Covid in the UK: The omicron variant preys on British workers and imposes a ‘de facto’ lockdown | Society

The omicron variant has taken its toll on the UK. As the Boris Johnson government debates whether to impose new restrictions after Christmas Day, as the executives of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have already announced, the fateful path of contagion has left a bleak outlook of worker casualties. The forced absences of personnel in all sectors, from hospitals to museums, theaters and transport services, are paralyzing life north of the English Channel, leading to confinement de facto. It has not been officially decreed, but it has almost worse effects: it brings dozens of industries into limbo without the counterpart of public aid.

Until further notice, restaurants can open at their usual hours and capacity, the neon signs of London’s West End remain lit, and unlimited travel across the country is possible, visiting as many people as you like. But that’s the theory. The expansion of the coronavirus has caused a blow to the workforce and has spread fear among citizens.

The epicenter of chaos appears in healthcare. The National Health Service (NHS) is facing a difficult situation. In addition to the usual winter campaign, the health workers have been decimated by the tsunami of the omicron variant.

Although the UK Health Safety Agency revealed on Thursday in its long-awaited first study on omicron that whoever contracts this variant has between 50% and 70% less chance of hospitalization than delta, its high transmissibility index makes it possible. makes it lethal for health services. The explanation is purely mathematical: even if the percentage of those who have to be admitted is significantly lower than with other variants, when the daily figures are in hundreds of thousands of cases, the enormous increase in hospitalized patients can threaten the health system. The scientific body that advises the Government (SAGE, in its acronym in English) made it clear this week, according to the published minutes: the omicron should be 90% less severe than the delta variant to avoid a wave of hospitalizations similar to the one that It has been experienced in the spikes in cases experienced since the beginning of the pandemic.

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The prospects are therefore grim.

The British Medical Association estimates that 32,000 NHS workers in England will be absent from their jobs due to the coronavirus as of December 25. And if their worst predictions come true, the figure could rise to 130,000, that is, 1 in 10 health workers. There are already hospitals that are seeing how casualties increase 25% from one day to the next. “The absence of personnel is a real concern, because it is an additional problem to the shortage that we were already dragging, which makes even more difficult what was already a sufficiently demanding task,” Adam Brimelow, the communications director of NHS Providers, explains to this newspaper. , the organization representing England’s hospitals and mental health and ambulance services.

Each positive causes a chain reaction, which requires the hiring of external employees, from agencies, but the health authorities warn that “it is increasingly difficult” and admit that it is thus impossible to maintain the quality of the service. The first consequence is the patient’s own safety, which further magnifies the collateral effects of the coronavirus on the health of the United Kingdom, as demonstrated by other key groups.

In London, the main focus of the new variant in the country, up to a third of fire trucks have been left out of play as a result of understaffing and up to 10% of workers had tested positive, or were in isolation, in the last week, according to data from the London Fire Brigade (LFB). The situation is similar for the Metropolitan Police and, although they have not given figures, they assure, like the LFB, that despite everything they are managing to respond normally to emergencies.

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Culture and hospitality

The situation is very different for many operators in the culture and leisure industry, who, given the avalanche of infections and contacts with positives, have had to close down. Internationally known institutions such as the Natural History Museum, in the British capital, or Edinburgh Castle, the second most visited attraction in Scotland, have been forced to a halt in one of the most important periods of the year, the same fate as Other prominent London museums such as the Wellcome Collection, the National Army Museum and the Foundling Museum have run. The British Museum, for the moment, resists, although those responsible have already warned that some galleries could have to close without prior notice.

Ambulances outside the Royal London Hospital in London.
Ambulances outside the Royal London Hospital in London.ANDY RAIN (EFE)

For many, the problem is not circumstantial, but what is threatened is their future, since they depend for their sustainability on paid exhibitions, which is already forcing them to rethink their plans for 2022. From the Association of Leading Attractions of Visitors also denounce that even those that have not had to stop their activity “are experiencing closures with thousands of cancellations” and criticize the “stealth collapse, effectively imposed by the Government, but without the fiscal support to protect tourism, the culture, hospitality, theaters and heritage ”. The mayor of London himself, Sadiq Khan, has written to the prime minister to demand an “urgent support package” for these sectors in the face of the impact of the omicron. The Ministry of Finance has announced a line of financing of 30 million that the industry has considered insufficient.

Last weekend, for example, almost half of the big theaters in London had to cancel performances as a result of contagion: of the 46 members of the London Theater Society who had shows planned, 22 had to cancel them, among them, attractions of large crowds like Hamilton, Matilda, Cinderella The Cabaret, which has led one of the heavyweights of the industry, producer Cameron Mackintosh, to affirm that the situation is so “terrible” that, literally, they have to decide every day “if you can go ahead with a show or not ”.

The problem goes beyond the lack of personnel, since a perfect storm has been generated in which the fear of the cone virus affects consumption habits. Sales for the first half of 2022 are, for the moment, well below expectations and there are sectors, such as the hospitality industry, that are already suffering the scourge of cancellations. From the professional group that brings together the majority, UK Hospitality, they say that the bars and restaurants in London have, for the most part, staff to open at least the minimum necessary, but what they lack are customers. According to his calculations, a third of the businesses in the City and the West End, the heart of the activity in the capital, have had to close due to lack of demand.

Transportation is not spared either, and the country’s main railway operators are deeply affected by the lack of workers. LNER, which connects London with Leeds, has withdrawn 16 trains a day due to lack of drivers and is preparing for more; Avanti West Coast, which connects the British capital with Scotland, has warned that services are “subject to last minute cancellations due to the impact of the covid on staff availability.” In fact, from the independent transport regulator Transport Focus they recommend temporarily withdrawing services, in a planned manner, instead of exposing themselves to “chaotic cancellations” at the last minute.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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