The campaign to beat the pandemic

Boris Johnson walks down a staircase in front of an open fighter jet cockpit.

Comment Wishing Covid Away

22 February 2022 / Phil BC

On Sunday evening, the Prime Minister said “Covid will not suddenly disappear, and we need to learn to live with this virus and continue to protect ourselves without restricting our freedoms.” A preface to a sensible plan for coping with the disease as we head into the Spring months? Not in the slightest. This Thursday, all legal measures for mitigating spread and supporting people while infected with Covid will cease. And from 1st April, appropriately enough, free testing for the public is going to end. Boris Johnson said now was the time to move away from restrictions and rely on personal responsibility, a position the Tories have been manoeuvring for since the beginning of the outbreak.

I know some people think it’s boring to bang on about Covid, but that might reveal something about their position to insulate themselves from or cope with infection. But for others, it’s terrifying. The immune-compromised and clinically vulnerable, of which there are half a million of the former and 3.7 million of the latter, are not considered by Johnson at all – except for a promise to roll out a fourth shot for them and the over-75s. While the added protection this affords is welcome, vaccines can only go so far minimising risks for the clinically vulnerable. One cannot dive into a mosh pit at a Covid party and expect to emerge uninfected or with an inconvenient case of the sniffles: vaccinated people succumb to the virus every day, and others are left to cope with sometimes debilitating long-term effects. There is also no thought given to the mental health of millions who imbibed an entirely reasonable fear of infection, and are anxious about the enforced return to normal when collective efforts at mitigating spread are actively undermined by the government.

The Tories scrapping of the self-isolation payment and the end to its legal status has been trailed for a while. “Self-responsibility” here means employers forcing people into work where they risk damaging the health of the infected employee and passing Covid on to other staff, some of whom might be vulnerable or, for whatever reason, haven’t taken up a vaccine. This was estimated to stand at around 6.4 million people in December. Naturally, those without second jabs or boosters to their name are higher. And even if someone has an employer who respects positive tests, they cost. The hundred quid they were originally floated at appears to have gone away, but making them available to purchase at pharmacies means the low paid, again, are going to find themselves priced out of taking care of themselves. Self-responsibility, but only if you can afford it.

The class politics of the moment could not be more stark. The state is withdrawing all support to prevent people from “getting ideas”, an approach the Tories have extended to energy bill relief. The removal of Covid isolation pay, in the words of the GMB, “will keep people with Covid at work … It will prolong the pandemic with more outbreaks.” It’s so obvious that simply pointing out how these two measures strengthen the hand of the boss class is to insult the intelligence of the reader. And the people most vulnerable to infection? Our people. Our class is most likely to suffer poor health, are unable to isolate or take time to recover, or even be vaccinated, and they deserve the support, sympathy, and solidarity of the rest of us. They certainly don’t need a Tory government’s talk of “restoring liberties” as their cabal tightens the screws on trade unions, clamps down on the right to protest, and works to muzzle the elections watchdog.

The Prime Minister can say he takes Covid seriously, and the Devil can cite scripture for his own purposes. Johnson’s actions betray his intentions. He could not care less for the suffering his government has caused, the people maimed and the people who are dead, or for the misery with which millions are contemplating the immediate future. And for what? So employers can keep an eye on their workers? So commercial rents start flowing again? So the Treasury’s deficit hawks can colour code some lines on a spreadsheet green? And that his appalling backbenchers are placated? We are in a damnable situation with those in charge caring for everything but mitigating the mass casualty event we continue to live through.

Phil BC blogs at and is the author of “Falling Down: The Conservative Party and the Decline of Tory Britain. You can also find him on twitter at This piece was republished with the author’s permission from the original, which you can find here.

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Picture credit: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street, link, license

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