Socialist Worker

Panicked Tories announce lockdown - but it is too little, too late

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2729

Boris Johnson is expected to announce a lockdown on Monday - but concern about profit means many places will remain open

Boris Johnson announced a lockdown on Saturday - but concern about profit means many places will remain open (Pic: Number 10/Flickr)


The Tories announced a month-long national lockdown across England on Saturday as their coronavirus policies degenerated further into fatal chaos.

Twice last week Britain’s Covid-19 death toll topped 300, with 310 deaths reported on Wednesday and 367 on Tuesday—the highest figure since 28 May. On Saturday another 326 deaths were announced.

At a repeatedly-delayed press briefing on Saturday, Johnson said, "You must stay at home, you may only leave home for specific reasons, including education and work."

The move to wider lockdown is an admission that Boris Johnson's policies have utterly failed and killed thousands of people. Five weeks ago Johnson’s scientific advisers called for an immediate “circuit breaker” lockdown. He spurned the advice.

He should resign—or be driven out.

The government has consistently said its “tiers” system of regional restrictions was sufficient. Johnson described a national lockdown as a “nuclear option” and warned that it would be an economic “disaster”.

He told MPs that such restrictions would be “completely wrong for the country”.

Thinking only of “protecting the economy”—profits—Johnson’s delays and grossly inadequate measures have meant carnage and the threat of overwhelming the NHS.

The Tory cabinet has now panicked as cases, hospitalisations and deaths soar.

Deaths

Newly-released documents from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warn that deaths this winter could surpass the 85,000 previously predicted by government modelling.

A senior government official confirmed on Friday that the current trajectory of the virus was exceeding scientific advisers’ bleakest projections.

The situation is so dire that the furlough scheme that gives bosses money to pay their workers 80 percent of wages has been extended to the start of December.

That still leaves two million people losing a fifth of their wages, a horrendous future for the low paid in particular. 

The self-employed will receive support at just 40 percent of their previous earnings. Many of these are people on a low or average income.

The Tories have announced a lockdown across England, but it is wholly inadequate. Schools, universities and many workplaces will stay open.

Johnson specifically urged that construction and manufacturing must continue to work.

The Tories want schools open so that parents can go to work. And they want non-essential businesses to keep going to protect bosses and shareholders.

But this leaves open the places where infections are spreading.

The most recent figures from Public Health England show 1,392 “acute respiratory infection incidents” in the most recent set of figures. These are outbreaks where two or more confirmed cases have been linked to a particular place or event. This is up from 1,125 in the previous week.

Workplace

Of those, 397 incidents were in care homes, a terrible reminder of the potential for another wave of deaths. But the second highest number of outbreaks—334—was recorded in workplace settings.

And there were 311 outbreaks identified in educational settings such as schools and universities.

The NEU union is calling for schools and colleges to be included in the lockdown, and for rotas to be introduced at the end of the lockdown period. The union says that schools should remain open to the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary, said, “It is clear that schools are an engine for virus transmission. It would be self-defeating for the government to impose a national lockdown, while ignoring the role of schools as a major contributor to the spread of the virus.

"Ignoring the role of schools and colleges in the spread of the virus is likely to lead to the need for even longer lockdowns in the future."

That's right, but it will need to be fought for if the Tories don't shift.

The UCU university and college union has reiterated its call for all teaching to move online. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said, “The health and safety of the country is being put at risk because of this government’s insistence that universities must continue with in-person teaching.

“It would be incomprehensible if universities were allowed to continue to do this after the outbreaks we have seen on campuses across the country this term."

The situation is urgent. Earlier last week a major study suggested nearly 100,000 people are catching coronavirus every day in England.

The study, by Imperial College London, says the pace of the epidemic is accelerating and estimates the number of people infected doubles every nine days.

Wales is in the middle of a 17-day “firebreak” that runs until 9 November. There are restrictions in many areas, but most non-essential workplaces have stayed open. And over half of pupils are set to return to schools after half term.

In Scotland the government has announced a complex five-tier system of measures. Again most non-essential businesses stay open, and although there will be wider use of face masks, so do schools.

Deputy first minister John Swinney said, “None of the levels in the framework require any automatic move to school closures or blended learning. However, no one can predict what the coming weeks and months will bring.”

Test

Lockdowns can save some lives and give a respite to develop better systems. But they don’t have a lasting effect unless there is a proper test and trace system.

The contact tracing system in England is run by private firms such as Serco and Deloitte. It reached just 60 percent of all close contacts of people who had tested positive for Covid-19 according to the most recent figures.

This is virtually the same as the previous week’s figures, which were a record low.

Scientists estimate that a minimum of 80 percent of close contacts need to be reached for the system to be effective.

And test and trace catches only a quarter of infections in the first place.

The Tories could have begun the necessary full lockdown of schools and non-essential workplaces over half term. But they squandered the chance.

There has to be a full lockdown combined with a furlough scheme that pays 100 percent of the wages of workers who are laid off. And it must be indefinite, not just for a month.

Meanwhile Labour leader Keir Starmer is too busy driving left wingers out of Labour to mount any sort of effective opposition.

On Sunday he opposed the unions' calls for schools and colleges to close.

NEU petition calling for the closure of schools and colleges here

Brexit Party rebrands

The Brexit Party has applied to rename itself Reform UK.

The party supported a right wing Brexit but has now turned its attention to fighting lockdown.

In an email to supporters, party leader Nigel Farage claims, “The new national lockdown will result in more life‑years lost than it hopes to save.”

He adds, “This horrible condition is only very dangerous for a tiny minority of people.

Reactionary protest says no to Covid-19 safety measures
Reactionary protest says no to Covid-19 safety measures
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“The rest of the population should, with simple hygiene measures and a dose of common sense, get on with life—this way we build immunity in the population.”

The Brexit Party boasts that it is the only political party to endorse the Great Barrington Declaration. This calls for workplaces, leisure and the hospitality industries to be reopened without restrictions.

Hard right bigots such as Farage push a dangerous and reactionary rhetoric.

Their anti-lockdown ideas put people at risk from the virus and the far right.


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