Analysis: from healthcare to hospitality, these are the areas that could face a pingdemic-style problem

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The cabinet has been told that rising Covid-19 infections as a result of Omicron are likely to mean staff shortages across industries and sectors, similar to the pingdemic that was set off by millions self-isolating over the summer. Schools and healthcare setting are also likely to face a significant challenge. Here’s a look at each sector.

Healthcare

Senior NHS leaders have said they expect staff sickness and self-isolation to have a significant impact. Dave Bramley, clinical director of emergency care at Sunderland Royal, told the Newcastle Chronicle that staff were already working extra shifts to cover colleagues who were self-isolating.

Hospitals in England have been told to discharge as many patients as possible as staff gear up for an increase in Covid admissions while struggling with staff illness. Downing Street dismissed reports that there were concerns hospitals would have to close because of lack of staff.

Schools

One in every 30 primary school pupils in England was absent from the classroom last week for Covid-related reasons, according to government statistics.

The figures released by the Department for Education showed that a record 146,000 primary school pupils were absent from 9 December, or 3.3%, with the total including a record 65,900 off with confirmed cases of Covid-19. A further 56,700 were off with suspected cases.

The data also revealed that increasing numbers of teachers are absent for Covid-related reasons, with 2.4% off across all state schools in England, compared with 2% two weeks previously. The greatest share of those off were from primary schools.

Industry

Business groups, including the Confederation of British Industry and British Retail Consortium, say current staff shortages are manageable. But there are significant concerns that the exponential surge in cases is likely to hit warehouses and supermarkets, as well as industries like aviation and haulage.

Royal Mail has said it is facing high levels of sickness that mean almost double the number of employees are absent compared with 2018, before Covid-19 was identified.

The chief medical officer Chris Whitty is understood to have told cabinet that staff shortages are likely across all industries – because of the surging infections and isolation while waiting on test results.

Transport

Rail and bus services and tube lines were hit by the summer’s pingdemic of self-isolation but only a few services are seeing any significant disruption so far, but several trade union sources said they expected that to change within days.

West Midlands Railway said there had been an increase in Covid-19 cases among its train crews and that it was already experiencing a shortage of drivers.

The exception is ScotRail, which has axed services because of an outbreak among staff. The company said it had “a large number of staff testing positive for Covid, awaiting test results, or self-isolating.”

Passenger numbers are also dropping as rising cases add to public caution. Transport for London experienced a 12% decrease in tube passenger numbers on Tuesday, just 52% of pre-pandemic levels.

Hospitality

Hospitality groups have already warned of lockdown-by-stealth as concern keeps many customers away from pubs, restaurants and bars. Businesses in Scotland will be required to introduce “reasonably practical” measures to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission, but in England there is no similar requirement.

It means hospitality is likely to face a double-whammy of customers staying away but with no financial compensation – and staff shortages due to Covid outbreaks. Trade body UKHospitality has forecast that takings will be down by as much as 40% for December, usually the most lucrative month for venues by far.

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