’ increased when Professor Leitch, said that a planned rescheduling of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay New Year’s party to April ‘might be slightly too early’.

He said: ‘I like an Edinburgh night-out like any other person. Whether we can bring that forward to April, the jury is still out.

‘We are hopeful. We have now got data from South Africa, from University College London, from Denmark and, crucially, Edinburgh that suggests serious disease is certainly less with this variant, maybe as much as three-quarters less. But let’s put that in perspective – 2,500 Delta cases [per day] gets you 50 people in hospital.

‘You need 10,000 Omicron cases for the same number of admissions and Scotland is at 15,000. Omicron is encouraging compared to Delta, but Delta was a very low bar.’

Gavin Stevenson, vice-chairman of the Night Time Industries Association in Scotland, claimed there had been an 80 per cent drop in footfall on Hogmanay, which may have cost the sector £20million.

He told the Sunday Mail: ‘Hogmanay has been pretty disastrous for the licensed trade. I would estimate that the hospitality sector has lost tens of millions of pounds on Hogmanay night alone.

‘It could be a final nail in the coffin for small businesses.’

It comes after a horde of police officers descended on a Glaswegian pub on New Year’s Eve to break up a socially-distanced gathering after they reportedly saw ‘dancing’. 

Onlookers booed and shouted ‘shame’ as around 25 officers stormed the Avant Garde gastropub in Glasgow and arrested two revellers during the raid on the venue which was hosting a socially-distanced and ticketed New Year’s Eve party.

Bar owner Billy Tetmichalis, 63, who plans to make a formal complaint against the police, says he was told he had to close because customers were not following Covid regulations. 

However, Police Scotland said the visit was part of a ‘routine visit’ and not to enforce Covid restrictions.

Police officers tackled a man in a Glasgow bar, put him in a headlock and arrested him as he went to retrieve his coat after they arrived to break up a New Year’s Eve party in the city centre

They told MailOnline the owner was unable to produce proof it was complying with licensing conditions and was subject to enforcement action.  

Mr Tetmichalis told MailOnline officers entered his bar, in King’s Street, Glasgow, because they saw a few people ‘dancing’ and getting served at the bar. 

‘We had complied with all the measures. We were doing table service but some folk got off their seats to approach the bar and we didn’t stop them because everyone was safe.

‘This venue has a capacity for 306 people and we stopped selling tickets at 80 in order to give them enough space – everyone was well-spaced.

‘Some people came to the bar and we didn’t stop them – if that makes us at fault, so be it.’

Ms Sturgeon is expected to update the Scottish Parliament on the restrictions on Wednesday.

Scottish Labour health spokesman Jackie Baillie said: ‘Every restriction means lost revenue for businesses that were already fighting for survival.

‘The Scottish Government must ensure that all those eligible for support receive it.’


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