Where’s Covid gone?

Joan Twelves has some vital questions for 2024’s general election candidates.


Is it Covid? Or is it a cold? Co-vold? Col-vid? Is this the question you’re asking yourself as your throat feels as though it’s lined with sandpaper?

I want to call this pseudoword ‘Co-void’ because we’re so de-void of information that Covid and pandemic are rapidly becoming words about the distant past rather than about the realities of our collective present.

Nature abhors a vacuum, a void, and politicians are rapidly filling our shared memories with heroic stories of furloughs and jobs saved, not of thousands of avoidable deaths, boozy parties, eat-outs and corrupt contracts, while we, the public, nervously await the next infection or climate disaster.

Some of the approaching climate emergency is visible – the sewage, the floods, the storms, the rain, the crumbling cliffs. And that’s just on our little island. Globally thousands are dying or being forced to leave their homes and livelihoods as politicians and corporations mumble about achieving net zero, which, like Co-void, means nothing anymore.

Less visible is the probability of another pandemic. Climate change and pandemics go hand in hand as ecological change makes the transmission of diseases and viruses between species more likely.

For example, Avian flu (H5N1) has been racing through the global bird population with devastating impact since 2020, and has been documented in other animal species, such as seals and cats. The WHO has warned of its potential to cause a new pandemic, with increasing signs of sufficient mammal-to-mammal transmission to cause concern for a jump to significant human-to-human transmission.

Not only do most of us not grasp the potential risks of what is rapidly coming down the track towards us, such is the low level of information being given to the general public, but even with Covid, which people got to know a lot about over the past four years, the lack of up-to-date information is such that we don’t even know whether to still call it a pandemic. Is it now an epidemic? Is it endemic? Is it global or regional? Is it still mutating? Could the next wave be less or more intense, more or less deadly?

One of the reasons we don’t know is that across the Western world, governments, without adequate scientific or medical evidence, have decided that Covid is here to stay but must be ignored if life (by which they mean trade and profits, not your personal existence) is to go on ‘as normal’. Just as the further destruction of the climate cannot be mentioned in the same breath as the constant search for economic growth, so any admission that the global labour force is sick and producing less surplus value cannot be countenanced.

Yet, as Christina Pagel points out, Covid remains a serious disease, and there needs to be further urgent research into better, longer lasting vaccines; effective treatments for (and prevention of) Long Covid; and the implications of repeated Covid infection on longer term health problems such as heart issues, diabetes and cognitive function.

In the UK, and many other places, free Covid tests are hard to come by, even for those deemed the most vulnerable, vaccines are restricted to the old and infirm, and the mitigations which would make such a difference to preventing the spread of Covid and other airborne respiratory diseases – masking in indoor public spaces, filtration and clean air – are rare.

Data collection and surveys are severely restricted by funding cuts; research into the causes of Long Covid is not prioritised; sick pay and benefits are kept low; and those showing signs of illness are still ordered into school, college and work.

The data which is available is telling us that a recent rise in Covid cases has waned, and that deaths and hospital admissions have plateaued.

Yet the empirical evidence of word-on-the-street contradicts this, with many saying they may have Covid but without tests they don’t know, so it’s ‘fingers crossed’ that it’s just a really heavy cold. This is similar to the chat before Christmas 2023 when everyone was saying ‘there’s a lot of Covid around’ as they prepared for seasonal get-togethers, and it was only later that the data confirmed this.

It took a lot of campaigning by bereaved families and others to get the Independent Inquiry into Covid-19 set up, and its final reports won’t see the light of day before 2027, although it is scheduled to give a preliminary report on Module 1 (resilience and preparedness) this summer. The public inquiry into the infected blood scandal from the 1970s and ‘80s didn’t begin until 2018 and has only just reported.

The British state is singularly good at kicking problems into the long grass of lengthy inquiries, singularly bad at learning from their findings, and singularly good at gaslighting us into believing nothing is wrong.

We can’t expect the Hallett Inquiry to rescue us from the state’s current failure to protect its citizens from disease and death. It’s not one of its modules.

A general election is meant to be about giving the people – us – a voice and therefore should be a good time to ask questions. Not just of the most likely next government, but of all who want our votes. So – will Co-void continue into a change of government?

We know what the Tories will do if they get returned to power. But Google is silent on Labour’s policies on Covid. No wonder, as their front bench have been as mute as the Tories on its continued existence and transmission through our communities.

It is rumoured that Labour has a sh*tlist of all the nasties the Tories are leaving them to deal with – from sewage to no money. If Covid isn’t on that sh*tlist, then it needs to be!

Here are some of the questions Labour’s leadership and candidates – and representatives of any other Party who want the votes of the thousands who have lost loved ones, the millions suffering from Long Covid, the vulnerable millions still locked away from society – need to answer as they campaign for our votes.

Some have no monetary cost. Others do, but measures to prevent infection and sickness will more than pay for themselves, will go a long way to restoring the NHS, and improving the health of the nation.

Questions for future Parliamentarians

Will you call on the next Government to….

  1. make Covid a notifiable disease?
  2. make tests freely available to everyone and restore regular testing of staff and patients in hospitals and care homes?
  3. restore data collection and surveys, such as ONS survey and other research programmes and projects on prevalence of Covid-19, and potential new variants of SARS and other viral threats?
  4. follow the example of the Mayor of London and institute a programme of installing air filtration systems in schools, colleges, hospitals and care homes?
  5. provide free booster vaccines for all those who want them?
  6. provide specialist clinics and support for Long Covid sufferers, and a programme of research into its causes?
  7. review the infection prevention and control guidelines?
  8. restore the tasks of testing and tracing any new disease to local authority public health specialists?
  9. increase sick pay?
  10. raise Covid awareness by providing public information that Covid is still here and that it is an airborne disease?
  11. fund not-for-profit research to develop new vaccines and antiviral drugs?
  12. vigorously go after the Covid-profiteers and fraudsters?
  13. ensure that the NHS, public health authorities and other agencies are fully prepared for any new health threats to the population, including fully stocked with PPE?

This list of questions can be sent to every candidate in the election. And then the question is: will any of them answer?

Or will Co-void continue until the next deadly variant or new pandemic threat hits the world again?

Source >> Labour Hub

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Joan Twelves is a member of the Covid Action Steering Committee.

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