The government’s repeated Covid-19 failures undermine efforts to contain it—and mean we should not trust the Tories with the hopes for a new vaccine.
The number of people in hospital with the virus is rising to levels last seen in the early weeks of the pandemic in spring.
At the beginning of this week some 14,915 people were hospitalised with Covid-19. At the height of the first wave in April the number was just above 18,000.
And there has been a relentless increase in the weekly death toll.
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that figure rising to its highest level since the beginning of June.
The Tories’ failure to close schools during England’s second national lockdown has also come with a high price.
According to new research by the ONS and Imperial College London, children are now more likely than adults to be the person bringing infection into a household.
With the virus rising, it is no wonder that millions of people greeted news of new potential vaccines with a huge sigh of relief.
The government says that a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech could be ready for a Britain-wide vaccination programme by the end of the year.
While the trial results look very promising, the task of distributing it will be immense.
First, the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at -70 degrees centigrade, far colder than a household fridge. The refrigeration infrastructure needed does not currently exist at the scale required.
Huge, super-cooled regional depots, with hundreds of specialist vehicles are needed.
And medicines packed in dry ice will need to be transported to the GP surgeries that the government wants to use as injection sites.
Ministers should be instructing firms that can help produce equipment needed to store and distribute the jabs to do so immediately.
Instead, medical freezer suppliers are eying up huge potential profits.
Industry leader Thermo Fisher Scientific recently told investors it was seeing “very, very significant demand”.
On Monday another hopeful vaccine announcement came from US biotech company Moderna. It claims its vaccine is 94 percent effective and supplies can be kept in a normal freezer.
But supplies are limited and won’t be available in Britain until spring 2021 “at the earliest”.
Moderna will also charge around £40 per two-course dose.
The second problem is producing a list of people most in need of the vaccine—and ensuring they receive it.
This will involve millions of names and medical records being categorised in priority lists and allocated to local centres.
GP surgeries are already overwhelmed after years of cuts and cannot be expected to manage such a huge local operation without support.
But if this task is allocated to a private sector outsourcer, such as Serco, it will be a disaster.
The Tories have so far failed every key test of the pandemic.
‘Exhausted’ NHS workers demand pay rises and more staff
The Tories could be about to deliver a slap in the face to NHS workers battling the second wave of coronavirus.
Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak will conduct a one-year spending review on Wednesday 25 November.
This could include a decision on whether or not to recommend a pay rise for NHS workers.
NHS workers, who organised grassroots protests over pay in the summer, held a bike ride protest across hospitals in London last Saturday.
Protesters chanted, “What do we want? Pay rise. When do we want it? Now”, outside the main entrance of University College Hospital in central London.
Health worker Lorna said, “There are 30,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS and 100,000 other vacancies in the NHS.
“NHS workers went into the pandemic exhausted because we’re so understaffed—and now it’s even worse.
“Our pay has fallen by 20 percent in the last ten years and, scandalously, the lowest paid workers in the NHS don’t even get the living wage.
“We’re here to say we need a pay rise so we can recruit and retain staff and carry on being there for you.”
The Unison union held a socially-distanced protest outside the Scottish parliament building at the beginning of the month.
Tracey, a Unison member, said, “We’re here to demand a pay rise this year” from Scottish health minister Jeane Freeman.
“She promised us a couple of months ago that she would use the re-opener clause and recognise the NHS staff before we even start to look at next year,” she said.
“We’re now in wave two of this pandemic and our workers are exhausted.”
Unison in Scotland is holding a consultative ballot for industrial action over pay.
Meanwhile, NHS bosses are demanding Sunak make good his promise to give the health service “whatever it needs”.
NHS Providers, which represents the heads of hospital trusts, is calling for a £4 billion boost to their budget.
They warned that “if the spending review fails to allocate the extra money” to fund more capacity “the health and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of patients is at risk”.
Domestic abuse cases rising during lockdown
Lockdown measures mean women are put at a higher risk of domestic violence in their own homes.
The charity Refuge, which runs the National Domestic Abuse hotline, said 40,000 calls were made during the first three months of lockdown in the spring.
Calls have already started to rise sharply as England has entered a second lockdown, with other Covid-19 restrictions in place in Wales and Scotland.
Lisa King, director of communications and external affairs at Refuge, said, “The experience faced by women during the first set of lockdown restrictions should serve as a wake-up call as we continue through the next stage of lockdown and Covid-19 response.”
The Counting Dead Women project told MPs last week that between 23 March and 12 April at least 16 domestic abuse killings had taken place. That’s more than double the average rate for that time of year.
Women are not only victims of violence, they are also let down by lack of support from the government.
One refuge service manager “supported four women who attempted to take their own lives during lockdown”. All four women had experienced delays in Universal Credit payments—one had waited nine weeks for her first payment.
As women are let down by a lack of safe housing options or refuge services, they are forced to remain in dangerous environments.
One victim of domestic violence is too many. The current rates of abuse are a damning indictment of how the government views the lives of working class women.
Vital NHS workers forced to leave Britain as visas denied
Visa rules are forcing migrant NHS workers to leave Britain just as the health service faces growing pressures in the pandemic, unions have warned.
The Home Office promised at the beginning of the pandemic to extend visas for one year—free of charge—for NHS and care workers.
But it only applied to around 3,000 workers who had a few months left in Britain. Others were removed.
This included senior nursing assistant Arun, who was forced to return to India after working in London hospitals during the pandemic.
“On top of the mental and physical strain of working through the pandemic, I was so anxious I would have to leave the country”, he said.
Minnie Rahman of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said, “People who’ve been risking their lives to keep us safe shouldn’t have to jump through endless hoops.
“And they shouldn’t pay astronomical fees just to keep living and working here.
“The government must now take fair and practical action, and grant free visa extensions and the right to stay to all key workers.”
Midwives are understaffed
More than three quarters of midwives think staffing levels at their NHS trust are unsafe, according to a survey by the RCM union.
The RCM said services were at breaking point, with 42 percent of midwives saying shifts were understaffed.
A third reported there were “very significant gaps” in most shifts.
“Maternity staff are exhausted, they’re demoralised and some of them are looking for the door,” said RCM chief executive Gill Walton.
“For the safety of every pregnant woman and every baby, this cannot be allowed to continue.”
Walton added that Britain faces an exodus of skilled health workers.
According to the survey of 1,400 workers, seven out of ten had considered leaving the profession while more than a third were seriously thinking about it.