“Most of the Covid-19 deaths in the UK could have been prevented if Boris Johnson’s government had adopted a different approach.”Joan Twelves
By Joan Twelves, ZeroCovid.UK Steering Committee
No death can be acceptable if it is preventable
Covid has dominated all our lives for the past year, and it’s not going away. 130,000 have died and hundreds of thousands are facing grief, loss and long-term illness. Unless there is a change of strategy, tens of thousands more will die.
Most of the Covid-19 deaths in the UK could have been prevented if Boris Johnson’s government had adopted a different approach. A decade of austerity and privatisation left the NHS and social care underprepared. The outsourced Test and Trace system is not working, despite costing billions.
A year into the pandemic, sick pay is still abysmally low – the lowest in Europe – and excludes many of the lowest paid or most precarious workers entirely, thus making self-isolation impossible for many. Far too many employers are being allowed to get away with insisting workers come into unsafe workplaces, including many that should have been entirely shut down as inessential. Demands for adequate PPE, for proper ventilation and for social distancing for workers have all been ignored. Pitifully weak health and safety legislation, long labelled as ‘red tape’ by the Tories and right-wing media, is not enforced.
Local authorities are desperately trying to support those in their communities most at risk but are grappling with the millstone of deeper and deeper cuts to their funding. And the blight of overcrowded and all too often unsanitary housing – especially in the deregulated private sector – means the virus hits poorest communities disproportionately.
We cannot accept the Tories’ approach of ‘living with the virus’. Government advisers admit that such a strategy is likely to involve a further 30,000 to 80,000 deaths.
Indeed, no country is ‘living with the virus’. But a number have charted a way through the pandemic by pursuing an elimination strategy – driving down community transmission and using local Test and Trace systems to stop new outbreaks. The UK’s vaccine rollout is vital, but will not end the pandemic on its own, not when the pandemic is global, prone to variants and mutations, and vaccine nationalism is on the rise.
Real opposition means an elimination strategy.
Zero Covid does not mean endless lockdowns. The reverse – it means an end to this cycle of half-hearted on-off lockdowns. It is based on the strategy humanity across the world has learnt to pursue when faced with a pandemic: trace and isolate to stop the spread, then vaccinate if you can. Why is that so difficult this time round? Climate change means more, not fewer, pandemics in the future. We need to learn the lessons and get it right next time.
Of course, we can’t totally eradicate Covid – but reducing and aiming to eliminate community transmission is possible – as we can see from New Zealand’s 5 deaths per one million population, Vietnam’s 0.4 per million, compared to the UK ‘s 1,828 deaths per million, which even beats Brazil and the USA.
Critics of this alternative like to point out that New Zealand is small. So it is worth noting that Vietnam’s population is 98 million compared to the UK’s 68 million. And, anyway, as Professor Michael Baker, the New Zealand epidemiologist, says – ‘Reaching zero cases doesn’t depend on a country’s size but on strong leadership’.
Real opposition means leadership.
Labour’s Conference in September may seem a long time away. And it would be great if Labour’s leadership showed strong leadership now by challenging the basis of the Tories’ containment approach to the pandemic by advocating that real alternative.
There have been so many times during the last twelve months where the Johnson government left open goals in its treatment of the pandemic, where Labour could have championed education workers and parents fighting for safe schools, could have pressed for the benefit uplift to be extended to all claimants, could have demanding an end to contracts to Serco and other leeches on our NHS.
But it hasn’t done so yet – so it will be up to CLP and trade union delegates at Conference to demand a change.
Momentum is organising a Policy Primary to determine which motions to Conference it should back. It would be unconscionable if this year of all years Labour did not discuss the Covid Pandemic. It has to be the number one priority. And it has to be a discussion based not on just criticising the Tories for doing too little too late or lining their chums’ pockets, but on a real alternative approach based on social solidarity. Anything else is endorsing social murder.
Zero Covid’s Conference motion is below. It not only calls for a change of strategy but also links that to how ecological destruction will undoubtedly result in more lethal and uncontrollable pandemics, which is why a Green recovery plan has to go hand in hand with a Zero Covid approach.
The campaign to beat the pandemic
Voting in the Momentum Policy Primary is not the only way you can support Zero Covid. We are a grassroots activist campaign of individual supporters and affiliated organisations. Our supporters come from a range of political parties or none. Our aim is to build a movement to force UK policy makers to adopt an elimination strategy. Our structure allows for local groups to establish themselves and have a say in the running of the campaign. Coordinating our work centrally are teams of volunteers that cover areas such as social media, science and health advisory, press relations and mobilisation. We are part of the Zero Covid Coalition.
We can provide speakers for meetings, rallies and political and trade union branches.
APPENDIX: Zero Covid’s Labour Party Conference motion
Title: Covid-19 pandemic
- The appalling loss of lives and livelihoods due to the Tory government’s incompetence, corruption and refusal to adopt and implement effective measures to drive down community transmission and eliminate the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
- That this has been exacerbated by a decade of austerity, privatisation and cuts to public services, especially the NHS and local authorities.
- That the expensive failure of the outsourced Serco Test and Trace system has contributed to this disaster.
- That individuals have been consistently blamed for systemic and policy failures and not provided with sufficient support through decent sick pay, grants, loans, benefits and other wide-ranging assistance in order to be able to self-isolate, shield, work from home and/or home-school.
- That climate change and ecological destruction make future pandemics more likely and that the pandemic is a global issue that demands international solidarity.
- The commitment of the millions of workers and volunteers, in the UK and globally, who have supported their communities, provided dedicated healthcare, and demonstrated scientific and medical brilliance.
- The UK’s vaccine programme, rolled out and administered by the NHS and local volunteers.
Conference calls for:
- Labour to adopt now and in the event of any future similar pandemics policies aimed at the elimination, rather than the containment, of the spread of the disease, working with trade unions and public health experts.
- A forward-looking recovery plan based on the Green New Deal.