Pupils are sent home from class an hour after arriving at school

Schools plunged into chaos on first day back: Head warns of WEEKS of disruption as 26 teachers ‘call in sick’ while parents are told to collect their children within an HOUR of dropping them off after positive test

  • Parents say their children have tested positive for Covid on lateral flow tests at schools on their return today
  • School students being swabbed on their return to school today as part of a nationwide testing programme
  • School heads fear up to a quarter of their staff could be struck down this month due to Covid and isolation

The big return to schools in England has today been plunged into chaos with one headteacher claiming dozens of his staff have called in sick, while students are being sent home within an hour of arriving due to testing positive for Covid.

One secondary headteacher told the Guardian last night that he and 26 of his staff had tested positive for the virus.

Glyn Potts, the head of Blessed John Henry Newman RC College in Oldham, said other staff were having to stay at home to look after their own children as nurseries were closed due to their own Covid absences. 

Meanwhile, parents say their children have tested positive for Covid on lateral flow tests at their schools despite leaving home with ‘no symptoms’.  

One social media user, who said they worked in a school, claimed children were testing positive while asymptomatic, and that their school was worse hit by a winter vomiting bug and chicken pox last term. 

School students are being swabbed on their return to school today as part of a nationwide programme to catch cases – including asymptomatic ones – at the start of the new term.

Every secondary school student in England will be given a lateral flow test when arriving at their classroom in a bid to root out cases before they spread through schools.  

School heads fear up to a quarter of their staff could be struck down this month, with unions warning a return to online teaching is inevitable for some this term – despite Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi insisting face-to-face classes will stay the norm. 

But experts such as epidemiologist Neil Ferguson – dubbed ‘Professor Lockdown’ after producing research in March 2020 that convinced the Government to shutdown the country – today said the ‘good news’ about Omicron is that ‘it is certainly less severe’ than previous variants of Covid. He said this had helped keep hospital numbers down compared with previous peaks. 

In other developments today:

  • Boris Johnson is meeting ministers to take stock after declaring that the government will stick to existing restrictions, while warning it is ‘folly’ to think the pandemic is over;
  • The PM has rejected calls to cut the Covid isolation period again to five days, saying doing so could make the staffing crisis even worse;
  • Vaccines minister Maggie Throup has played down concerns about a fall in the numbers getting booster jabs suggesting it will rise again after the festive period;   
  • Hospital admissions for Covid in London fell for the first time since before Omicron took off, spurring hopes that the worst of the wave may have peaked;
  • Britons shouldn’t be offered a fourth Covid jab until there is more evidence, according to the head of the country’s vaccine body, who warned dishing out vaccines every six months was ‘not sustainable’;
  • Pre-return Covid international travel tests are expected to be scrapped tomorrow. 

School students are being tested on their return to school today as part of a nationwide programme to catch cases – including asymptomatic ones – at the start of the new term. Pictured: Students return to Foxhill Primary School, Queensbury, West Yorkshire, after the Christmas break

One secondary headteacher told the Guardian last night that he and 26 of his staff had tested positive for the virus. (pictured: Library image of students taking a mock exam)

Boris bats away calls for Covid isolation to be slashed to FIVE days

Boris Johnson today batted away pleas for Covid self-isolation to be slashed to five days, warning it could make staff shortages even worse.

Calls have been mounting for the UK to emulate the US by trimming the period again to stop the economy and key services being crippled by absences.

However, the PM insisted that going below the current seven days could have the ‘perverse’ effect of speeding the spread, as three times more people would still be infectious when they return to workplaces.

On a visit to a vaccination centre in Stoke Mandeville today, Mr Johnson urged people to ‘stick to Plan B’ stressing that that Omicron is ‘plainly milder’.

But he cautioned that the health service will be under ‘considerable pressure’ for weeks to come, suggesting staff will be moved to plug gaps. 

Asked about the idea of easing isolation rules – already reduced from 10 days as long as people are negative on lateral flow tests on day six and seven – Mr Johnson said: ‘We’ll continue to look at the infectivity periods, but the key thing is we don’t want to be releasing people back into the workplace when they’re still infectious.

