With a growing number of cases exacerbating staff shortages that are already plaguing many sectors, public sector leaders have been asked to test plans against worst-case scenarios of a workforce absenteeism of up to 25 percent.
The government office said leaders had already identified a number of measures, including identifying additional staff – such as public sector volunteers or former school teachers.
Steve Barclay, cabinet minister, will chair regular meetings with ministers in a bid to closely monitor performance Omicron on the workforce and supply chains.
Labor has accused the government of leaving contingency planning to the “last minute”.
The government office claimed the disruption caused by the new variant was controlled in “most of the public sector” and insisted the government’s move to shorten Covid’s self-isolation period from 10 to seven days would help reduce absenteeism.
“As people return to work after the Christmas holidays, Omicron’s high levels of transmission mean business and public services will face disruptions in the coming weeks, especially due to the absence of more-than-usual staff,” Barclay said.
“We have been working through the Christmas period to prepare where possible, and all departments are closely linked to public and private sector leaders who are in the best position to operationally manage their workforce. The best way to fight Omicron is to step up, and I encourage anyone who qualifies to step up now. ”
England reported 162,572 new cases on Saturday as Health Minister Sajid Javid insisted additional restrictions “must be a last resort”.
Writing for the Daily Mail on Friday, he said: “Since I took on this role six months ago, I have also been very aware of the huge health, social and economic costs of isolation. Therefore, I am determined that we must give ourselves the best chance to live together with the virus and avoid strict measures in the future. “
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, emergency services, the community and mental health funds, said Omicron’s impact on the NHS will only become clear in the next few days.
Ministers “must be prepared to quickly introduce new restrictions if needed,” he said on Twitter on Saturday.
Matthew Taylor, executive director of the NHS Confederation, warned that pressure on the NHS could force hospitals to reintroduce a visitor ban.
Deputy Labor leader Angela Rayner said: “The lack of Boris Johnson’s leadership means his government has faltered and procrastinated, leaving emergency planning to last.
“Boris Johnson was supposed to instruct his ministers to start planning a few weeks ago, but instead he disappeared for days.
“With a record number of people infected with Covid, the prime minister must immediately tackle labor pressures, keep basic services on the move, keep schools open and protect people.”
The government has also announced that high school students in England will be advised to wear masks from the start of their new term.
Officials said the move would “maximize the number of children in school” by “maximum time” as the virus continues to spread across the country.
The government said an additional 7,000 air purification units would be provided to schools, colleges and institutions for the early years.
Dr. Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Another seven thousand air purifiers is something, but it is completely insufficient for what should be a basic human right, providing clean air in every classroom in every educational setting.
“The fact that the government has provided additional purifiers shows that it recognizes the problem, but with more than 300,000 classrooms in England, they have failed to provide an effective solution.”