What does Johnson’s plan mean and how should we respond?
- Boris Johnson is still reacting to conflicting pressures, with the result that he is aiming at an “acceptable” level of death – mainly deaths of old people and people with disabilities – and Long Covid cases affecting many younger people. We will continue to reject and oppose this notion.
- He talks of an “irreversible” route out of lockdown but this is unlikely until there is a very effective worldwide response. Even if he was pursuing a Zero Covid strategy there would be need for occasional localised restrictions to deal with situations where precautions fail, as the Zero Covid campaign has always said.
- The plan is to allow the R value to rise a bit above 1, infections to rise a bit, and hope that the vaccinations offset the impact of this to hold deaths and hospitalisations to what he regards as an acceptable level, which from what we’ve seen so far probably means within NHS surge capacity to avoid mortality rates rocketing. This is a huge gamble. However, the vaccines should start to have an impact now and more data should become available on the nature and scale of that real-world impact.
- The first part of the plan is the most dangerous and stupid – a full return to face to face teaching in schools in one jump. Dr Michael Tildesley, from the SAGE modelling subgroup SPI-M, said his preference would be a phased approach, and that that this step alone is likely to put R up to around 1.
- The best part of the plan is the five-week minimum gap between steps, which seems to have been the condition for SAGE going along with it. This allows time to evaluate the impact of each step before implementing the next one. But this also gives time to campaign and apply pressure on the government – for both the libertarian right and from the left. When the government kicks the can down the road, delaying decisions, it opens up opportunities for shaping public opinion and influencing events which we have to seize.
- The government is still failing to take steps which could push down R and allow greater suppression and/or a faster lifting of the restrictions that impact on our lives:
- They haven’t used the lockdown to provide more space, ventilation, staff and IT facilities for schools.
- They haven’t provided full sick, isolation or vaccination pay to increase compliance – particularly in the poorest areas that have both the highest Covid rates and the lowest vaccination rates.
- They haven’t replaced SERCO with a working Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support system.
- Their quarantine system isn’t free as the World Health Organisation recommend and is more a punitive measure against migrants than an effective public health measure.
- There’s no enforcement against employers who stop workers working from home when they could or make people work unsafely.
- There’s inadequate support for homeless people.
- The Hostile Environment continues to be a barrier to accessing vaccination and healthcare for migrants.
- Universal Credit is being cut again, exacerbating the poverty that makes Covid so deadly.
We are all fed up of the endless rollercoaster of restrictions caused by the government’s failure to tackle Covid. The bulk of the public want stronger measures so that we can beat the pandemic. There are lots of positive measures that could be taken that would help tackle the pandemic and that would make our lives better not worse. These are all part of an effective #ZeroCovid strategy. We’re going to have to keep fighting for it – both at the strategy level and for each element of it.
Join Zero Covid and the Hazards Campaign on 1 March at 8pm to hear from speakers from across the labour movement on the fight for safe workplaces.
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