Britain risks being brought to a standstill by soaring Covid cases, a shortage of tests and the seven-day quarantine period, NHS and business leaders warned yesterday.

As absences linked to the Covid isolation crisis worsened last night, a rail operator cancelled commuter trains into one of London’s busiest stations for more than ten days.

Meanwhile, so many health workers are being forced to stay at home that there may not be enough doctors and nurses to run new ‘Nightingale’ units.

Close to a million employees are now believed to be stuck at home, with restaurants forced to close and deliveries hit by the ‘astronomical’ numbers off sick.

As record numbers of Omicron-positive cases continue to rise, scientists, business leaders and MPs all asked for an increase in self-isolation.

But despite warnings the situation will worsen further as many people return infected with Covid after visiting family over Christmas and going out on New Year’s Eve, ministers are currently resisting the clamour to reduce the quarantine time further.

The Government is under increasing pressure to get more testing done, given the high demand for tests and the global shortage of supply. Four million kits were donated by Wales to the NHS. 

Britain risks being brought to a standstill by soaring Covid cases amid a shortage of tests and the seven-day quarantine period

Britain faces a crisis due to the soaring number of Covid cases and the shortage in testing.

general view of construction of a Nightingale 'surge hub' at St George's Hospital, in south west London, on Thursday

A general view showing construction of a Nightingale surge hub at St George’s Hospital (in south west London), on Thursday

A train can take a ten-day delay 

New Year chaos for rail passengers is caused by Covid, and other issues.

Southern said yesterday that no trains will run into or from London Victoria until January 10 due to high levels of ‘coronavirus isolation and sickness’ among staff.

Other operators such as Avanti West Coast (Greater Anglia), London North Eastern Railway (London North Eastern Railway), Northern, and ScotRail also have cancelled trains due to this issue.

CrossCountry will run ‘a very limited timetable’ due to a 24-hour strike starting today over the role of guards.

 More disruption will be caused by engineering work at London Victoria and on the Transpennine route.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said supplies of tests are likely to be rationed over the next fortnight as health officials struggle to cope with ‘huge demand’. 

He warned in a letter to MPs that tests will need to be prioritised for ‘vulnerable groups’, such as care home residents and staff. 

Mr Javid told MPs: ‘In light of the huge demand for LFDs [lateral flow devices] seen over the last three weeks, we expect to need to constrain the system at certain points over the next two weeks to manage supply over the course of each day, with new tranches of supply released regularly throughout each day.’

The government will increase supplies by doubling them for January and February, from the current 100million to 300million each month.

Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen said last night: ‘The biggest threat facing the NHS is forced absenteeism due to people isolating with a cold. It’s exactly the same for private businesses.’

Craig Beaumont, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: ‘We are now well on our way to one million people sick with Covid or self-isolating, which is seeing a rapid rise in staff absences. 

‘This will worsen in the New Year as people return from Christmas.’

John Foster, of the Confederation of British Industry, said the level of workers’ absences was ‘starting to bite firms’ and cutting isolation to five days would be ‘a pragmatic choice that can help keep the economy moving’. 

Construction workers at work building a Nightingale 'surge hub' at St George's Hospital amid rising Covid cases

Construction workers are busy building a Nightingale “surge hub” at St George’s Hospital, amid increasing Covid cases

Professor Mark Walport (pictured, the former chief scientific adviser, described the number of Covid cases as 'astronomical'

Professor Mark Walport, who was the ex-chief scientific advisor, described the Covid case count as “astronomical”.

Royal College of Nursing and British Medical Association both stated that healthcare workers should be prioritized for testing to prevent staff shortages. 

London Ambulance Service reported that 12 percent of its staff were still sick at the end of the week prior to Christmas.

Southern Rail announced ‘due to the ongoing effect of coronavirus isolation and sickness’ there would be no direct services to and from London Victoria until January 10, preventing tens of thousands from returning to work.

Professor Sir Mark Walport, the former chief scientific adviser, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: ‘There is an astronomical number of infections in the UK at the moment, which means it’s not just health and social care workers off sick, but also delivery drivers.’ 

Professor Tim Spector, who leads King’s College London’s Zoe Covid study, said: ‘I believe five days is sensible for the UK, if the individual has two lateral flow tests negative. This means the risk of infection will be significantly reduced.’

The NHS app demands that English citizens self-isolate during the ten day period, even though it can be cut to a week for negative results. 

The Covid Pass will be issued only to people who have been away for ten consecutive days. They may be denied access to nightclubs if they are isolated for seven days.