Covid isolation cripples the economy with staff shortages chaos

Covid isolation cripples the economy: Travel chaos as staff shortages ground flights, 18,829 NHS workers off sick in a day and rising by 1,000 every 24 hours and train services are suspended indefinitely

  • Airlines blame staff shortages caused by Covid for masses of cancelled flights
  • Travellers queued for hours at Manchester Airport for British Airways planes 
  • BA had to cancel 50 of its scheduled flights yesterday from Heathrow Airport
  • Meanwhile rail firm has suspended train line indefinitely over staff illness 

Staff crises caused by workers having to self-isolate with Covid today saw problems mount further as hospital bosses scrambled to fill gaps and parts of the travel sector ground to a halt.

Some 18,829 NHS staff at acute trusts were absent due to coronavirus reasons on December 19, up from 12,240 a week earlier.

This equates to around 941 staff calling in sick or isolating per day – putting further strain on the already stretched NHS. 

And after flights were cancelled yesterday, domestic travel was hit by illness in the most severe way.

West Midlands Railways announced this morning services between Leamington Spa, Nuneaton and Coventry had been suspended indefinitely. 

A spokesman added: ‘The Coronavirus pandemic – and more recently the Omicron variant – has had a significant impact our workforce meaning more of our colleagues are having to self-isolate.

‘Whilst we make every effort to run the planned train service, we need to let you know that in December, we will be making changes to services between Leamington Spa – Nuneaton via Coventry. It will be served by rail replacement bus until further notice.’

Thousands of travellers saw Christmas plans ruined after Covid chaos triggered a wave of flight cancellations. 

Chaotic scenes at Heathrow over the weekend as Covid staff shortages started to hit

The NHS has also been struck by a number of staff absences from people off ill with Covid

Airlines blamed staff shortages caused by coronavirus illness and isolation requirements for the mayhem on what is usually one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.

British Airways was yesterday forced to cancel 50 flights at Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport.

Travellers also complained of ‘utter carnage’ at Manchester Airport as they queued for hours to check in for the British flag carrier’s flights.

More than 7,000 flights were cancelled worldwide over the Christmas weekend, with US and Chinese airlines most severely affected. 

China Eastern was yesterday forced to cancel more than 400 flights, while Air China cancelled 193 services. Across the world, more than 2,000 flights were cancelled yesterday on top of the 5,100 cancellations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Data recorded by the FlightAware aviation tracking website showed that 33 flights leaving Heathrow were cancelled yesterday, with 25 delayed.

A further 29 flights due to arrive at the airport were also cancelled, with 28 incoming flights delayed.

Airlines had remained bullish in the run-up to Christmas, saying that they had yet to see a significant impact on services because of the Omicron variant sweeping the UK. 

More than 7,000 flights were cancelled worldwide over the Christmas weekend, with US and Chinese airlines most severely affected

Despite the problems, the UK’s busiest airports have been operating fairly smoothly, with demand lower than usual for the festive period because of Covid restrictions. EasyJet cancelled flights to Munich, Berlin, Bordeaux, Paris and Nice after France and Germany introduced tougher entry requirements.

The airline said it had increased the numbers of standby crew and pilots on duty across the UK and Europe to ensure that its flights go ahead.

Gatwick, the UK’s second-busiest airport, said that it had only had three cancellations out of 215 flights yesterday. While coronavirus has been blamed for many of the worldwide cancellations, severe weather in the US has also contributed.

Meanwhile in the stretched NHS, London was the worst hit, with Covid absence at St Barts Trust surging from 91 to 338 within seven days as doctors and nurses caught Covid or had to isolate.

Alistair Chesser, medical director of the St Barts NHS Trust said: ‘We have plans in place to redeploy staff in the coming weeks should we need to.’

Meanwhile London’s Imperial College Hospital has an absence rate of nearly 7 per cent and chief executive Professor Tim Orchard said: ‘We are having to ask some staff to move to support areas especially challenged.’

At Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, staff sickness increased from 421 to 699 over seven days. Bosses warned they lagged ‘about 10 days behind London’.

Responding to the latest figures Patricia Marquis, Royal College of Nursing Director for England, said: ‘Hospitals that were already short-staffed can ill-afford for soaring numbers to be away from work.

‘There is much more that hospital trusts and other employers can do to keep nursing and other staff protected from workplace infection, especially those caring for suspected or known patients with COVID-19.

‘Faced with growing staffing shortages and rising patient numbers in the coming days and weeks, difficult decisions will need to be made but we will not support any measures we consider to be detrimental to patient or professional safety.’

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