‘And the risk is you’d increase the numbers of people going back into the workplace who are infectious by a factor of three. So you might perversely have a negative effect on the workforce if you see what I mean, so that’s the argument we’re looking at.’ 

The seemingly less severe Omicron variant has led for calls on the Government to slash the self-isolation period for positive Covid cases from 7 days to 5 – to bring it in line with the US.

The period was cut from 10 to 7 last month after pressure from business chiefs who raised concerns about a new staffing crisis, following last year’s crippling ‘pingdemic’, due to the number of people having to self-isolate.

It comes as school leaders in England today warned of weeks of disruption due to high levels of Covid absences among staff.  

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools ‘desperately’ wanted to teach face-to-face again.

But he warned that staff shortages could spark disruption. He said: ‘Schools and colleges desperately want to be able to maintain face-to-face teaching on a consistent basis, but the reality is that if large numbers of staff are absent this will cause disruption, which may include having to send home classes or year groups for short periods of time to learn remotely.’

Parents meanwhile fumed at having to pick up their children less than an hour after they returned to school, after they tested positive on a lateral flow test for Covid – despite them suffering ‘no symptoms’.

The Government currently advises those who test positive of lateral flow tests to isolate while they await results from a confirmatory PCR test.

One parent, taking to Twitter to express their anger, wrote: ‘Son goes in for test at 8.30am. At 9.10am phone call its positive so he needs a PCR.

‘Its likely because he had Covid in October, but the Government decided they should ignore that. So he misses more school in Year 11.’ 

Another wrote: ‘Well, sent Leo to school an hour ago and now have to pick him back up as he’s tested positive for Covid. PCR test next.’ 

One Twitter user, who claims to work in a primary school, wrote: ‘I work in a primary school. We have had 0 children sick from it. 

‘Even have children who have CF test positive they didn’t even know they were sick. Had more children sick last term with vomiting bug and chicken pox.’ 

Another parent, criticising parents for sending students into school without a PC test, claimed staff had closed an entire classroom after finding a positive case.

The Twitter user wrote: ‘Bravo parents for sending your kids to school before knowing the outcome of a PCR test.

‘Just got mail from school… Been informed of a positive case within the class and therefore as per guidelines the class needs to close with immediate effect.’ 

Even Prof ‘Lockdown’ admits Omicron may be plateauing: Ministers bid for ARMY help amid back-to-work chaos as pupils face being turned away from schools, trains stop and bins overflow with 1m self-isolating from mildest Covid variant yet

One of the Government’s gloomiest advisers today became the latest expert to admit that London’s Omicron outbreak may have already peaked as pressure grew on Boris Johnson to stop the ‘farcical’ self-isolation crisis that threatens to paralyse the nation. 

At least half a dozen NHS trusts across England have said they may be unable to deliver vital care to patients in the coming weeks while train operators and bin collection services around the country are having to cancel services because so many staff are off isolating.

There is growing anger among backbench Tory MPs and business leaders that the nation is being ground to a halt by a Covid variant that a mountain of evidence has shown is much milder than previous strains and causes little or no symptoms for the overwhelming majority.

And the normally-pessimistic Professor Lockdown Neil Ferguson – a key No10 adviser whose modelling has bounced the country into previous lockdowns – claimed infections were plateauing in Omicron hotspot London and could start to fall nationally in just a week.

No10 has so far resisted calls from a growing number of experts and politicians to slash the current self-isolation period to just five days and bring the nation in line with the US and France. Ministers have also been told to draw up plans to use the Army to stop the New Year return to work descending into chaos.

Tory MP Craig Mackinlay told MailOnline that slashing the isolation period from a week could be ‘the answer’ to England’s self-isolation misery.  

‘We’re almost facing a semi-lockdown because of people being off work who are perfectly well. You couldn’t make that up,’ he said. ‘The US must have done a lot of work on it… and they have come up with five days as the answer. Perhaps it is.’  

Richard Walker, managing director of the Iceland Foods Group, said 1,700 employees of the supermarket chain were now isolating after absences nearly doubled in the past week. He tweeted it ‘would be very helpful to business if the isolation period was cut.’  

