It is well known that Boris Johnson’s government, mainly in the form of Matt Hancock, now a public hate figure, completely mismanaged COVID, resulting in the UK being one of the three countries in the world with the highest death rate. However, despite over 200,000 people losing their lives, the damage does not end there. Like the chimera of “take back control” through Brexit and other economic U turns, the legacy of COVID continues to play out. The three major impacts are: economically on the workforce; the continuing destruction of the NHS; and, last but not least, the continued marginalisation of the clinically vulnerable and older people and a continuing policy of eugenics.
Although the UK has performed worst among the G7 countries this year, I deliberately will not use the term “post pandemic” because, unlike the British government’s attempts to gaslight the population, I believe that the pandemic is still very much with us. Indeed, the UK is the only country in the developed world where employment is lower at the start of 2023 than it was before the pandemic. It is necessary to drill down into these figures to find out why. Firstly, there has been the “great resignation.” Many workers in their 50s left work and have not returned. I am of the view that although quality of life and work-life balance were factors in this during the lockdowns, there is also the fact that most hospitalisations and deaths are among those over 50, and many older workers, seeing that their employers have done nothing to improve health and safety in the office and also still expect them to travel on packed commuter trains and public transport where infection is rife, have simply decided that their health should come first. Despite the best efforts of the trade unions, many workplaces are still not safe, and virtually nothing has been done to improve ventilation as poor ventilation is the main cause of infection for the virus.
Many of these missing workers are also suffering from Long COVID, a long-term condition following an infection that is now recognised by the DWP and others as a medical condition. Indeed, the first claims for PIP and other disability benefits for those living with the condition have started going before DWP assessors. There are 600,000 fewer people working now than before the pandemic, and at least 500,000 people are living with Long COVID. This is likely to rise further as this mass disabling event continues, as scientific reports show that every infection has a 20% chance of causing Long COVID.
There are currently 7 million people on the NHS waiting list, and this is leading to the meltdown of the health service as staff leave in droves, morale collapses, and the infrastructure simply cannot cope with the continuing legacy of COVID. Although the number of deaths and hospitalisations are not as high as during the earlier peak, the number of COVID deaths remain high, and among the G7 nations, the UK leads with the number of deaths from COVID at 89 per million this October, compared to 44 for Germany and 32 for the US. The number of excess deaths has also been far higher than before the pandemic, and there is increasing scientific evidence that this is due to strokes and heart attacks that come following infection with COVID, particularly after several infections. The latest evidence suggests that each reinfection massively raises the risk of death and permanent disability. In a country where the majority of the population and the government pretend that it’s all over and there are no mitigations – not even mandatory masking on public transport – this situation is liable to get far worse.
The final element in this grisly tale is the mainstreaming of eugenics. Early on in the pandemic, Johnson’s government tried to implement the discredited policy of “herd immunity,” which said that only the old and weak were likely to die. This greatly increased the death rate. This positioning of capitalist economics at the heart of the pandemic is the real reason why the continued deaths of the elderly and those with disabilities are dismissed. Furthermore, the “let it rip” policy ensures that these people must live segregated lives, shielding for their own safety, while the majority takes no measures to protect them through masking, etc. This has essentially led to a significant percentage of the population being unable to take part in unsafe public events like going to the theatre. It is interesting to note that theatres have noticed a 20 percent drop in audience figures since before the pandemic.
Essentially, during the pandemic, Neoliberalism has taken a step closer to Fascism by viewing the death and disablement of those who do not contribute to economic production as a price worth paying. This has been bought into by much of mainstream public opinion, and only organisations like Independent Sage and COVID Action (on whose steering committee I sit) have opposed it, together with some of the trade unions.
This vicious cycle of illness and disablement in the interests of quick profit will eventually make the UK (pardon the pun) the sick man of Europe. The only way out of this is to ensure worker safety and the reintroduction of mitigations, along with a reawakening of societal responsibility for those more vulnerable. “Devil take the hindmost” should never be a slogan of the left, and that applies particularly to those marginalised by ill health and disability.
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