The polite description of a strategy which is currently averaging over 1,000 deaths a week, over 7,000 hospitalisations, and the highest number of Covid-19 infections in Europe with over 35,000 daily cases.
Murderous is my non-polite description.
A return to normality?
Only if you think those 1,000+ deaths are normal.
Labour has an absolute duty to the people of this country to call out the Tories for their deadly, eugenicist policies; and Conference is the perfect opportunity for the Leadership and Shadow Health Team to put forward a robust alternative to the government’s disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
To date, Labour’s approach has been marked by timidity and mealy-mouthed, piecemeal criticisms. The Tories’ scandalous strategy of ‘living with the virus’ has barely been challenged – and no alternative has been put forward.
The Tory government has ended shielding, furlough, and business rates’ holidays. It refuses to provide adequate ventilation in schools. It has failed to increase the absolutely miserly levels of statutory sick pay and is cutting universal credit. It cannot even bring itself to mandate masks in crowded places. Johnson, Sunak and Javid are acting as if the pandemic is over.
The idea that that we must learn to live with high levels of Covid-19 has to be challenged. It is unprecedented in the modern era for government policy to allow preventable deaths of its own citizens on a mass scale. We do not live with cholera, we do not live with polio, we do not live with tuberculosis, and we do not live with typhoid. Like all these diseases, Covid-19 can be managed, and community transmission eliminated.
Medical science and technology have progressed rapidly in the past decades; the speed at which the Covid-19 vaccines were developed is testament to that, so why on earth should we accepting a strategy which does not just allow, but encourages, people to continue to spread a virulent and deadly disease?
I am a great fan of vaccination – and as socialists we should all be supporting it as a collective societal good. But we must not forget that 20% of adults have not had even one jab – one in five of us; breakthrough infections occur even after two jabs; over 100,000 children missed school last week (a figure undoubtedly heightened by the Government’s delay in authorising teenager jabs); and business and industry are facing unpredictable staff shortages as those thousands sick or isolating can’t work.
But vaccination on its own is not enough. It must be backed up by a range of mandatory mitigation measures, which focus on protection and support rather than restrictions on activities. They include an effective, local and fully-funded Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support operation run by the NHS and local authorities; all workplaces, including schools, colleges and hospitality venues, being made Covid-safe; and continuing precautionary measures including self-isolation, social distancing, handwashing, mask-wearing and good ventilation.
As Independent Sage scientists say in their recent Covid Winter Protection Plan (https://www.independentsage.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Winter-Plan-final.pdf)
“Unless such protections are implemented immediately there is a serious danger that more intrusive and wide-ranging restrictions will become necessary later”.
When we talk about vaccination we mustn’t just talk about the UK – a global pandemic requires global vaccination.
No one is safe until everyone is safe
Many on the left have questioned whether the UK should be giving boosters and teenager jabs when poorer countries are crying out for vaccines. But the ‘beggar my neighbour’ approach of the rich capitalist countries isn’t really a supply issue. It is political.
Countries like the UK are turning their backs on the poorer parts of the world; countries they have not hesitated to plunder and wage war in for centuries. Vaccine apartheid and cuts in overseas aid go hand in hand. It’s no surprise that a government which refuses to ensure British children are safe when they go to school, hoards vaccines and refuses to support patent waivers, profit restrictions, prices at cost, or sharing technology, science and know-how.
So rather than engaging in a factional civil war, the Labour leadership should be talking about issues that really affect millions at home and abroad. Conference should be showcasing a different approach to dealing with the pandemic that has dominated all our lives for over 18 months, and that has not gone away – however much we all wish it had.
This is an edited version of an article in the Morning Star on 27 September 2021 during the Labour Party Conference.