The UK government’s decision to end the remaining Covid restrictions in England is dangerous. The pandemic is not over. The World Health Organization says that “this virus can be brought under control. [If not] this virus continues to spread, to evolve, and to kill”.
The ending of Covid restrictions is a dereliction of public health duty. Removing the self-isolation rules, free testing, self-isolation payment and sick pay will prevent us from bringing Covid under control. This will put children at increased risk, force shielders back behind closed doors and put workers at increased risk of contracting the virus.
In a recent YouGov survey, 75 per cent of respondents were against the dropping of restrictions. Johnson has no mandate for this move. It is a decision destined to appease the right-wing libertarians in the Tory party on which Johnson depends to shore up his chaotic and failing leadership.
For the Tories, private profits are more important than public health. Over 175,000 people have died in Britain of the virus. That is the highest number in Europe. Currently, there are tens of thousands of Covid cases every day, over a thousand deaths every week, and 1.3 million living with long Covid. The Government wants us to accept these shocking figures and “live with the virus”. Even if the Omicron variant is less deadly, it is more transmissible. In Denmark, where restrictions were dropped at the beginning of February, deaths and hospital admissions have risen by almost a third.
The Westminster government has repeatedly failed. The vaccine roll-out is a success of the NHS, not that of the government. The result of its failures is high infections and deaths, and massive damage to the economy and people’s livelihoods. Public money has been trousered by private contractors who then failed to deliver. £37 billion was wasted with the failure of the private Test & Trace system.
It has been able to get away with this, in part, because of a failure of the leadership of the Labour Party to set out a science-led alternative strategy. The Labour Party broadly supported the government’s response to Covid because it feared to politicise a public health crisis. But a strategy to deal with such a crisis is indeed political. It means choosing between prioritising people’s lives or private profits. The Tory government’s failure to “follow the science” in dealing with the pandemic has left us with the worst of both worlds: high infections and deaths, and massive damage to the economy and people’s livelihoods.
We can control the virus
Vaccines are essential for protecting us against the virus, but we need other mitigation measures:
- a free publicly provided test and trace system,
- financial and material support for those having to isolate,
- sick pay from day one,
- proper ventilation in workplaces and public buildings,
- wearing of masks on transport and in indoor public spaces,
- rebuilding the NHS which is now facing its worst crisis ever.
The parties at 10 Downing Street during lockdowns have exposed the hypocrisy of the Tories. But worse than that, they have undermined trust in public health efforts to control and eliminate the virus, depressed the take-up of the vaccine, and encouraged the violent right-wing anti-vaxx movement.
A Covid-free world is possible
No one is safe until everyone is safe. The pandemic is still very much alive around the world. Waiving patents on vaccines would dramatically increase vaccination in poorer countries. In Africa, just 6% of the population is vaccinated. But for too long, rich countries including the UK stopped producers worldwide from manufacturing their own vaccines. Big Pharma has been profiteering from the pandemic by blocking the waiver of patents and inflating prices. Pfizer doubled its profits in a year, making £27bn in vaccine sales and it predicts another bumper year with Covid jabs and pill. Big Pharma must be brought into public ownership.
Bringing down infection rates and eliminating the virus around the world is possible. It means challenging capital and its continuous drive for growth and profits, which create misery, poverty and death. But we must also urgently tackle the climate crisis and environmental destruction. This has created the conditions in which pathogens such as Covid have jumped species with devasting effects. Action, resistance and an anti-capitalist ecosocialist political alternative are urgent.
Zero Covid conference:
This Sunday 27 February, at 1:30 pm the Zero Covid campaign is organising a conference on the current state of the pandemic and how we can challenge the global injustices of the pandemic.
There is an amazing line-up of speakers confirmed:
- Robert West, Professor Emeritus of Health Psychology
- Janet Newsham, Hazards Campaign
- Billie Cooper, Care and Support Workers Organise
- Jacky Davis, Keep Our NHS Public
- Stephen Reicher, Independent Sage
- Joan Twelves, Zero Covid
And there will also be participatory workshops on key issues:
- Big Pharma and vaccine apartheid with Tim Bierley (Global Justice Now)
- Busting the Covid myths with Rowan Fortune (Zero Covid)
- Challenging the media with Greg Philo (Glasgow Uni Media Unit)
- Organising for Zero Covid
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‘Living with the virus’ is used in a totally bizarre way by Johnson. Someone who develops diabetes has to learn to live with it. That means dietary restrictions and medications, possibly insulin injections. It may mean adjusting mealtimes to prevent serious reduction in blood sugar.
Similarly someone with haemophilia accepts a certain amount of restrictions on their daily activities to live with the illness.
Such illnesses largely affect individuals, though they may also have an impact on people closely involved in the lives of those individuals.
Covid is clearly on an altogether different scale but the principle still applies. Living with Covid, since as Fred points out it will be around for some time, requires measures that allow people to be able to continue with their life as far as possible. Masks allow this. Social distancing allows this. People isolating if they test positive for Covid allows this. Ensuring people are not financially penalized allows this.
Making sure that vaccines are readily available throughout the global south is necessary to allow this.
In fact all the measures Johnson wants to get rid of or has no intention of promoting are precisely the measures that allow us to live with Covid.
Sadly,I suspect the devolved governments in Cardiff and Edinburgh will find themselves forced to follow suit since Westminster will withhold the necessary funding for a programme that tries to control the pandemic, never mind what is required to eradicate the disease.
Far from ‘learning to live with Covid’ Johnson and the Westminster government are simply burying their heads in the sand and pretending there is no longer a threat.