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Tens of thousands of train passengers have had their plans for the next fortnight thrown into chaos after Southern Rail cancelled a raft of services and said its hub at London Victoria station would stay closed for another ten days.
Lines in and out of Britain’s second busiest station had been shut over the Christmas period due to Network Rail engineering work, with reduced services rerouted to London Bridge and a planned reopening for January 4.
But Southern has now said there will be no Southern or Gatwick Express services at London Victoria, Battersea Park, Clapham Junction or Wandsworth Common until January 10, the start of the second working week of 2021.
The operator said there would also be a reduced service operating all other routes ‘until further notice owing to the significant ongoing impact of coronavirus‘, amid high levels of staff sickness and workers self-isolating.
It comes despite the Government last week cutting the self-isolating requirement in England from ten days to seven days for those who have a negative lateral flow test on days six and seven of their quarantine period.
And calls are mounting to cut the isolation period further to five days to protect essential services from staff shortages as record numbers catch the milder Omicron variant, despite ministers pouring cold water on the idea.
Staff shortages mean almost one in 20 train services have been cancelled and a third of London’s fire engines are off the streets, with up to 875,000 people in the UK currently required to remain indoors after testing positive.
Thousands of vital NHS workers are also self-isolating – with the health and social care sectors particularly badly hit by staff shortages, leaving hospitals over-stretched and care homes unable to take in new residents.
Among those calling for a cut in isolation time is restaurant boss Marcello Distefano, managing director of the San Carlo Italian restaurant chain, who said he will have to close several of their 23 restaurants due to staff shortages.
On pleas to reduce the isolation period, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘It’s going to help. But it doesn’t change the fact that we are having to move people around just to keep restaurants open.’
The latest data from the Rail Delivery Group, which represents UK train operators, said last week that its members reported 8.7 per cent of staff were off sick due to all causes including Covid – up from 7.6 per cent in a month.
Labour MP Fleur Anderson, who represents Putney in South West London where locals will be affected, retweeted Southern’s announcement and said: ‘With Covid cases still surging, I wish all Southern Rail staff a swift recovery and am sharing this major disruption to local trains. NHS and other services are seeing similar staff illness levels.’
- A shortage of tests could lead to people mixing over the New Year without knowing if they are infectious;
- By 9am this morning, home delivery slots for lateral flow tests were unavailable on the Gov.UK website;
- The Confederation of British Industry warned businesses were facing ‘huge disruption’ due to staff absences;
- The Royal College of GPs chairman said Omicron is still causing ‘massive problems’ for doctors’ surgeries.
This graphic shows the planned Southern closures until January 4 – a period that has now been extended until January 10
People walk through London Victoria station on December 23, which is not going to be served by Southern until January 10
Southern has now said there will be no Southern or Gatwick Express services at London Victoria until January 10 (file image)
Southern said the times of trains on all routes will be changed and it was reducing the service to ‘provide more certainty over which trains will and will not run for those that are travelling and reduce unexpected cancellations’.
Southern’s suburban services heading into the capital will terminate at Balham station in South London for the next few weeks, with passengers having to change onto the Underground’s Northern line to continue journeys.
How does the Southern Rail chaos affect you?
There will be no Southern or Gatwick Express services at London Victoria, Battersea Park, Clapham Junction or Wandsworth Common until at least January 10.
Southern services on the following routes will be diverted north of East Croydon to London Bridge:
- Ore – Hastings – Eastbourne – London
- Littlehampton – Hove – London
- Southampton/Portsmouth Harbour/Bognor Regis – Horsham – London
- East Grinstead – London
- Horsham – Dorking – Epsom – London
Southern Metro services via Streatham Common/Streatham Hill that normally run to/from London Victoria will terminate at/start from Balham.
Here is how the changes will affect your journey:
Travel via London Bridge, or London Blackfriars on Thameslink services, and use Transport for London buses or the Underground to complete your journey.
Use the nearby Queenstown Road station for travel to Clapham Junction and London Waterloo. Use TfL buses to travel between Battersea Park and London Victoria.
Travel via London Bridge and use Southeastern services between London Bridge and Waterloo East, and South Western Railway services between Waterloo and Clapham Junction
WANDSWORTH COMMON AND BALHAM
If travelling to/from Wandsworth Common or between Clapham Junction and Balham, use TfL buses.
For Balham, Northern Line services are running between Balham and Central London, and you can change at Stockwell for Victoria Line connections with Victoria.
Services are suspended – use alternative Southern and Thameslink services to travel between Brighton, Gatwick Airport and Central London.
WEST LONDON, WATFORD AND MILTON KEYNES
There will be no Southern services between Clapham Junction, Kensington Olympia, Watford Junction and Milton Keynes. Use London Overground services, or Southern/Tube/London Northwestern services via London Victoria/Euston.
