The rate of COVID deaths today is greater in the United Kingdom than it is in the 27 countries of the EU. The major reason for this difference is that there are more protections in place such as mask wearing and distancing. Yet the government refuses to act.
The NHS Federation, the BMA, Public Health chiefs, SAGE, and the Unite, Unison, GMB, ASLEF and Usdaw unions all say act now, if not harder measures such as a lockdown will be necessary. But the government ignores everyone.
The President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine describes A&E Departments as already in ‘a terrible place’. And the government still refuses to act.
The COVID pandemic crisis is hitting schools and young people hard. Schools have received only 8% of the CO2 air monitors promised. The 10-19 year olds were not vaccinated in the summer. Now COVID infection of 10-14 year olds is rising dramatically, who in turn are infecting their households and school staff.
Anthony Costello, a former director at the WHO, describes the situation as a “dereliction of public health duty”. He told the Independent SAGE online meeting that the official SAGE barely meets so the government has no independent scientific advice.
Even the House of Commons Health report Coronavirus: lessons learned to date, produced by a committee chaired by Tory MPs Hunt and Clarke, published 12 October, acknowledges that this has been “one of the UK’s worst ever public health failures.” In its analysis of the report, Keep Our NHS Public concludes that it lets the Johnson and the government off the hook by placing the blame on public health bodies.
The government believes that vaccines on their own will reduce infections and provide immunity to the population. This Tory government ignores the message from the WHO that vaccines on their own aren’t sufficient. The government does not bother to learn from the experience of other countries in Europe who have put in place regulations such as mask wearing, social distancing and vaccination certificates. The Tory government capitulates to the far-right libertarians on its back benches and rejects calls for COVID action. It claims that it doesn’t want to restrict our freedom and that it is just a matter of personal responsibility. Rishi Sunak goes as far as to say that wearing a mask depends on “whether you know the people or not.” Public health regulations for eliminating COVID are not restrictions on freedom, they are for the protection of the population.
The lack action by the Tory government is not a surprise. But the question everybody should be asking is why is the Labour party not piling on the pressure? It is the lack of political pressure that has allowed the Tories to get away with it. Labour leader Keir Starmer fell into the trap that a public health emergency should not be politicised. Yet the response to a pandemic necessitates political choices. Apart from calling on Johnson to “get a grip”, Labour still does not have a plan of its own. Starmer and Labour could simply endorse proposals for a Winter Protection Plan by the scientists from Independent Sage or the recommendations requiring urgent action published in July by Keep Our NHS Public following its own People’s COVID Enquiry.
The Winter Protection Plan from Independent Sage includes: vaccination to everyone 12 years and older; financial and practical support to those isolating; centrally funded but locally based contact tracing; workplaces and indoor public spaces to adhere to COVID protection standards (especially for ventilation); live events to be contingent on COVID protection plans; the right to work from home where possible; requirement for masks in crowded indoor spaces (shops, public transport etc.); a systematic messaging campaign stressing the continued importance of reducing infections and to make all members of the community safe; vaccine patent waivers and facilitating vaccine production in all parts of the world.
The response to the pandemic of Johnson and the Tories has amounted to “social murder”, as an editorial in the British Medical Journal put it back in February 2021. The Tories are continuing to commit this crime by their lack of action, and Labour is letting Johnson and the Tories off the hook.
The criminal lack of action by the Tory government in introducing measures to protect the population coincides with yet another scandal of huge sums of public money being handed over to private companies without proper vetting or quality control procedures and who turn out to be completely incompetent. Private test and trace costing a staggering of £37 billion never worked. Now we have the catastrophic failure of the Immensa Health Clinics laboratory which was ordered on 15 October to stop all COVID-19 testing, three weeks after anomalies were reported. The delay before action was taken allowed an estimated 43,000 people in South West England with Covid-19 to be told – wrongly – that they tested negative. This led to a surge in infections and deaths. It has now emerged that Immensa Health Clinics was not fully accredited, despite assurances from the government. The contracts and an account of how Immensa Health Clinics was chosen should be made public.
The COVID pandemic confirms yet again that privatisation has failed. The NHS has to be rebuilt with a massive injection of cash by taxing wealth to tackle the waiting list of 5.7 million, meet the unions’ claim for a 15% pay rise, and ensure that social care is publicly funded and provided with staff on a Living Wage at a minimum. Urgent action is required not just to end the catastrophic outsourcing of testing but also to protect the population and the NHS from rising COVID infections. This social murder has to stop.
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