Wednesday briefing: nursing home declares staffing red alerts |

Top story: The Prime Minister admits that parts of the NHS may be overwhelmed

Good morning, my name is Virginia Harrison, and here’s the news this Wednesday morning.

Care operators face acute staff shortages caused by the Omicron variant with more than 90 declare a “red warning”, which means that staffing has been violated.

More than 11,000 nursing home workers are free for covid reasons, according to the Internal Health System personnel data seen by The Guardian. Government data show that 9.4% of nursing home staff are off work across the UK, with close to 3% absent due to Covid. The figures, which may be an underestimation due to the festive break, are taken from posts by thousands of care providers.

The worst affected areas appear to be in the North East, North West and parts of London. As Robert Booth reports, many caregivers say that delays in getting PCR test results back were a major frustration, meaning workers who may not be infected were isolated longer than necessary.

The extent of the strain on nursing homes comes as Boris Johnson admitted for the first time that parts of the NHS may be overwhelmed in the coming weeks and insisted that England can “ride out” its biggest Covid wave ever “without shutting our country down again”. With absence from frontline workers driven by one record 218,000 new confirmed UK cases by Covid on Tuesday, Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical adviser, said the NHS was facing “very significant pressure over the next few weeks” – although there was not yet an “increase in mortality” seen with other waves at this stage. You can find all our coronavirus coverage here or follow live updates here.

No 10 party pooper – The new head of an investigation into alleged rule-breaking Downing Street parties has not “started over” and will hardly re-interview all government employees who have already been talked about their knowledge of the gatherings, the Guardian has been told. Sources said Sue Gray, who took over the investigation after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case resigned when a Christmas event at his own office was revealed, would more likely “gather” the existing work and look for “gaps” in the evidence provided so far. Grays’ attention will also have to turn to several assemblies that have emerged since the initial investigation led by Case began, including an event unveiled by the Guardian attended by Johnson, his wife and 17 others. Gray’s study is expected to take several weeks and will be published. Here’s Aubrey Allegrettis full report.

Mail to pay Meghan £ 1 – The Mail on Sunday will pay the Duchess of Sussex only £ 1 in compensation to invade her privacy by to publish a private letter she had sent to her father. The nominal amount is stated in court documents, which also formally confirm that the newspaper – and its sister website MailOnline – has accepted defeat and will not take the long-running case to the Supreme Court. The business will also pay an unspecified amount for the separate case of infringement of Meghan’s copyright by publishing large chunks of the letter. The Duchess had always said that her three-year legal battle against Affiliated newspapers, the publisher of Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, was more about principles than money.

Hopes of early detection of cancer Researchers have developed a blood test that can help detect cancer in people with nonspecific symptoms such as unexplained weight loss or fatigue. If the test is validated, the test can make it possible to identify cancer patients earlier when they are more likely to respond to treatment, and help mark who could benefit from early access to drugs designed to tackle metastatic cancer. There is currently no clear pathway through which a person with nonspecific symptoms that could be cancer is referred for further investigation. read more here.

Sicilian mystery unraveled – The 200-year-old secrets of child mummies from the Capuchin catacombs in Palermo in northern Sicily to be unveiled by a British-led team of scientists using X-ray technology. Dr. Kirsty Squires from Staffordshire University will lead a first attempt to tell some of the stories of the 163 children whose remains lie within the corridors and crypts of the famous underground tomb. The catacombs contain 1,284 mummified and skeletonized corpses, the largest collection of mummies in Europe. While many of the children contained there are now skeletal, others have been described as looking as if they were sleeping. That two years of study will focus on the children who died between 1787 and 1880, and initially on 41 corpses living in a bespoke “children’s chapel”.

Today in Focus podcast: Can the UK cope with the Omicron rise?

The year has begun with warnings of critical incidents in British hospitals and fears of reopening of schools there is reason to be optimistic, says science correspondent Nicola Davis.

Today in focus

UK Omicron

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That the opening day of the fourth ash test in Sydney was devastated by rain. Only 21.3 overs were possible before the tea interval. But over in New Zealand, Bangladesh secured itself one of the biggest disruptions in test history by defeating the world test champions by eight wickets.

Thomas Tuchel will fine Romelu Lukaku despite accepting the striker’s apology for a controversial interview and has said he met no opposition from Chelsea’s board after dropping the club’s record signing against Liverpool.

There was a violent backlash to the news, Novak Djokovic, world No. 1, has been granted medical exemption to compete in the Australian Open without being vaccinated against Covid-19. All Australian Open participants must either be fully vaccinated or apply for and secure a waiver to enter Victoria without taking on the mandatory 14-day quarantine. The public reaction to the news of Djokovic’s release was overwhelmingly hostile. Among those who spoke was Stephen Parnis, a former vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, who described the decision as shocking. “I do not care how good a tennis player he is. If he refuses to be vaccinated, he should not be allowed in,” Parnis tweeted. Nick Kyrgios arrives in Sydney later this week with a low ranking status he has not carried since his amazing breakout performance at Wimbledon back in 2014.


Japan’s Sony Group will establish a new company for electric vehicles this spring, said its chairman at the CES technology conference in the United States, and will be the latest technology company to increase its ambitions in the fast-growing market. Closer to home and European gas prices rose by more than 30% on Tuesday, which raises concerns about the cost of heating a home as supplies usually come in Europe from Siberia continued to flow east for the 15th day in a row. To the markets, and it has been a mixed session across Asia, where investors saw the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s interest rate meeting in December later Wednesday. The pound buys $ 1.35 and € 1.20.

The papers

The Guardian front page
Photo: Guardian

The staffing crisis across Britain’s healthcare system is on many front pages. That Guardian leads with “Johnson admits the NHS may be overwhelmed in the coming weeks”. Full history here.

That Telegraph reports “Test rules to be relaxed to address staff shortages” while I has “Daily tests for key employees as PM sticks to plan B”.

That Times have “PM: We can ride this out without new curbs,” as daily infections hit a record-high 218,000. That Daily Express picks up on the same quote and leads with “No shutdown! Boris: We can ‘ride out’ Omicron rise.” Mirror has “Covid-critical hospitals: Heart attacks? Get a lift to A&E”.

That Daily mail turns away from the pandemic with its splash, “Ex-minister: Blair’s aide told me to burn Iraq war council” in the middle of a ongoing campaign to deprive the former prime minister of his chivalry.

And FT has “Holmes truths: The Theranos case raises red flags” after the founder of the start-up of blood tests became convicted of four counts of fraud, while its Covid front-page story is more optimistic: “Travel and leisure shares are rising at the belief that the Omicron turmoil is waning”.

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