EAST CROYDON AND FOREST HILL
There will be no all-stations Southern service on the route between East Croydon and London Bridge via Forest Hill. Instead, use London Overground services which will serve all stations between West Croydon, Norwood Junction and New Cross Gate.
SUTTON TO LONDON VIA CARSHALTON
No direct service to Central London on this route. Change at Norwood Junction and use alternative Southern and Thameslink services to travel between Norwood Junction and London Bridge.
And the Gatwick Express, which only resumed three weeks ago after an 18-month closure due to the pandemic, has been suspended again – affecting those returning at the airport from a Christmas and New Year break abroad.
Victoria, which was the UK’s second busiest station in 2020/21 behind Stratford, and had 13.8million entries and exits, is normally connected by Southern to locations such as Brighton, Eastbourne and Portsmouth.
Services are still currently operating in and out of Victoria on Southeastern trains to South East London and Kent.
Meanwhile, CrossCountry urged customers to avoid travelling on New Year’s Eve as a strike by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union means it will run ‘a very limited timetable’.
A statement said: ‘We are advising customers to alter their plans where possible and to avoid travel on December 31.’
The firm will not operate any trains between these locations: Aberdeen and Edinburgh; Glasgow Central and Edinburgh; Derby and Nottingham; Peterborough and Stansted; Cheltenham Spa and Cardiff Central; Newton Abbot and Paignton; and Plymouth and Penzance.
A ‘heavily reduced service’ will be in place between Edinburgh and Plymouth; Manchester Piccadilly and Bournemouth; and Birmingham New Street and Peterborough.
The dispute involves train managers and senior conductors in a row over the role of guards.
Many other operators in addition to Southern have cancelled trains due to the impact of the pandemic.
They include Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, Greater Anglia, London North Eastern Railway, Northern, ScotRail, TransPennine Express and Transport for Wales.
Southern’s decision to suspend its London Victoria services also means it will not serve Clapham Junction, Wandsworth Common or Battersea Park.
Planned re-signalling work at London Victoria had already resulted in most Southern trains due to serve the station between December 27 and January 3 being diverted to run to and from London Bridge.
This was timed to coincide with the festive period when demand for travel is low.
Southern’s latest announcement means disruption will continue throughout the first working week of 2022.
A spokesman for Govia Thameslink Railway – which is Britain’s largest railway franchise operating Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express – said today: ‘Train times will change on weekdays from Tuesday, January 4 2022 as Southern, Great Northern and Thameslink introduce reduced timetables until further notice. Passengers are strongly advised to check before they travel.
‘The changes are being made in response to the ongoing impact of Covid-19, which has led to significantly increased staff sickness in recent weeks, as seen right across the rail industry. A reduced timetable will help ensure a more reliable service and less last-minute cancellations.
‘Gatwick Express will remain suspended, as it has been over the festive period to allow for engineering works, until further notice. Gatwick Express crews will instead focus on supporting Southern services, which also serve Gatwick Airport.
‘While less people are travelling on the railways overall, and government guidance is to work from home where possible, it is important for those who do need to travel in the new year to check their journeys in advance and allow additional time.’
And Angie Doll, Govia Thameslink Railway’s interim chief operating officer, said: ‘Due to the significant challenges we face with Covid now affecting many of our colleagues, we have taken the decision to operate a reduced train timetable from January. We’re really sorry if this does affect your journey.
‘While many more people are now working from home again, we’re fully focussed on proving a service that passengers can rely on if they need to travel. We’d strongly urge people to check before they travel for the latest information and to leave extra time.’
New Year’s Eve rail strikes will go ahead affecting CrossCountry trains and Edinburgh Waverley
Strikes by railway workers and catering staff in two separate disputes are to go ahead on New Year’s Eve, union leaders have confirmed.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) on CrossCountry Trains and catering staff based at Edinburgh Waverley Station will walk out for 24 hours.
The dispute on Cross Country involves train managers and senior conductors in a row over the role of guards.
The action at Edinburgh Waverley, by staff employed by Gate Gourmet, is part of a long-running dispute over allegations of bullying.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘The disruption to services from the New Year’s Eve strike action is wholly down to these greedy private companies on our railways seeking to squeeze out every penny they can by hammering down on safety, jobs and workplace dignity.
‘Our members at Cross Country and Gate Gourmet are standing up for all rail workers as we expect a torrent of attacks on jobs, pay, safety, pensions and working conditions in 2022. We are ready for a New Year of campaigning and action on all fronts.’
Cross Country said it expected disruption to its services, adding it would only be able to run a ‘very limited’ timetable. A statement said: ‘We are advising customers to alter their plans where possible and to avoid travel on December 31.’
RMT members employed by Gate Gourmet are also involved in a strike at Edinburgh Waverley on New Year’s Eve as part of a long-running dispute over allegations of bullying.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘The disruption to services from the New Year’s Eve strike action is wholly down to these greedy private companies on our railways seeking to squeeze out every penny they can by hammering down on safety, jobs and workplace dignity.
