Socialist Worker

The truth behind the Tories’ ‘back to normal’ lies

As Boris Johnson pushes to reopen all workplaces, Sarah Bates exposes the myths that tell us it’s safe to return

Issue No. 2714

The Tories drive to get everyone back to work before its safe is based on lies

The Tories' drive to get everyone back to work before its safe is based on lies (Pic: Number 10/Flickr)


MYTH—It’s right to go back to work in August

Boris Johnson announced plans to push people back into the workplace from 1 August.

Johnson’s move is purely in the interest of bosses collecting profit, not in the interests of protecting people’s health.

Government figures on Monday showed the rolling average of daily deaths still stands at 69. This is far more than almost all other countries. 

And because of the poor test and tracing system and a shortage of tests, the real number is likely to be much higher.

Researchers predict that the number of deaths each day will be 45-85 by the end of July.

That assessment is made under current lockdown conditions.

Cramming

If people start going back to work, cramming into offices and using public transport, the figure will shoot up.

And government figures published last week showed that the R number could be 1 in nearly every region of England.

The figures showed the R number has increased slightly across Britain. Keeping it below 1 is critical to stem the outbreak.

But putting the responsibility on bosses to protect workers puts ordinary people’s lives in danger.

Employers have forced workers to use workplaces that are unsafe throughout the pandemic, leading a number of high-profile spikes in infection. They can’t be relied upon to guarantee that their workplaces are Covid-secure.


MYTH—The government’s test and trace system is ‘world beating’

Johnson promised the test and trace system—rolled out on 1 June—would be “world beating”.

Yet it’s been beset by delays, data breaches and difficulties sharing information with local authorities. Only around 50 percent of people who came into close contact with someone with Covid-19 had been contacted in a local outbreak.

Dominic Harrison, the public health director at Blackburn with Darwen Council, said there would be “exponential growth” of infections unless the tracing system improved.

Contact

The way the scheme is supposed to work is that contact tracers begin with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19. They then get in touch with everyone that person has come into contact with.

If this process isn’t done quickly, then the trail of transmission is lost.  

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“There’s a 48-hour window which is critical to get the contacts of the first case contacted,” said Harrison.

“If we don’t get them contacted, and if they don’t then get tested and self-isolated, and then they have symptoms, we risk the spread progressing.”

Blackburn stands on the cusp of a local lockdown as cases surged across the region.

A leaked report said that around half of contacts couldn’t be reached in Blackburn, Oldham, St Helens, Manchester and Rochdale.

But it’s not just a local issue.

The government has admitted that the tracing scheme was struggling to get hold of everyone it needed to.

Tested

Its most recent statistics said that 17 percent of people who tested positive for Covid-19 couldn’t be contacted.

Public Health England only started sharing postcode data where new infections were being registered with regional bodies on 29 June. This has led to delays in local services going to areas worst hit.

A good track and trace system has to be a core element in fighting the coronavirus crisis. The Tories’ system is falling far short.


MYTH—The Tories are doing enough to keep children safe

The Tories’ plan for getting all primary and secondary pupils back in the classroom in six weeks falls far short of what is needed to keep children and workers safe.

And they are trying to get parents back to work without providing any childcare support over the summer.

The programme for reopening schools is unworkable in the real world. 

For instance, the Tories are suggesting that desks should be spaced far apart—but many classrooms simply don’t have the capacity to socially distance.

Staggered

And the government is saying that school start and leave times should be staggered. Yet up to a million young people rely on public transport to get to school.

Many will struggle to fit new school times around bus or train timetables.

Their education also stands to suffer. Government guidance means paring back of the school curriculum.

Push back by Tories results in more Covid-19 outbreaks in schools
Push back by Tories results in more Covid-19 outbreaks in schools
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Some students are likely to be encouraged to drop some subjects so they can focus on maths or English.

And the Department for Education is determined to push ahead with exams—despite hundreds of hours of learning time lost during the lockdown.

It’s a plan that sets workers and students up to fail, and leaves them at risk of contracting Covid-19.

Many parents are already struggling with no childcare options.

Yet bosses still expect them to carry out their jobs.

No residential summer camps have opened across Britain, and the remaining activity day camps are operating at a much-reduced capacity.

Parent Eleanor Clarke said, “We are panicking.

“We are worn out from working full time at home and part time home schooling.

Heartbroken

“I am heartbroken that my nine year old son will have much of his holiday to fill by himself while his parents are expected to commit their time to work.

“I don’t understand how holiday clubs can’t open when pubs and restaurants can, and schools have taken some year groups back.”

The government should provide parents with proper childcare support, and the opportunity to take time off from work to look after their children.

And the Tories need to back off from the rushed return to schools plan it wants to roll out in September—it could spell disaster for infection rates.


MYTH—Coronavirus has been eliminated in Scotland

The dangers of rushing back into unsafe workplaces was highlighted as cases began to rise in Scotland.

Last Saturday some 21 new Covid-19 cases were recorded, and a further 23 cases were noted on Sunday.

The rise in cases came as six workers at the test and trace call centre in North Lanarkshire tested positive for Covid-19.

The centre in Motherwell, run by tech firm Sitel, has now been closed. The firm said it “requested” that all staff at the centre undertake a coronavirus test in the next 24 hours.

A government spokesperson said, “A small increase in the number of cases is not unexpected as lockdown is lifted.”

Bitter

Yet that will be a bitter pill for those who become very unwell with Covid-19, or for those who are medically vulnerable and risk death.

Monica Lennon, Central Scotland MSP, said, “Have received information from a constituent who works at the Sitel contact centre.

“Said there was a desk between call operatives but social distancing not maintained during breaks and in shared spaces.

“I asked if they felt the working environment was safe. They answered no.”

Yet a Sitel spokesperson claimed, “We take the safety and wellbeing of our staff very seriously”.

The outbreak in Motherwell shows the perils of rushing back to work—and the carelessness of the bosses who are desperate to see workplaces reopen.


MYTH—Personal data will be protected under the government test and trace scheme

The Department of Health admitted this week that a test and trace scheme privacy assessment wasn’t carried out.

After a challenge from the privacy organisation, Open Rights Group, the government said it hadn’t carried out a data protection impact assessment, despite that being a legal requirement. 

Since the programme was launched on 1 June, some 27,000 workers have contacted more than 155,000 people who may have contracted Covid-19.

But government failures and poor technology mean workers are compromising patient data in a desperate attempt to reach people who may be very ill.

The Sunday Times newspaper reported on 12 July that workers were sharing confidential information on social media.

Tracers were using WhatsApp and Facebook groups in attempts to track people down as the official systems were insufficient.

Numbers

Screenshots show names, NHS numbers and contact details of those who have tested positive for the virus.

Workers were joining hundreds-strong Facebook groups of contact tracers to share information with workers from other call centres.

Such flaws in the system risk patients’ data being exploited by hackers, stalkers or scammers.

They also undermine the efficiency of the entire tracking scheme.

Open Rights Group executive director Jim Killock blasted the government for being “reckless” in how it was treating patients’ data.

“A crucial element in the fight against the pandemic is mutual trust between the public and the government, which is undermined by their operating the programme without basic privacy safeguards,” he said.


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