‘Let the bodies pile up high’ rather than have another lockdown. That is what Prime Minister Boris Johnson is alleged to have said a year ago at the height of the pandemic! This betrayed Johnson’s and the Tories callous and insulting approach to the pandemic. Their strategy then was to keep business open, putting profits ahead of people’s lives, hoping that ‘herd immunity’ would dampen the spread of the virus. One year on, the Tories have not changed. In fact, it is worse as we see them lying and laughing at their blatant breaking of public health regulations. The nasty party are ‘scum’, as Angela Rayner quite rightly said.
Thanks to the massive uptake in vaccination and support for health measures, deaths in the UK are much lower than last February, at roughly 150 a day, the equivalent of a plane crashing every single day. But the message that scientists and the World Health Organising have been repeating has been largely ignored by the Tories. It is a simple message: no one is safe until everyone – across the world – is safe. That means not just donating Covid vaccines, but lifting the patents to developing countries where they must be produced and distributed quickly.
While in Britain, the vaccination rate is close to 70%, much of Africa it is still in single figures. The longer the Covid virus circulates widely, the more it is able to mutate into new strains which require new vaccines. The responsibility for preventing the lifting of patents lies with the Tory UK government and the European Union. On this, along with other public health measures, the Tory government is out of step with others in the UK. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already announced her support for a waiver of intellectual property rules on Covid-19 vaccines.
The development of the new Omicron variant was therefore entirely predictable. The UK government (in England) did move more quickly than last February, requiring that masks be worn on public transport and shops, but its response is still woefully inadequate. It is just now bringing in its plan B, which includes a Covid pass. A measure that is already in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A pass will allow all those vaccinated, that is the majority of the population to access facilities in the knowledge that the risk of infection is considerably reduced. It will further encourage the uptake of vaccination.
Johnson’s late and half-baked plan B is a dog’s dinner. He is trying to appease the right-wing libertarians in his own party, reopen the economy and appear to follow scientific advice. No wonder there is a confusing message. Work from home if you can but you can go out clubbing or to Christmas parties. Wear a mask in school corridors but you don’t have to in a classroom. Travel has been banned from countries such as Nigeria where there are fewer cases than in Britain, another racist measure on top of vaccine apartheid. Travel controls, including within a country, is not the same as border controls.
A range of public health measures, not just vaccination, are essential to avoid future lockdowns and to eliminate the virus. Scientists have repeatedly argued, there should be other measures including mask-wearing, proper ventilation, social distancing, contact tracing and isolation with support for those infected. Vaccination should be mandatory to access indoor public spaces, public transport and most workplaces. New York City, like Italy, is requiring a Covid vaccine mandate for all employers. In Britain, many employers now are requiring job applicants to be vaccinated.
The Covid virus appeared nearly two years ago. We are still living through a public health emergency with a pandemic which is a long way from being controlled let alone eliminated. Public health regulations are there to protect populations, but the Tories are guilty of a dereliction of public health duty. The government has put profit ahead of public health and is responsible for the ‘social murder’ – as the British Medical Journal put it – of nearly 150,000 in the United Kingdom.
In war, the arms industry rakes in billions as its weapons bring death and destruction. In this health crisis, big pharma is raking in billions with its stranglehold on patents as the unvaccinated die. There is no supply shortage of vaccines, rather the scandalous inequity of distribution due to corporate greed and protectionist capitalist politics. Today, to save lives, it is urgent to scrap patents on vaccines, bring big pharma into public ownership, and kick out the Tories.
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