‘Our members at CrossCountry and Gate Gourmet are standing up for all rail workers as we expect a torrent of attacks on jobs, pay, safety, pensions and working conditions in 2022.
‘We are ready for a new year of campaigning and action on all fronts.’
Meanwhile Royal College of GPs chairman Professor Martin Marshall said Omicron is still ‘spreading like wildfire’ and causing ‘massive problems’ for doctors’ surgeries, adding that growing numbers of staff are being forced to self-isolate combined.
And it comes as business leaders, MPs and some scientists continue to call for the quarantine period to be reduced from seven days to protect essential services from staff shortages.
Professor Tim Spector, who leads the Zoe Covid Study at King’s College London, said: ‘Five days is sensible if the individual has two lateral flow tests negative.
‘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.’
Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen told Sky News yesterday: ‘The biggest threat I see now to the NHS, and indeed to all essential services and businesses, is from forced absenteeism due to self-isolation. America have dropped the self isolation to five days. I think we can do the same.’
CBI president Lord Bilimoria said: ‘We have got to go for as low an isolation period as is safe because the disruption at the moment is huge.’
But Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith said there were no plans to follow the US, where positive cases now only have to isolate for five days if they have no symptoms.
She told BBC Radio 4: ‘We have just brought it down from ten days to seven days, so… we’re keeping all this under constant review, but I can confirm there’s no current plans to change that period further down.’
The health and social care sectors have been particularly badly hit by staff shortages. But Nadra Ahmed, of the National Care Association, said: ‘I don’t think we ought to be rushing into reducing the isolation time.’
Confusion as NHS guidance STILL says people who test positive for Covid should self-isolate for 10 DAYS – despite ministers changing the rules a week ago
The NHS is still telling Covid-infected people in England to self-isolate for ten days, MailOnline can reveal.
This is despite ministers deciding last week to cut the quarantine period to just one week for people who test negative two days in a row.
More than a week on, however, and the NHS is still yet to prominently display No10’s rule change on its own guidance website.
Britons searching self-isolation online may be taken to this page telling them to isolate for ten full days. To reveal the seven-day rule, they must then click on the link highlighted above
Covid-infected people in England wanting to find out how long to self-isolate must click through to a separate page and then open a pop-up window to learn about the updated edict.
Scientists today urged the NHS to ‘rectify’ its guidance quickly, saying no one should be expected to isolate for ‘longer than is necessary’.
England is on its own with the isolation guidance, however. The rest of the UK has stuck with the original 10-day period.
The Royal College of Nursing also wants to ensure staff can recuperate before returning to work, while the British Retail Consortium said staff absence levels in most shops were ‘manageable’.
Meanwhile a leading scientist has warned it is ‘very worrying’ that a shortage of Covid-19 tests could lead to people mixing over the New Year without being able to see whether they are infectious.
Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the conditions at a New Year’s Eve gathering were ‘perfect’ for spreading coronavirus.
The UK Government is scrambling to secure supplies of tests from around the world to meet a surge in demand as people try to comply with guidance to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.
In a letter to MPs, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the supply of lateral flow tests (LFD) was being tripled in January and February from a pre-Omicron plan of 100 million to 300 million per month.
By 9am this morning, home delivery slots for lateral flow tests were unavailable on the Gov.UK website. Pharmacies have also complained about patchy supplies of lateral flow kits.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people in England heading out for New Year’s Eve festivities to get tested.
In England – unlike other parts of the UK – nightclubs remain open and there are no limits on social mixing.
The NHS Covid Pass is required for entry to nightclubs, but this can be obtained by people who are double-jabbed, rather than requiring proof of a negative test.
The UK Health Security Agency said yesterday that eight million lateral flow test kits would be made available to pharmacies by New Year’s Eve.
The Government is under increasing pressure to up the capacity of coronavirus testing as case numbers reached their highest level yet.
A new record was set for the daily number of coronavirus cases yesterday, as all four UK nations reported their figures for the first time since Christmas Eve.
The UK Government said that a further 183,037 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases had been recorded in the UK as of 9am on Wednesday.
The total includes reported figures for Northern Ireland covering a five-day period. But the 138,287 figure for England was also the highest recorded.
The NHS is setting up new Nightingale ‘surge hubs’ at hospitals across England as it goes on a ‘war footing’ to prepare for a potential wave of Omicron hospital admissions.
Work on a total of eight hubs, each with a capacity of around 100 patients, is set to begin as early as this week, according to NHS England. Further sites could also be identified to add a further 4,000 ‘super surge’ beds.
The move comes as hospitals are using hotels, hospices and care homes to safely discharge as many people who are medically fit to leave as possible – freeing up beds for those who need them most.