The campaign to beat the pandemic

Why we campaign

‘Social murder’ and ‘misconduct in public office’ are just two of the conclusions of respected commentators when discussing the political mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic; the first by the Executive Editor of the British Medical Journal, Kamran Abbasi, in February 2021, and the second by Michael Mansfield QC, chair of the People’s Covid Inquiry, in his preface to its conclusions in December 2021.

Death numbers

The UK’s population of 68 million is 21st highest in the world, dwarfed by giants such as China, India and the USA, but the number of deaths from Covid here is the seventh highest – climbing to over 175,000 as 2022 started, when China had had just 3 deaths per million of its population, compared to the UK’s over 2,000.

At the time that the Government lifted its Plan B protections in January 2022, there were over 2.5 million active infections in England – and an average of over 240 people were dying in the UK each day (that’s roughly 10 each hour).

Those numbers are shameful. Each number is a person whose death could have been prevented if the UK government had approached the pandemic differently. Each number is a person whose loved ones will forever mourn and miss them.

This government has blood on its hands

In January 2022 a cabinet minister admitted that Boris Johnson had gambled with our lives when he refused to implement restrictions over Christmas 2021.

The slow, inadequate governmental response at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 was followed by:

  • the negligent and callous treatment of elderly and disabled people in care homes when, of the 48,213 Covid deaths registered between mid-March and mid-June 2020, 40 per cent were of care home residents;
  • the failure to provide health and care workers with sufficient and adequate personal protection (PPE);
  • £8.7 billion of losses on £12.1 billion of PPE bought in 2020/21 (p.199, DHSC annual report);
  • the contracts worth £45.7 billion, many of them dodgy if not downright corrupt;
  • £37 billion allocated to the outsourced, centralised ‘NHS Test & Trace’ system;
  • £850 million spent on the Eat Out to Help Out Super Spreader scheme while ignoring calls to feed kids during school holidays;
  • £4.9 billion of the £47 billion bounce-back loans the government itself estimates were fraudulent, and the £17 billion more it expects won’t be repaid;
  • the NHS handing over £1.69 billion to just eight private hospital providers;
  • £532 million spent on those white elephant unused Nightingale Hospitals.

The charge sheet goes on and on and grows day by day:

  • the on-off lockdowns and incoherent, contradictory messaging;
  • the failure to acknowledge and follow the findings of their own pandemic modelling exercises, and the insistence on treating Covid as like the ‘flu’;
  • the failure to keep promises to provide equipment and refit ventilation systems in schools and colleges;
  • the growth of inequality as the virus hit the poorest and most-overcrowded sectors of our communities hardest, many of whom sacrificed their health and wellbeing to staff our essential health, caring, retail, transport, and supply sectors throughout the pandemic for low pay and a cursory round of applause;
  • the withdrawal of support for 3.7 million at-risk shielders, the failure to increase statutory sick pay, and the universal credit £20 cut;
  • the hoarding of vaccines and the UK government’s refusal to support the call for the WTO to waive patents on vaccines, a move that would facilitate global vaccination;
  • the cuts to overseas aid.

And now, to distract from the revelations of alcohol-fuelled unlawful parties at the heart of government while people suffered, died and buried their dead alone during lockdown, the Prime Minister has announced plans to prematurely lift all restrictions and mitigations as though the pandemic is over.

Throughout, it’s been one rule for them and another for the rest of us.

Frustration at the government’s refusal to set up an official inquiry into its handling of the pandemic led to Keep Our NHS Public setting up the People’s Covid Inquiry in February 2021. A year later the government has announced the Chair of the Covid-19 Inquiry but nothing more. Do they think we will have forgotten the deaths which could have been avoided, the wasted billions, the corruption and hypocrisy when that Inquiry finally reports?

Ideology

Many excuse the government’s approach as incompetence. But that is not true. The scale of the unconscionable mishandling and venality we have witnessed over the past two years requires a very high level of organisational efficiency!

The Tories’ approach to the pandemic has been ideological through and through, and has very much followed the line of the dominant political and economic ideology of our times – one based on individualism rather than collectivity, competition rather than mutuality, big business rather than public health. After a decade of public sector cuts and austerity the NHS and local authorities were so starved of resources and staff that they couldn’t meet the sudden and enormous demands of the pandemic. They did their best – indeed more than their best! – but the government was more interested in putting profit before people.

Its belief in British exceptionalism – articulated in its constant iteration of how the UK is beating the world in vaccine delivery or economic growth – means it refuses to learn from or support other nations. Its eugenicist approach means that it has repeatedly disregarded the lives and wellbeing of the least able, physically, emotionally or financially, and favoured ‘herd immunity’ and ‘living with the virus’ rather than seeking to suppress it. Its diversion of public funds to its cronies, benefactors, and the big outsourcing corporations, and then restructuring and privatising sections of the NHS in the midst of this crisis, is classic shock doctrine behaviour.

Never let a good crisis go to waste has been their mantra.

And now it is a return to austerity and tax rises for the mass of the population, who are going to have to pay for those untold billions. Nobody objects to paying for real tangible help for ourselves and our communities – what we all object to is paying for the greed and corruption of the one percent.

Parliamentary opposition has been weak, and has mainly come from the Covid Recovery Group, on the right of the Tory Party, and the Socialist Campaign Group on the left of Labour, with the voices of the former getting the most airtime and publicity while those of the latter have gone largely unreported. The clearer messaging coming from the devolved nations has been hamstrung by the limits to their powers and the Westminster government’s tight grip on the purse-strings.

We are angry

The British public – like everyone around the world – was initially stunned by the arrival of the pandemic – the deaths, the sickness, and the restrictions on our lives essential to reduce community transmission of the disease. Two years on, the dominant feeling is one of exhaustion – when will it all be over? When can we go back to normal?

Other than demonstrations organised by anti-vaccination protesters and lockdown objectors, we have seen little real opposition on the streets or in the media to the government’s mishandling of the pandemic. Independent SAGE’s scientists and experts have done valiant work in trying to educate the public. But Cummings’ trips and Johnson’s parties have generated more anger than the enormous death toll and huge amount of suffering we have witnessed.

But there is still time to challenge that. Because, alas, the pandemic is not yet over.

Zero Covid UK/February 2022

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