17:07 16 December 2021
Concerns have been raised about the impact of the Omicron variant on staffing levels in Norfolk’s public services, although local police and councils have insisted they have robust plans in place.
Government ministers have been told that several sectors can expect mass staff absences over the coming weeks, particularly as Covid cases rise.
Unison Norfolk branch secretary Jonathan Dunning said: “We are certainly concerned that we will see an increase in levels of illness where there is regular contact with a variety of people – and the most obvious area is the schools.”
He also warned of the “potentially devastating impact on social care”.
Despite government advice encouraging people to work from home, Mr Dunning said he was concerned that some employers were “not taking an informed approach” and continuing to ask their employees to come in.
Presenteeism – in which staff continue to work even if they are ill – continues to be a problem across all sectors, he added, as statutory sick pay in the UK remains “one of the worst in Europe”.
Nationwide, fears have been expressed about the impact the Omicron surge could have on emergency services.
A Norfolk Police spokesman said: ‘While the impact of the new variant is felt within the police and across Norfolk, levels of illness among officers and staff are being continuously monitored and the police have well-developed plans to handle any increases. in these levels.
“Emergency planning and response is our day-to-day business and this planning ensures that we can continue to provide our basic services while responding to urgent calls and protecting people from harm.”
Meanwhile, local authorities in Norfolk insisted they too had rigorous plans in place and were operating their services as normal, with staff working from home where necessary.
North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), however, has decided to cancel its December full council meeting until January.
An NNDC spokeswoman said: “It is felt that with the increasing number of cases locally and the increasing spread of the Omicron variant nationwide, it is best to avoid such a large gathering in one space. and postpone the meeting until the new year.”
Breckland District Council (BDC) had planned to hold an in-person full council meeting on December 9, but announced on December 8 that it was postponed, in part because “speakers on a substantive point n ‘were not available at short notice’.