In a week where Covid-related staff absences have battered essential services in Northern Ireland, the Belfast Telegraph takes a look at some of the sectors that have been hit hardest from ambulance staff to postal and hospitality workers.
1. Emergency Services.
This week, the PSNI confirmed that just over 10% of police officers and 5% of police staff were unavailable for reasons related to Covid-19.
A police spokesperson said this had been anticipated and planned for, with a move to emergency shift cover in late December to ensure “sufficient capacity and capability” across all core services.
On Wednesday, it emerged that 25% of staff with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service were unavailable because of both Covid and general illness.
NIAS Chief Executive Michael Bloomfield warned that this had put some patients at “increased risk”.
He also said that the sustained pressure meant that a number of patients in recent weeks had been told by ambulance operators to make their own way to hospital.
He described the situation as “the most significant” faced throughout the pandemic and that the service was relying on “huge flexibility and goodwill” from staff.
Despite this, he urged the public to still use 999 immediately in life threatening situations.
Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service Station commander Rod O’Hare added that the service remained “fully functional and fully operational” despite dealing with their own Covid staffing shortages.
“Like every other emergency service, we are facing pressures because of this situation,” he said.
Last week, it was also revealed that nearly 3,900 healthcare staff in Northern Ireland were off work due to Covid-19.
According to the latest workforce statistics, there were 59,217 staff employed across Northern Ireland’s six health trusts last September — an estimated 6.5% of the entire workforce.
2. Bin collections
Giving a possible indication of the widespread pressures caused by Covid staff shortages, some residents in the Dunmurry area complained their bins were left unemptied this week.
A spokesperson for Belfast City Council said that specific details on staff absence relating to Covid, or pressures on services, were not yet available.
Another resident in the Causeway Coast and Glens council area currently moving home complained that no one was available to lift bulky waste.
A council spokesperson said there had been no disruption to bin collection services this week.
3. Hospitality and retail
Damien Curran is the owner of The Sipster in Whiteabbey, which sells specialist wine, beer and spirits.
The business also has an accompanying bar for customers.
Staff shortages caused by Covid forced the business to close for several days before Christmas, losing out on some of the most lucrative trading days of the year.
“When Covid struck our biggest problem is that we’re a frontline business, dealing with people in close quarters both in our retail store and bar,” Mr Curran told the Belfast Telegraph.
“We have complied with all the criteria set down by Stormont, but it’s extremely difficult to implement.”
He added: “Myself and six staff all ended up with Covid at the busiest time of year.”
Meanwhile, Glyn Roberts from Retail NI encouraged shoppers to keep supporting their local businesses through “a challenging situation” due to a “significant amount of staff absences”.
4. Postal Service
Throughout the many upheavals created by the pandemic, postal workers have provided a constant service to our doorsteps that can be easy to take for granted.
Erin Massey is the Regional Secretary for the Communications Workers Union in Northern Ireland.
“The Postal Service, like most sectors, has been impacted due to the pandemic. So there would be quite a high sick absence throughout postal, telecoms and most agencies,” she said.
“The Postal Service always do a lot of extra shifts when needed, they do their best. But the impact on them, they’re very much under pressure to get through the mountain of mail.
“They’ve been customer facing and on the frontline of the pandemic since day one. That hasn’t changed, it’s bound to have ramifications on their workloads, mental health and wellbeing.”
This week a leading teachers’ union warned that the unrelenting spread of the Omicron variant meant that almost every school in Northern Ireland was now having to consider a return to remote learning.
NASUWT official Justin McCamphill said a huge problem was the need for ventilation causing uncomfortably low temperatures in schools.
He called on the Department of Education to roll out air filtration unit suppliers immediately to protect pupils and staff.
6. Public transport
Translink have confirmed that their timetables will be adjusted next week because of increased staff absences linked to Covid.
Director of Service Ian Campbell there were currently around 4% of staff off, but the change was also a response to reduced passenger numbers.
With the guidance still for people to reduce their contacts and travel, he estimated that numbers were currently around 60% of pre-Covid levels of demand.