After the latest statistics showed almost 1.2million people have tested positive for Covid over the past week, NHS bosses have been sounding the alarm about spiralling staff absences, warning the crisis poses more of a problem than any uptick in hospitalisations.

School heads fear up to a quarter of their staff could be struck down this month, with unions warning a return to online teaching is inevitable for some this term — despite Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi insisting face-to-face classes will stay the norm.

Meanwhile, employees trying to return to the office today faced skeleton rail timetables and last-minute cancellations. And businesses say they may have to shut their doors or operate shorter hours due to so many workers being in quarantine.

Rubbish bins, recycling containers and bottle banks across the country are also overflowing as councils scale back collections in response to absence levels.    

Commuters head back to work today in London for the first time after the Christmas holidays with children also returning to school this morning

Canada Water station in south-east London during the morning rush hour with around half of people still not wearing masks despite Sadiq Khan’s threat of a £200 fine

London Bridge was relatively quiet today as many people are still working from home due to the Government’s guidance

The West Park recycling centre in Long Eaton has seen dozens of fly tippers litter the floor with waste as people desperately tried to empty their homes of leftover materials following the festive period over New Year’s weekend

Boris Johnson, left, visited a vaccination hub in the at Stoke Mandeville Stadium in Aylesbury yesterday 

Road congestion levels in London were at 22 per cent in the 8am to 9am slot this morning (far right) according to TomTom

Chaos on the trains at the start of 2022 

Disruption this morning, not related to staffing issues

• Southeastern: Disruption to services through Slade Green station after a blown rail joint was discovered, with no trains running on the Woolwich line away from London

• London Overground: Trains unable to run between Clapham Junction and Surrey Quays due to a fault on a service

• CrossCountry / LNER / TransPennine Express: Problem under investigation between Darlington and York resulting in disruption to trains

• Merseyrail: Power supply problem at Kirkby is disrupting services between Liverpool Central and Kirkby

Covid-related staff shortages affecting train services

• Avanti West Coast: Says it is ‘doing everything we can to run our full timetable but there may be some short notice cancellations’. All peak restrictions removed until January 4.

• c2c: Normal service.

• Caledonian Sleeper: Normal service.

• Chiltern Railways: Operator warns it ‘may have to make some short notice changes to our timetable’ because of the ‘impact of Covid-19 on our train crews’

• CrossCountry: Removed around 50 trains from its timetables until January 8, and warns of disruption ‘until further notice’. Tells passengers to avoid travelling on New Year’s Eve due to RMT strike.

• East Midlands Railway: Revised timetable due to a ‘high level of staff sickness including drivers and train crew’. Some services being replaced by buses.

• Eurostar: Normal service.

• Gatwick Express: No services ‘until further notice’ because of the ‘ongoing effect of coronavirus isolation and sickness’.

• Grand Central: Normal service.

• Great Northern: Reduced service on all routes ‘until further notice’ because of the ‘significant ongoing impact of coronavirus, particularly in terms of staff sickness’.

• Great Western Railway: Cancellations because of ‘rising numbers of staff unavailable to work due to self-isolation requirements’ .

• Greater Anglia: Some services removed from timetable ‘due to falling passenger numbers and ‘to plan for our staff being affected by the Omicron variant’.

• Heathrow Express: Normal service.

• Hull Trains: A temporary timetable will operate until February 12 to ‘minimise disruption’.

• LNER: Reduced timetable up until at least January 7 ‘due to a shortage of train crew as a result of an increase in the number of staff self-isolating with Covid-19’.

• London Northwestern Railway: Services are ‘subject to cancellation or alteration’ due to a shortage of train drivers.

• Lumo: Normal service.

• Merseyrail: Some trains will be cancelled on certain lines from ‘today until further notice’ because of the ‘impact of Covid-19 and other sickness affecting staff availability’.

• Northern: Operating ‘several amended timetables’ because of ‘Covid and its impact on the availability of our train crew’.

• ScotRail: It is ‘being forced to bring in a temporary timetable’ until January 28 ‘as we continue to see colleagues off sick because of Covid-19’.

