Surge in Omicron isolation cases triggers Covid workforce crisis in essential services

The health board, police, council and public transport bodies have all been hit by staff absences due to the spread of the Omicron Covid variant.

It comes amid a national workforce crisis as the growing number of workers forced into self-isolation has increased as the number of positive Covid cases continues to soar.

Scottish Government figures released on Monday revealed there were 20,217 new cases identified in the past 24 hours – the highest daily rate since the start of the pandemic.

In Scotland, the isolation period following a positive test is 10 days. Since last month, those in England and Wales who test positive can potentially be released from isolation after just seven days and there have been calls for a change to the isolation period in Scotland over fears that the services are paralyzed.

Mid Scotland & Fife MSP, Dean Lockhart called for a reduction in the quarantine period to remove any threat to essential services, saying: ‘The Scottish Government’s failure to act when it should have continued to have a major impact on frontline services and the wider economy, due to the large number of people having to self-isolate.

Last week NHS Forth Valley had 200 staff absent for ‘Covid-19 related reasons’. On Hogmanay, a spokesperson said: “Like many organisations, we have seen a recent increase in the number of absences due to staff testing positive for Covid-19 or self-isolating in awaiting a PCR test result or because they are a relative or household contact of someone who tests positive.

“The number of absences fluctuates daily and we currently have just over 200 employees absent for Covid-19 related reasons. We are doing everything we can to maintain adequate staffing levels and this is being closely monitored to ensure that we support the most affected service areas.

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Forth Valley Police Division also saw staff absences, but Stirling’s most senior officer insisted there was ‘sufficient capacity’ of officers.

Stirling Area Commander Chief Inspector Gill Marshall says the Covid variant has had a ‘significant effect’. She said: “The new Omicron Covid variant is having a significant effect on the country and Police Scotland is one of them.

“The well-being of our officers and staff is paramount and has been throughout the pandemic. We work hard to maximize the availability of officers and personnel in front line policing duties to ensure that we continue to provide a highly effective policing service to our local communities.

Commandant of Stirling Region, Chief Inspector Gill Marshall

“Police Scotland are following Scottish Government and Health guidance and when cases of coronavirus are identified we work with the local health board and adhere to testing and protection procedures.

“We have sufficient capacity and as a national service Police Scotland can adjust resources if necessary.”

Stirling council has also been hit due to Covid-related staff absences.

The council had to suspend planned additional blue bin collection between December 27 and January 2 due to staffing restrictions.

On Monday, the council said that due to a number of staff absences linked to Covid-19, bin collections in Balquidder, Brig O’Turk, Strathyre and Kilmahog were to be suspended and rescheduled until Tuesday.

They added that additional blue bin collection in Dunblane was also suspended, but a refuse vehicle was due to carry out a partial collection in the area on Monday.

A spokesman for Stirling Council said: ‘The disruption to waste collection services is an unfortunate consequence of the rise in Covid cases, which is forcing some of our key frontline service workers to s isolate – a trend replicated in councils and other public services across the country.

“While most of our other services are unaffected, we urge all residents and staff to continue to adhere to current public health guidelines to minimize any further potential disruption.

“We also thank the public for their understanding at this difficult time.”

Bus routes through Stirling have also been hit by Covid-related staff absences, which has forced the operator to revise timetables for some services from Monday 10 January.

Service number 54 – between the city center and the University of Stirling – will be reduced to an hourly service.

Number 57 – between Raploch and St Ninians – will also be reduced to an hourly service, with changes to timing points at Raploch and St Ninians to improve punctuality. At the St Ninians terminus the loop has been moved forward to Coxithill Road to improve ticketing.

The X53, between Kinross and Stirling, will be suspended until further notice.

Duncan Cameron, acting chief executive of First Bus in Scotland, said: “Along with many other organizations across the country, we are experiencing a higher than normal level of staff illness and absence due to the current wave. case of Omicron. The safety of our staff and customers will always be our number one priority.

“As a result, we are to introduce a temporary reduced timetable on our First Midland and First West Lothian networks from January 10 and urge all customers to check the website for the latest information before travelling. It will be a Sunday schedule that we will run.

He added: “We continue to do everything we can to support and care for our colleagues in the workplace with hand sanitiser, face coverings and enhanced cleaning to minimize the risk of transmission of the virus. . Our local teams continue to ensure that our vehicles are regularly cleaned to a high standard.

“I would like to apologize in advance to all customers affected by these schedule changes.”

Scotrail has also announced a series of temporary schedule changes due to staffing shortages. Among the changes are a number of discontinued services on the Edinburgh & Glasgow – Stirling/Alloa/Dunblane route.

David Simpson, ScotRail’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “As we continue to battle the impact of coronavirus, we want to provide customers with a level of certainty, which is why we are introducing temporary changes to our timetable from Tuesday, January 4. until Friday, January 28.

Dean Lockhart says a reduction in the isolation period should have been made “much sooner” and says the “current approach is not sustainable”.

Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Dean Lockhart

He said: “They must finally agree that the isolation period will be reduced to seven days, for those who have tested negative twice. This indecision, coupled with new restrictions, has hurt many businesses at what should have been their busiest time of year and threatened essential services.

“We have been calling for these changes to the self-isolation rules to be done safely for weeks and since then we have seen more evidence that the Omicron variant is proving to be less severe in terms of the impact it has on those who get the virus.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will give an update to the Scottish Parliament today (Wednesday).

She will make a statement on the latest figures from across the country and announce if further measures need to be introduced to stop the spread of Omicron.

Michelle J. Kelley