The campaign to beat the pandemic

Comment The Johnson government may be on its way out, but Covid isn’t

24 July 2022 / Joan Twelves

More than 200,000 people have died from Covid in the UK during Johnson’s rule, 294 of them in the past week. There are 11,500 patients in hospital with Covid – and the number of hospitalisations is rising, adding to the burden on the already overstretched NHS. 3.5 million people are currently infected – a rise of 30% from the previous week. The UK has one of the highest death tolls in Europe, with 2,689 deaths per million people.

These grim numbers are rarely reported any more. We have supposedly moved into the post-pandemic era.

Like the Tories, the media have got bored with the Covid plague, now well into its third year. And most of us go along with that because we are all fed up with it as well. We want to socialise, meet our friends and family, go to parties, gigs and demos. Or just down the pub.

And we’ve all got enough to cope with trying to make our money stretch to pay for the weekly food shop, petrol and energy bills without having to worry about finding more to pay for masks or Covid tests.

But we must resist the normalisation of Covid and letting it rip through our society. We cannot and must not accept the continuing deaths, the high infection rates, the reinfections, the disruption to all our lives caused by sudden illness, unplanned absences, shortages, cancelled appointments and holidays. We cannot and must not accept the failure of a government whose first duty should be to protect its population whether that is from disease, starvation or war, especially when there is an alternative to ‘Living with Covid’, an alternative based on well-established age-old measures for protecting communities against infectious diseases through contact tracing and isolation.

Relief at the departure of Boris Johnson has to be tempered by the recognition that, while his famed sloppiness, dishonesty, selfishness and incompetence played their part, the failure of the Conservative government to handle the pandemic is ideological and not primarily a result of him as an individual.

That ideology is embraced by all of Johnson’s potential successors and exposed by their clamour for tax cuts and shrinking the state. Just as Johnson and Sunak have been trying to lay the costs of the pandemic onto working people with their dogmatic refusal to increase pay in line with inflation, so we are witnessing the grotesque spectacle of a line-up of B-list hopefuls competing to cut benefits and public services to pay for their ambitions.

In their parallel universe of voodoo economics, where inflation, food banks, hungry children, homelessness, increasing inequality, industrial unrest, soaring prices, energy and petrol costs, a collapsing pound, climate catastrophe, and most certainly a continuing Covid pandemic, do not exist, economic illiteracy is being paraded around the media studios as a badge of pride.

The crisis in our health service is far less important to them than their own faux-sincerity. Their newly vaunted moral principles and integrity haven’t been much on display in recent months when most of them defended the Partygate lies, the repugnant Rwandan deal and the suppression of dissent.

The NHS is not safe in any of their hands!

Nor is it safe in the hands of the loyalist Johnson quickly shifted from a short stint as his chief of staff to Health Secretary when Javid resigned.

Javid is a eugenicist who washed his hands of Covid almost as soon as he took over, happy for Johnson to cave in to the demands of the anti-vax, anti-mask Covid Recovery Group to remove all mitigations and protections.

Like Javid, Steve Barclay considers Covid over and done with. Back in January he was tweeting: “Now we’re learning to live with Covid, we need to get back to face-to-face working.”

Barclay is deemed to be even worse than his predecessor. The Health Service Journal’s editor, Alastair McLellan, says of him: “A real nightmare, vindictive, arrogant, a bully, hostile to the NHS and all its works, a micro-manager of the wrong things, views NHS management as bloated and profligate …… Never has a politician arrived in the post of health secretary … trailing a worse reputation than Steve Barclay.”

Zero Covid has launched an online letter writing campaign to remind him that Covid isn’t over and that he needs to take action to mitigate the effects of the virus now by implementing basic public health measures to protect us and reduce community transmission.

In recent months, the Tories have relied solely on the vaccination programme – and the vaccines have been crucial in reducing deaths and serious illness. But the current dominant strain of Omicron and its more transmissible sub-variants are breaking through the vaccine barriers so that reinfection is becoming increasingly common. And the vaccines have never been enough on their own. Simple, non-restrictive additional protective measures are needed if we are to stamp down on the virus.

Masks in public places, free tests, contact tracing, social distancing, decent sick pay, Covid-safe workplaces, enforceable air quality standards, Long Covid to be classified as a disability, autumn booster vaccinations for all, funding for research, monitoring and the now urgent development of the next generation of vaccines, and for this disgraceful government to support WTO patent waivers so that we vaccinate the world.

With his cut-price Trumpian populist approach to Covid, Johnson is leaving behind a legacy of social murder, waste, corruption and callousness. He is going as the death toll hits 200,000 deaths. 200,000 avoidable deaths. 200,000 people who have left behind grieving family and friends.

On top of that there are at least 2 million people suffering from Long Covid, possibly facing years if not a lifetime of pain, depression, fatigue, lost dreams and missed opportunities.

Not to forget the 4 million or so of those of us who remain at high risk from Covid and who, notwithstanding vaccines and anti-virals, have been abandoned not just by the government but by the rest of society to continue to shield ourselves in isolation behind our front doors.

Having delayed the Independent Inquiry into his government’s handling of the pandemic for so long, we must not allow Johnson and his chums to escape its judgments as it puts the deaths in care homes, the delayed lockdowns, the corrupt PPE contracts, the billions spent on the failed Test and Trace scheme, the fraudulent bounce-back loans, and so much more, under the microscope of public accountability.

The pandemic has caused untold damage to our society. Everybody bears the scars in one way or other. It has been global in its harm, but it has been so much worse in the UK than it needed to be.

We must not forgive, and we must not forget. And, whoever ends up leading it, we must not let this corrupt and callous government get away with pretending that the Covid pandemic is over. However much we may all wish it away, it is still with us, and it is still killing people.

Originally published by Labour Outlook.

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