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Employment

Daily testing for critical workers labelled ‘hopelessly inadequate’ as it will only reach 1%

Boris Johnson's plan to stop the spread of Omicron in essential services has been slammed by union TUC for excluding 99 per cent of critical workers.

Boris Johnson has announced 100,000 critical workers will be tested daily for Covid. Image: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

A government plan to test 100,000 critical workers every day to stop Covid spreading has been branded “hopelessly inadequate” – because it will exclude 99 per cent of workers in critical roles.

From Monday, 100,000 critical workers will be required to take daily lateral flow tests supplied via their workplace. But union the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) has pointed out this amounts to just one per cent of the 10.6million critical – or key – workers in the country, based on figures from the Office for National Statistics using the government’s own definition

Amid a national shortage of tests, Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday that the government “would provide 100,000 critical workers in England with free lateral flow tests to help keep essential services and supply chains running.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said it was “hopelessly inadequate”.

“Key workers do their vital work in teams,” she added. “Surgeons and nurses need cleaners and porters. Food supply needs producers, warehouse staff, drivers, and retailers. Ministers must explain who is left out, and what they should do if they can’t get tested.

“The prime minister has known about the shortage of tests for weeks. It beggars belief that he is doing so little, so late.”

The government is yet to release a complete list of which critical workers will be prioritised for daily tests, but specified a range of industries from “border force, police and fire and rescue services control rooms,” to “electricity generation, test kit warehouses and test surge labs.”

Industries across the UK are being hit with staff shortages as widespread absences due to covid cause many to stay at home in isolation. The NHS is facing it’s busiest week of the year after one in 10 NHS workers were absent on New Years Eve, and more than 24 NHS Trusts have declared a critical incident over Covid.

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Amid the shortages of PCR tests, the government has also announced that from January 11, people who test positive on a lateral flow test do not need a confirmatory PCR test to begin isolating.

The move would allow asymptomatic workers to return to work earlier to ease staff shortages in key areas. 

But union GMB called the plan an “undoubtedly bad idea” for “placing responsibility back on the individual” to report a positive test when many cannot afford not to work.

Statutory sick pay remains at £96 per week, meaning that a lot of workers who do not receive full sick pay “can’t afford to be honest” said Dan Shears, director of health and safety at GMB.

“It is also clear recognition the testing system is stretched beyond breaking point by Omicron,” he continued. 

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