• South Western Railway: Services subject to ‘short-term alterations’ due to the ‘impact of the Omicron variant on staff numbers’ with new timetable coming in January 17.

• Southeastern: Warns that services may change at short notice if there ‘may be occasions when our staff are sick or self-isolating due to Covid-19’.

• Southern: Cancels a raft of services and its hub at London Victoria station will stay closed until January 10 ‘owing to the significant ongoing impact of coronavirus’.

• Stansted Express: Half-hourly service running.

• Thameslink: Reduced service on all routes ‘until further notice’ because of the ‘significant ongoing impact of coronavirus, particularly in terms of staff sickness’.

• TransPennine Express: Services may be cancelled at short notice ‘due to lack of available staff’.

• Transport for London: Mostly normal service, but delays in recent days on Bakerloo and Metropolitan lines due to cancellations.

• Transport for Greater Manchester: Reduced Metrolink services ‘due to the increasing impact of Covid-19 on tram driver staffing levels’.

• Transport for Wales: ‘Emergency timetable’ to ‘prepare for an expected rise in staff shortages due to the emergence of the Omicron variant’.

• West Midlands Railway: Some trains ‘may be cancelled at short notice’ because ‘many colleagues are currently unable to attend work’.

Professor Ferguson, an epidemiologist who sits on SAGE, said: ‘I think I’m cautiously optimistic that infection rates in London in that key 18-50 age group, which has been driving the Omicron epidemic, may possibly have plateaued, it’s too early to say whether they’re going down yet.’

He added: ‘I would say that with an epidemic which has been spreading so quickly and reaching such high numbers, it can’t sustain those numbers forever, so we would expect to see case numbers start to come down in the next week, maybe already coming down in London, but in other regions a week to three weeks.

‘Whether they then drop precipitously or we see a pattern a bit like we saw with Delta back in July – of an initial drop and then quite a high plateau – remains to be seen, it’s just too difficult to interpret current mixing trends and what the effect of open schools again will be.’ 

Discussing the current Omicron outbreak, Professor Ferguson — nicknamed ‘Prof Lockdown’ for his grim modelling that spooked ministers into introducing draconian curbs last spring — said the variant had not had much time to infect pupils before schools shut for the Christmas break, and a rise in cases is now expected.

‘We expect to now see quite high infection levels – of mild infection I should emphasise – in school-aged children.’

He added that the ‘good news’ about Omicron is that ‘it is certainly less severe’ than previous variants of Covid and that has helped keep hospital numbers down compared with previous peaks.

‘And then the vaccines – as we always expected they would – are holding up against severe disease and against severe outcomes well.

‘That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be as, as the Prime Minister said, a difficult few weeks for the NHS.’

Ministers have vowed to keep schools open this term, saying children’s education has already suffered enough to protect others.

Schools can stagger starting days but all pupils should be back by Monday next week.

Students have been told to be tested between two to three times per week either at on-site facilities at their school or by testing themselves at home.

Secondary school students must also wear masks in the classroom.

Parents are on edge after their children suffered extraordinary disruption to their education since the pandemic began in March 2020, spending months at home learning online.

Experts have said that for this generation of British children, their academic progress has gone backward in almost all cases due to schools being shut.

And it has also caused a growing inequality between state and private school pupils, who received a higher standard of online learning.

School leaders are unsure how many teachers will turn up for work this week while they wait for staff to email in Covid test results.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of heads’ union ASCL, told The Guardian: ‘Schools and colleges desperately want to be able to maintain face-to-face teaching on a consistent basis.

‘But the reality is that if large numbers of staff are absent this will cause disruption, which may include having to send home classes or year groups for short periods of time to learn remotely.’

Mr Zahawi told BBC Breakfast yesterday that teacher shortages were likely to be worse than before Christmas. He admitted that some pupils might have to learn remotely.

The Department for Education suggested combining classes and said infected teachers could deliver lessons from home via streaming to supervised classrooms.

Its dedicated remote learning resource, Oak National Academy, said it was ‘ready for increased demand’.

