Britain  •  Editorials

Sleepwalking into Plan B?

24 October 2021

FIVE TRADE unions, representing 3 million keyworkers in health, transport, retail and education, have issued a stark warning of the danger of a third wave this winter.

‘With hundreds of covid outbreaks at workplaces being reported to the health authorities each week, events feel ominously reminiscent of last winter,’ they said.

Universal Credit cuts and the end of furlough have forced millions of workers to risk infection or face poverty and homelessness.

The unions’ call for the Health Secretary Sajid Javid to act now was echoed by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, Sage, which warned: ‘earlier intervention would reduce the need for more stringent, disruptive and longer-lasting measures’.

Third wave
The evidence for this concern is there for all to see. Britain has by far the highest rate of infections in western Europe; only a handful of Eastern European countries and Mongolia have recorded more cases per capita.
One in 55 – one million – people had covid in the third week of October and this figure is growing by 15 per cent each week.

True, the vaccination programme has kept the number of hospitalisations and deaths relatively low, but a thousand deaths from covid a week is still far higher than in comparable states. That’s 1,000 families grieving an avoidable death every week, yet barely a word of concern is uttered by ministers.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson admits the pressure on the NHS is ‘significant’ but for the Tories this is acceptable. Only the imminent collapse of the NHS warrants tougher measures, by which time, of course, it will be too late.

But the signs of this outcome are mounting. The take up of the booster jab for the over-50s and immunisation among secondary school students are markedly lower than in previous rollouts. In England, only two in five of those eligible have had their booster and only 15 per cent of under-16s have received their first vaccine.

Public health officials, including psychologists, report the main reason for people ignoring the call to get vaccinated is that they think it’s all over. Government messaging reinforces this misconception. Javid failed to hold a press conference for nearly a month in October; new vaccine minister Maggie Throup failed to show her face in public at all; barely any Tory MPs wear masks in parliament.

For them this is a badge of honour in the ‘culture wars’, an ideological battle between ‘individual freedom’ and the ‘nanny state’.

Javid’s Plan B would only reintroduce compulsory mask-wearing, make covid passports mandatory and encourage working from home – but he is reluctant to announce even these minimal changes, while admitting that new cases are likely to rise from the current 50,000 a day to 100,000. When asked if he had a Plan C, he proudly proclaimed there wasn’t one.

A growing list of regional directors of public health issued strong advice on mask-wearing and social distancing in defiance of the national government line. But with vaccine efficacy waning significantly after five months, the rate of vaccinations half that of April, a new variant of concern being analysed and hospitals preparing for a flu epidemic, doctors and scientists are looking to the winter months with despair.

Class issue
It is the working class, especially those working on the frontline, that will suffer most in a third wave of the pandemic. Many low-paid or manual workers cannot afford to take sick leave or are unable to work from home.

While two-thirds of Britons have been fully vaccinated, less than 1 per cent have in countries like Haiti, Uganda and Yemen. The UK has ordered enough vaccines to be able to give away 100 million doses a month without denting its own programme. Yet it won’t. It refuses to relax patent rules on the vaccines for fear it would hurt profits.

The capitalist system puts profit before people. We say – public health before private wealth. That’s why we must fight for healthcare, social care, research and development and the big pharmaceutical monopolies to be nationalised under the control of the working class. The most urgent task is to increase vaccine production and worldwide distribution – for free – alongside a massive information campaign to encourage more people to take the vaccine.

We demand workers’ control of health and safety in the workplace with the right to walk off the job without loss of pay if conditions are inadequate. If another lockdown is necessary, as looks likely, we call for full financial support and job protection for all those forced to stay at home, are in quarantine or off sick.

We fight for ‘zero covid’—the complete elimination of the disease, alongside a global plan to bring healthcare in underdeveloped countries up to the standard of the imperialist centres.

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