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UK makes Omicron contingency plans for staff shortages at hospitals, schools

A woman grimaces as she is given a vaccination at a COVID-19 booster vaccination center in Glasgow, Scotland, December 29, 2021. (Andrew Milligan/PA via AP)
A woman grimaces as she is given a vaccination at a COVID-19 booster vaccination center in Glasgow, Scotland, December 29, 2021. (Andrew Milligan/PA via AP)

LONDON — The UK government has been making contingency plans in case hospitals, schools and other workplaces are hit by major staff shortages amid the country’s record-breaking spike in coronavirus infections.

Public sector workplaces have been preparing for staff absences ranging from 10% to 25% as COVID-19 sickens more people or forces them to isolate, the Cabinet Office says.

The highly transmissible Omicron variant has caused Britain’s daily new caseload to soar over Christmas and the New Year, with a new daily high of 189,000 on December 31. About 1 in 25 people in England — or about 2 million people — had COVID-19 in the week before Christmas, the Office of National Statistics estimated. In London, the figure was 1 in 15.

Cabinet Office Minister Stephen Barclay says there have already been “significant” absences and the government is preparing for “every eventuality.”

“It’s important that those contingency plans are refreshed and that we take measures to mitigate those impacts,” Barclay says.

He cites increased support for virus testing in schools and warehouses, and perhaps better ventilation, as an example of how to prevent disruptions.

Devolved authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have imposed limits on events and social gatherings in the face of the fast-spreading omicron. But Health Secretary Sajid Javid says adding new restrictions is a “last resort” for England, despite the climbing daily infection rate.

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