To beat the virus…

30 October 2020


The pandemic is out of control. Daily hospital virus admissions are now around 1200, and government advisors are warning there could be 25,000 hospitalised Covid-19 patients by the end of November. The government’s own scientific advisory panel, SAGE, now says all Covid-19 deaths are around 61,000 as against the official government figure of 45,000. SAGE says that there are 97,000 people infected and that this figure could grow rapidly. Very ominously there are renewed reports of hundreds of patients catching the disease in hospital.

The pandemic is having a ricochet effect through the NHS, with many urgent consultations and non-Coivd treatments being cancelled, resulting eventually in thousands of deaths.

The conclusion is obvious – the government strategy of partial lockdown, then a generalised re-opening and after that new local restrictions – has not worked. It is also obvious that the UK government – like that in the United States – is loath to allow effective lockdown because of its effects on business profits. Johnson’s cruel refusal to pay for free school meals over Christmas, and the ruck with Manchester over the degree of financial support to businesses and workers hit by Level 3 restrictions, shows the reluctance to effectively subsidise those thrown into hardship by the pandemic.

Nobody thinks the second wave will be less lethal than the first, and without counter-measures, there will certainly be much more economic hardship than in the summer. Many thousands of jobs protected by the original furlough scheme are likely to go. Hundreds of thousands will be thrown onto the penury of Universal Credit and many thousands will go hungry – adults as well as children.

Disease control experts reckon that without human intervention aimed at suppression, pandemics can be reckoned to last four years. The 14th century Black Death in Europe lasted 10 years, with repeated local outbreaks over that period. This was true ‘herd immunity’. Today humanity has many more resources if effectively deployed.

While it seems likely that there will be vaccines available next year, their effectiveness over time is in doubt. Prior to a usable and effective vaccine, or series of vaccines, steps to effectively suppress the virus are urgent.

Level 2 and Leve 3 restrictions, and the even more confusing Scottish system of five restriction levels, are widely resented. They are sufficient to annoy people and to promote non-compliance while being ineffective in suppressing the virus. What is on the cards is an endless series of lockdowns and partial restrictions, but with no exit in sight. Mass frustration with this chaos can easily build support for conspiracy theorists and the far right who oppose all collective action to fight the virus.

The alternative to the current chaos is a Zero Covid approach. It is not an easy option but in the end the one that will minimise deaths and hardship. Zero Covid would combine three things:

  1. A new lockdown with only essential services, like supermarkets, medical services and pharmacies remaining open. Travel should be restricted, and all pubs, clubs and restaurants closed completely. Schools should remain open only for the children of front-line workers. Universities should give up face-to-face teaching and students who can be encouraged to go home, with refunds for accommodation payments. Safety conditions for essential workers, including PPE, should be rigorous and negotiated with trade unions.
  2. A state-controlled, publicly provided, test and trace system should be established and the current privatised mess abandoned. An effective tracing system involving tens of thousands should be put in place. The quarantine measures of people exposed to the virus should be rigorously monitored, with local communities mobilised to help neighbours in quarantine. People will comply if it is seen to be working.
  3. Incomes for working people and the self-employed must be subsidised a100% levels, and grants to small business similarly generous. The argument that ‘we’ cannot afford this should be rejected. A crisis that parallels war-time needs war-time solutions.

A lingering pandemic going on for years will eventually do much greater economic damage that printing money here and now. Balancing the books at the expense of human lives was never a necessary of intelligent tactic.

The Left needs to intervene by promoting a broad Zero Covid campaign, supported by unions and other labour movement bodies, as well as health campaigns, medical professionals, campaigns for health and safety at work and political organisations.

The Anti*Capitalist Resistance Steering Committee supports this initiative.

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