Socialist Worker

Young people put at risk by Tory Covid-19 failures

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2728

sd

The Tories are overseeing a regime of soaring infection rates and dangerous educational environments (Pic: Number 10/Flickr)


Coronavirus infections and deaths are soaring out of control.

The Tory government is always at least two steps behind what is required. And it continues with fatal pro-business policies that ensure more carnage.

Over 1,000 people across Britain were reported to have died from coronavirus in the last week. The NHS is in crisis in many areas.

Dr Tristan Cope, medical director of Liverpool University hospitals, tweeted that the city was treating more Covid-19 patients than in April at the peak of the first wave. He also said that “numbers continue to rise”.

Liverpool’s three main hospitals were treating 398 people with coronavirus on Thursday. This compares to 390 during their busiest day in the spring. Cope said hospital workers were under “a huge strain”.

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust's chief executive Tracy Taylor said, “Over the last few days we have exceeded 200 patients with the virus in the city’s Queen’s Medical Centre hospital, and every day this is increasing by nearly another full ward of people.”

The number of cases in the north west of England means the first of the government’s emergency Nightingale hospitals, on standby for months, will reopen next week in Manchester.

A total of 6,518 Covid-19 patients were in hospital in England last Friday, up from 4,647 a week previously. The number of people requiring ventilation is also up with 601 in ventilation beds, up from 482 a week before.

The test and trace system, riddled with privatisation, is worsening from its already dire state.

Figures released last week showed the worst performance since it began, with just one in seven people having a test at a centre receiving their result within 24 hours.

The figures also show a fall to 59.6 percent in the proportion of close contacts of people who tested positive who were reached. This was also the lowest weekly rate, down from 63 percent in the previous week.

But non-privatised local health protection teams had far better results with 94.8 percent of contacts reached and asked to self-isolate in the week to 14 October.

Even a full lockdown only buys time and a respite unless there is a proper test, trace and isolate system. 

These statistics reflect a trend across society.

In mid-September, chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance, said that without further action “you would end up with something like 50,000 cases in the middle of October per day”. 

He went on to say this could lead to 200-plus deaths a day by mid-November.  

He was underestimating the horror. The avalanche of cases and the 200-plus deaths a day are already here.

Vallance said last week that “the modelling consensus suggests that between 53,000 and 90,000 new infections per day may be occurring”.

On Tuesday last week the death toll rose by 241, on Friday it grew by 224.

This is a direct result of the premature ending of lockdown and the reopening of workplaces, schools and universities in the interests of big business.

Last week Office for National Statistics figures showed that the age group most likely to have coronavirus were older teenagers and young adults.

But the sharpest rise was in primary school children.

Yet hardly any of the official plans for partial lockdowns or “circuit breakers” are talking about action in schools, colleges or universities. 

Even the government’s highest level tier three restrictions in England leave schools and universities untouched.

The Scottish government’s five-tier scheme also has schools open at the most extreme “lockdown” level. 

Firebreak

In Wales, which began a 17-day “firebreak” last week, primary schools will still reopen after the half-term break along with Years 7 and 8 in secondary schools.

In other words, schools and universities will still be spreader centres. This affects young people themselves but also their families and those who work in these institutions. 

Urgent action is needed.

Dr Terry Wrigley told an independent Sage scientists' briefing on Friday that some schools were not isolating enough students and were “pouring petrol on the flames” of infection.

He called for a mix of home and school tuition.

Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU union, have written to education secretary Gavin Williamson demanding action. 

They pointed out that the infection rate in secondary schools is now "17 times higher than it was on September 1". 

Bousted and Courtney called for introducing rotas for secondary schools and colleges in high risk areas so that pupils went in only certain days and class sizes were smaller.

But this isn’t enough.

Last week the NEU called for a two-week "circuit breaker" with secondary schools and colleges closed. But the government has ignored the plea.

Now there needs to be action.

Writing in the NEU Left bulletin, Coventry teacher Chris Denson writes, “We can see the urgency with which the NEU has called for a ‘circuit breaker’ for secondary and Post-16 sectors. 

“But if we want to genuinely redress the momentum of the virus then the government should call a full circuit breaker including all schools and colleges, and all non-essential workplaces, with full furlough protection for all affected workers.”

Winning that will take action. 

Denson added that in Coventry safety concessions had been won where “we have raised the use of Section 44 [immediate walkouts citing health and safety concerns] or industrial ballots”. 

That’s the message that should go out everywhere.

NEU Left meeting, Covid Crisis, What Are We Doing About It? Fri  30 October, 6,30pm, go to bit.ly/NEULeft_30th_October

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.