Brits face back-to-work chaos on trains and at schools amid Covid staff shortages

4 January 2022, 08:30 | Updated: 4 January 2022, 08:32

Commuters are facing travel chaos as rail services are affected by Covid staff shortages.
Commuters are facing travel chaos as rail services are affected by Covid staff shortages. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Train companies have been forced to cancel and reduce services due to Covid staff shortages, leading to commuter chaos as thousands return to work following the Christmas break.

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Up to a million people are reported to be off work due to positive Covid tests, affecting a number of public services including bin collections, hospitals and travel.

In London, Gatwick Express services have been cancelled due to the number of staff off sick, while Southern services aren't running to and from Victoria and are instead stopping at London Bridge.

Scot Rail, Transport for Wales, West Midlands Railway, Hull Trains, Avanti West Coast and Cross Country are all running an amended timetable, while Greater Anglia is expecting lots of cancellations throughout Tuesday morning.

An NHS worker, who was commuting on Tuesday, told LBC that she still did not believe isolation days should be cut further.

"I wouldn't support that," she said.

"I think we're crippled with the same shortages and the staff sickness and absence as well but cutting corners just to keep the services running is harder."

She added it "feels dangerous" to cut the isolation time further, saying we "should stick with the science".

Read more: Several hospitals declare critical incidents as leader warns NHS 'in state of crisis'

Read more: Bin collections cancelled as councils hit by Covid staff absences

Schoolchildren are also set to return to the classroom today, with the latest guidance from the government meaning secondary school pupils must wear face masks in class as well as communal areas.

They are also expected to take a Covid test at school upon their return and will need to complete a test twice a week from home too.

While on-site testing is carried out in the first week, schools will get a break from watchdog Ofsted, with them encouraging those "significantly impacted by Covid-related staff absence" to ask for a deferral to their inspections.

Read more: No need for more Covid restrictions - the data doesn't support it, minister says

There've been warnings of staff shortages this term because more teachers may have to self-isolate.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi previously suggested that classes could also be merged to form bigger teaching groups, if the number of school staff off sick climbed too high.

Dr John Price, headteacher at Worksop College and Ranby House in Nottinghamshire, said the new measures introduced in schools are a price worth paying.

He said: "They do understand, particularly with year groups that are sitting mock examinations or have examinations coming up, that it is important that we protect their time in school, but they also understand the fact that we have to protect the whole community."

It comes after Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday that no new restrictions would be introduced, despite Plan B rules still being in place.

He warned that pressure on the NHS will be "considerable" in the coming weeks.

Mr Johnson said: "I appreciate the pressures that our hospitals are under, I think it's vital that we make sure that we help them by trying to contain the pandemic in the ways that I've set out.

Read more: Pressure on NHS will be 'considerable' but Plan B measures are all we need, PM says

"So do all the things that I've said, make sure we follow a Plan B, get boosted but also help the NHS with their staffing requirements, and we're looking at what we can do to move people into those areas that are particularly badly affected.

"Don't forget that... no matter how incredibly transmissible Omicron is - and there's no question it really spreads very, very fast - it is different from previous variants."

At least six hospital trusts have already declared critical incidents - where priority services may be under threat.

However, Mr Johnson said he would "make sure that we look after our NHS any way that we can".