Caroline Derbyshire, head of Saffron Walden County High School in Essex, said: ‘Staff shortages will be a factor and there will be schools in particular parts of the country where rates have been extremely high.

‘You’ve suddenly got the inability to run a year group – that’s when you start having either year groups or whole parts of schools having to go online.’

Mr Johnson said yesterday he was not happy about the return of masks and the precaution would be axed as soon as possible, but it was necessary for the moment.

The Government is still asking people to work from home if they can.

The Cabinet Office said that, so far, disruption caused by Omicron had been controlled in ‘most parts of the public sector’.

But it said leaders had been asked to test plans against 10, 20 and 25 per cent workforce absence rates.

Councils across the UK are already having to redistribute staff between essential services to keep everything running, however.

Ministers in departments that oversee critical infrastructure and supply chains have been told to prepare plans in case staff shortages require the help of the armed forces.

Help is requested through a process known as Military Aid to the Civil Authorities — MACA — and officials are keen that efforts are focused as efficiently as possible.

‘We didn’t want different departments relying on the same MACA support,’ a Whitehall insider told the Times, pointing to the possibility that soldiers could be asked to drive ambulances as well as assist Border Force.

A senior government source told MailOnline that the MACA applications were still ‘at the planning stage’.

Rail bosses have warned passengers returning to the office this week to expect last-minute cancellations, more crowded trains and delays caused by engineering works.

Nearly a third of rail services at some stations were axed over Christmas after as many as one in ten staff called in sick.

Operators who have already announced reduced timetables include Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, Greater Anglia, London North Eastern Railway, Northern, TransPennine Express and Transport for Wales.

Operator Southern has announced that no trains will run into or from London Victoria, Britain’s second busiest station, until January 10. This is due to high levels of ‘coronavirus isolation and sickness’ among staff.

It comes after analysis by ontimetrains.co.uk yesterday found passengers at Manchester Airport have been among the worst hit, where 30 per cent of scheduled services were axed on New Year’s Day.

On New Year’s Eve 30 per cent were also cancelled and 26 per cent on December 30.

Further disruption will be caused while Network Rail finishes the last of 370 engineering works projects scheduled over the Christmas and New Year period.

Passengers on the West Coast Mainline face disruption between tomorrow and 12 January while flood protection upgrades are carried out between Milton Keynes and Rugby.

Trains will be diverted via Northampton, adding at least 25 minutes to journeys.

It means London Northwestern Railway will run fewer services between Crewe and London Euston, with passengers needing to change trains at Rugby.

Rubbish bins, recycling containers and bottle banks across the country are overflowing as severe staff shortages brought about by rising Covid cases have decimated council services. (A view of an overflowing recycling point in Ashford, Kent. Picture date: Monday January 3, 2022)

A person walks past Christmas trees discarded on the pavement, in west London, Britain, January 3, 2022. Many people are simply throwing their Christmas trees outside to rot

Recycling bins and bottle banks are overflowing with councils unable to arrange collection services due to staff shortages (glass bins pictured in Kent, today, Jan 3)

Overflowing bins at a recycling point in Ashford, Kent, after Christmas are pictured this afternoon

The Christmas tree recycling point on Hove Lawns in Brighton is busy as the festive season comes to an end on Bank Holiday Monday in England (pictured today, Jan 3)

Christmas trees begin to pile up ready for the council to collect them and mulch them down, people discard their trees before twelfth night. Christmas tree recycling, Clayfield Copse, Berkshire, UK – 03 Jan 2022

Dozens of unwanted Christmas trees are pictured discarded on the lawn along Brighton’s seafront today, Bank Holiday Monday

Boris bats away calls for Covid isolation to be slashed to FIVE days

Boris Johnson today batted away pleas for Covid self-isolation to be slashed to five days, warning it could make staff shortages even worse.

Calls have been mounting for the UK to emulate the US by trimming the period again to stop the economy and key services being crippled by absences.

However, the PM insisted that going below the current seven days could have the ‘perverse’ effect of speeding the spread, as three times more people would still be infectious when they return to workplaces.

