“This government is engaged in a unique & deadly experiment with our health. No other country has previously done this, which is to reopen while new cases, hospitalisations & deaths are rising rapidly.”Diane Abbott MP
This government is engaged in a unique and deadly experiment with our health.
No other country has previously done this, which is to reopen while new cases, hospitalisations and deaths are rising rapidly.
And please don’t be fooled by government false reassurances. Yes, thankfully hospitalisations and deaths are lower than at the same stage of previous waves. But they are growing very rapidly. Unless something breaks that, they will also soon be at very large numbers.
The medical and scientific experts have attacked this policy fiercely. Quite rightly. The government should be listening to them, not their own misinformed backbenchers, or their own self-serving donors.
My focus is on the political and social impact of the government’s catastrophic mishandling of the Covid crisis.
This Tory government has left behind all pretence that public health policy matters, or even that the health and well-being of the population matters.
They themselves have made it clear they expect their policies will lead to a huge increase in new Covid-19 cases, that hospitalisations and deaths will also rise. But they have pressed ahead with reopening regardless.
This policy is based on a completely reactionary ideology combined with a conception of the economy that is riddled with errors.
The ideology is an individualistic one, disregarding the needs of society. But, dressed up libertarianism, it is also an authoritarian one. It ignores the wishes of the population, as the majority of people opposes reopening now. It is willing to impose this on people – including forcing children into schools and workers back to their workplace – despite what it knows to be deadly consequences.
The motivating force is a misconceived notion of the needs of the economy, which is really just acceding to the demands of business. These two are not the same.
Recently the tabloid press has been full of front page splashes about the disaster of too many pings from the test and trace app. This is incredible. There are so many pings because there are so many new cases. But instead of tackling the cases, the government wants to shut down the pings. More people will get ill, and worse, as a result. Turning off the fire alarm will not make you safer.
As far back as March last year the government was extremely reluctant to lockdown, despite the WHO identifying the virus and issuing warnings, as well as the carnage we were witnessing in Italy.
Instead, they listened to Tory donors across a range of industries. The infamous summary of policy attributed to Dominic Cummings was “herd immunity, protect the economy and who cares if a few old people die.”
Although this has been denied since by Number 10, we have all seen TV clips where Boris Johnson and Chris Whitty told us herd immunity is the policy.
And the bodies have indeed piled higher. While many other, mainly rich Western countries, have disgracefully adopted similar policies at one time or another and all with catastrophic results, the current experiment by this Tory government is unique.
This policy has been widely condemned both domestically and internationally.
Lifting the remaining Covid restrictions in England this month is “dangerous and premature”, according to international scientists and doctors writing in The Lancet.
The policy has also been denounced by Independent SAGE and even members of SAGE. It is driven by “moral emptiness and epidemiological stupidity,” according to Dr Mike Ryan of the WHO.
The breadth of the opposition is matched by the depth of the anger.
Of course, this means that we in the Labour Party and the wider labour movement must oppose all these measures, including premature reopening.
We also know from experience who will bear the brunt of it.
We should offer full support for the transport unions who are extremely concerned about the lifting of the requirement for face masks. Too many of their members have become ill, some suffering Long Covid and others dying for them to stand by. The same applies to shop workers.
Similarly, the teaching unions have a strong case about how pupils and all who work in schools have been treated. Workers in the NHS are once again threatened with being overwhelmed with new cases, while struggling with chronic under-staffing and under-pay. Shopworkers too are in the frontline of risks.
Black people were hardest hit in the first wave and Asian people hardest hit in the second. Both suffered death tolls far higher than their counterparts.
Boris Johnson is telling us he expects a third wave, but has no interest in who might be its victims.
We should also understand how this policy fits into the government’s entire agenda. This is a government adopting draconian legislation in a whole number of areas. It tramples on our rights and is authoritarian.
It has launched a fight on ordinary people and the poor. It is caught up in a series of scandals around racism – from denial of its existence, to promoting it among football yobs, to its dreadful treatment of refugees and of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, by institutionalising discrimination against them.
Remember, the government imposing this herd immunity policy is also the one that is cutting furlough support. It is allowing, even encouraging fire and rehire tactics. It has shoved young people onto the dole. It even refused support for the self-employed, then said they could have had furlough payments all along.
This is an all-round attack. This government is intent on remaking British society with its attacks on working people, the poor and all those facing discrimination. Public services are pushed to breaking-point, while the private sector is lavished with public money.
Its policies on the pandemic are the cutting edge of all this and allow every other attack to take place. We need to oppose them on every issue, on every front.