On a visit to a vaccination centre in Stoke Mandeville today, Mr Johnson urged people to ‘stick to Plan B’ stressing that that Omicron is ‘plainly milder’.

But he cautioned that the health service will be under ‘considerable pressure’ for weeks to come, suggesting staff will be moved to plug gaps. 

Asked about the idea of easing isolation rules – already reduced from 10 days as long as people are negative on lateral flow tests on day six and seven – Mr Johnson said: ‘We’ll continue to look at the infectivity periods, but the key thing is we don’t want to be releasing people back into the workplace when they’re still infectious.

‘And the risk is you’d increase the numbers of people going back into the workplace who are infectious by a factor of three. So you might perversely have a negative effect on the workforce if you see what I mean, so that’s the argument we’re looking at.’ 

How other countries compare to UK’s isolation requirements 

The UK is being urged to follow the lead of others and cut Covid isolation requirements down to five days from the current seven. Here are the requirements in the other countries with five day limits:

America

Americans who test positive for Covid only have to isolate for five days, as long as they have no symptoms. Those who leave isolation must still wear a mask everywhere – even at home around others – for at least five more days, according to official guidance. People who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive can also leave isolation after five days of being alerted.

Greece

Greece followed the US lead in halving quarantine for people who test positive. According to new guidance by Greece’s public health agency, people infected with Covid can return to work after five days if they have no or mild symptoms, and must wear high protection masks.

France

Yesterday, France announced that fully vaccinated people who test positive will only have to isolate for seven days, and can leave quarantine after five days if they show a negative test. People who test positive for the virus, but who are not fully vaccinated, can leave quarantine after seven days if they have a negative test. 

UK

Self-isolate for ten days after a positive test or when your symptoms start, although negative tests on days six and seven mean you can leave the house early.

David Josephs, of All Greens, which supplies fruit and vegetables to restaurants, said around 15 per cent of staff had been absent and some of the firm’s outlets might need to close if this worsened.

Meanwhile, councillors in London, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Buckinghamshire have said bin collection services have been scaled back as workers continue to fall sick with the virus, just as families aim to get rid of an abundance of material following the festive season.

Several London boroughs have announced there may be future delays to services, with Manchester and Birmingham City Councils apologising for disrupted collections over the Christmas period.

Chelmsford City Council confirmed 23 members of staff were absent and cancelled three days’ worth of food waste collections, while North Somerset Council said they had been unable to pick up 1,000 recycling bins on New Year’s Eve as crews remain ‘stretched due to staff sickness’.

Stephanos Ioannou, a Conservative councillor in Enfield, said the number of complaints about missed bin collections was roughly double the average for this time of year.

‘I’ve been driving round my ward and seeing bins overflowing and Christmas trees are left outside,’ he said.

‘Over the Christmas period, usually I get on average 30 emails a week on waste services. I checked my inbox yesterday… and had about 50 or 60.’

Gloucester meanwhile has been hit with ‘terrible problems’ as bin collectors work in close-knit teams and quickly pass the virus onto one another, multiplying the number of staff off sick at one time, Liberal Democrat councillor Declan Wilson said.

Mr Wilson said recycling collections were stopped altogether over Christmas, caused by a combination of Covid-related absences and driver shortages.

Several London boroughs have announced there may be future delays to services, with Haringey Council warning the ‘uniquely challenging times’ had impacted their workforce.

Newham Council has temporarily suspended the collection of bulky waste items due to ‘higher than normal levels of staff absence’.

Green food and garden recycling bin collections have been cancelled ‘until further notice’ by Manchester City Council due to the number of staff in isolation.

Residents are being told to put food waste into ‘grey general waste bins’ and store garden waste until normal collections resume.

Meanwhile Birmingham City Council apologised for missed collections over the festive period, saying crews had been affected by Covid in the week leading up to December 30.

Covid-related staff shortages have also had a considerable impact on healthcare, with one in 10 medics off sick on New Year’s Eve.

In recent days the number of NHS workers staying at home for Covid reasons has doubled.

NHS figures show that on December 12, NHS England recorded 12,240 staff absent due to Covid sickness or self-isolation. Two weeks later, on December 26, this had doubled to 24,632, and by New Year’s Eve it had doubled again to almost 50,000 – accounting for nearly half of all staff absences, The Sunday Times reported.

Chris Hopson, chairman of NHS Providers, said staff absences were having a greater impact than during last January’s Covid wave.

He tweeted: ‘Staff flat out, especially given level of staff absences. We will need to ask them to perform flexible heroics again if hospital Covid numbers continue to rise. We can’t keep doing this.’

Despite rising staff absences, there are hopes that the Omicron crisis is plateauing. 

Figures are thought to be less reliable due to the festive period, but a further 157,758 cases were reported yesterday — up by 44.6 per cent on the same day last week.

But the number of people dying with the virus saw a 70.6 per cent decrease, with 42 deaths reported compared to 143 on December 27.

And cases in London appear to be heading downwards. 

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said hospital admissions seem to have ‘perhaps plateaued in London or there may be a second peak after the new year now, but it’s rising across the rest of Britain’.

He told Times Radio that, often, for many hospitals ‘the most pressing element of all’ was the number of staff who are absent due to Covid. He said the issues were compounding ‘long-term failure in terms of workforce planning and resourcing’. 

Festive rubbish begins to accumulate at waste points in the town. Some rubbish collection days over Christmas and New Year have been affected due to coronavirus cases (Reading, Berkshire, UK)

Glasgow-based Joe McCauley, culture spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said there had been an ‘increase in reports of bins overflowing’ in recent weeks

An overflowing recycling point in Ashford, Kent, is pictured this afternoon, with plenty of cardboard packaging

Clothes and other materials have been left outside Oxfam bins at an overflowing recycling point in Ashford, Kent, today

This dog bin off in Canford Heath near Poole in Dorset has been ‘overflowing for days’ according to one social media user

Leading Oxford vaccine expert warns giving regular boosters is ‘not sustainable’

Britons shouldn’t be offered a fourth Covid jab until there is more evidence, the head of the country’s vaccine body has claimed.

Sir Andrew Pollard, chairperson of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said giving boosters to people every six months was ‘not sustainable’.

He said future vaccination drives should target the most vulnerable rather than offering top-up doses to all adults.

Germany’s health minister warned a second booster will be required to manage Omicron, while Israel has approved a fourth dose for all over-60s.

The UK last month ordered 114million more Pfizer and Moderna doses which will arrive over the next two years to ‘future-proof’ the vaccination drive, but it is not yet clear how these will be used.

Professor Pollard, who previously insisted booster jabs may not be needed, said: ‘The future must be focusing on the vulnerable and making boosters or treatments available to them to protect them.

In a round of interviews this morning, vaccines minister Maggie Throup admitted she did not know exactly how many hospitals had severe problems with staffing.

Asked about the number of NHS trusts with critical incidents, she told Sky News: ‘I think the critical incidents are announced and then they can be very short-term ones and it’s saying to the other trusts around ‘can we have some extra help, can we have some mutual aid’. 

‘Sometimes it’s just a matter of hours that the critical incident is in place for, other times it’s longer, but it’s actually reaching out to the wider NHS to say we have got a problem in this particular area and it’s sometimes quite geographical as well and for different reasons, it can be staff shortages, it could be other reasons.’

She added: ‘To be honest, I haven’t had an update this morning, as we know the (United) Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust declared one yesterday.’

America was the first country to shorten the isolation period, followed by Greece and France.

Professor Tim Spector, who leads the Zoe Covid Study at King’s College London, has described the five-day period as ‘sensible’ as long as the individual has had two negative lateral flow tests.

‘A reduction in isolation days would help many frontline services by allowing low-risk staff to go into work and avoid people staying home unnecessarily,’ Professor Spector said.

But allowing people to stop isolating five days after they experience Covid symptoms could actually spread the virus and worsen NHS staff shortages, the UK Health Security Agency said.

It said that between 10 and 30 per cent of people would still be infectious after five days, compared with 5 per cent under the seven-day rule.

Health minister Ed Argar said the Government had not yet received scientific advice on cutting the isolation period. 

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