Socialist Worker

Tories keep repeating fatal virus blunders

The Tories put profits before people at every stage of the pandemic—and ordinary people have paid the price, says Sarah Bates

Issue No. 2735

NHS services are currently overwhelmed

NHS services are currently overwhelmed (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The Tories ended 2020 with the same disastrous coronavirus policies that have run throughout the pandemic.

Nine months after the first ­lockdown began, their schemes of profits-first, privatisation and cost‑cutting have put ordinary ­people’s lives in jeopardy and meant extra deaths.

The deadly spread of Covid-19 is nowhere near under control. 

There had been 1,849,403 cases recorded across Britain up to 9 December. But because reliable mass testing still isn’t available, the real figure is higher.

According to the latest figures, rates were climbing sharply, particularly in South Wales and Kent.

Neath Port Talbot is the local authority with the highest infection rate in Wales with a week-long rate  of 693.6 per 100,000 people. 

Maidstone in Kent was ­recording an infection rate of 482 per 100,000. Dover was recording a rate of 519 per 100,000. 

Restrictions

Cases are still on the rise partly because the Tories are pushing back on attempts to close schools early and implement wider restrictions.

But the obvious failures meant the Tories had to then introduce harsher measures. More than 60 percent of England’s population—around 34 million people—were in the strictest tier three rules this week. 

On Wednesday London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire entered tier three. 

The current system—billed as helping prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed—isn’t working.

At the start of September, the NHS was treating 500 ­hospitalised Covid-19 patients. But by 10 December, some 13,000 patients were hospitalised with coronavirus. 

England’s test and trace system, once promised by Johnson and the Tories to be “world beating,” is ­failing to reach many potential victims of Covid-19. A report by the National Audit Office released last week said that until June, contact tracers were working only 1 percent of the time. 

That’s because the test and trace service has been contracted out to privatising firms like G4S and Serco, which care only about the enormous potential profits. 

Meanwhile hundreds of ­thousands of residents in care homes are left waiting until the ­government distributes enough tests to make visits safe. 

Age UK found that some 70 ­percent of residents in care homes had not had a visit from family members since March. 

Judy Downey, from the Relatives & Residents Association, said ­workers at care homes couldn’t get hold of “lateral flow” tests that would allow them to regularly assess whether they had Covid-19. 

“Government guidance seems to give people hope and then take it away,” she said. 

The scale of the virus across Britain this year was not inevitable. 

Tens of thousands of people have died because the Tory government decided their lives were worth less than restarting profit-making.


Forcing schools to stay open led to rising Covid-19 rates in children

Children across Britain ended the term in chaos thanks to the Tories.  

All secondary schools and colleges in Wales moved to online learning from Monday. Yet the Tories insisted that children in England continue to go to school.  

Cases of coronavirus have soared among school students. Even health secretary Matt Hancock admitted last week that “by far” the fastest rise in infection rates was among 11‑18 year olds.  

The Tories have spent months insisting that sending children back to school is safe. They have claimed children are less likely to contract Covid-19 and are less likely to transmit the virus.  

Now the evidence that children do catch and spread the disease has grown and they can’t get away with these lies. 

Yet they still insist that children have to gather in large groups in schools.  

And they have threatened those who are trying to keep children safe.  

Several head teachers wanted to end face to face teaching early to cut the risk of workers and children having to self-isolate on Christmas day.  

Schools minister Nick Gibb wrote to one Hertfordshire headteacher last week warning that the government could force the school to stay open. 

Gibb cited emergency powers under the Coronavirus Act.  

The school, Presdales in Ware, planned to move most teaching online until the end of term. Head teacher Matthew Warren said there had been nearly 50 positive virus cases since September.  

On Tuesday of last week some 170 workers and children were self-isolating, including half the English department.  

Despite the Tories’ refusal to keep children safe, many schools did close early. It shows that schools and councils can defy the government.  

In Greenwich, south London, the council instructed all schools to close from Tuesday of this week.  

The Hazeley Academy in Milton Keynes closed early after further cases of coronavirus. And Future Schools Trust head Isabelle Linney-Drouet closed three Maidstone schools on Monday.  

In a letter to parents, she said it was no longer possible to keep the schools open. “In total, nine bubbles are closed across the trust with over 80 members of staff absent,” she said.

Sadie Robinson


Welsh hospitals in crisis

A Welsh hospital was “stuffed full”, with more patients in beds with coronavirus than without, a consultant warned in the run-up to Christmas.

Outpatient appointments and non-urgent planned surgery has been halted in the south east Wales area.

It covers the south-east of Wales, including Newport, Caerphilly, Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Monmouthshire.

Dr Ami Jones, an intensive care consultant at the new Grange hospital, Cwmbran, said people were queuing in ambulances as there was “no space”.

She added, “As the numbers of patients with Covid in the hospital get more and more, that becomes more difficult. It’s not just pure beds, it’s trying to keep those patients safe.

“We have reached a tipping point, we have more patients that have Covid than don’t have Covid now.

“My ICU is probably two-thirds, three-quarters Covid patients who are not getting the care.”

Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething said it was “incredibly serious”.

Gething said another, un-named, major health board in Wales would also be withdrawing a range of non-urgent services shortly due to increasing pressures.

Wales’ “firebreak” cut Covid-19 transmission. But lifting it afterwards, with schools and shops reopened and ineffective testing has seen a surge.


Medical gowns go unused

The government has spent £122 million on millions of medical gowns that have never been used.  

The gowns were bought at the end of the first lockdown from PPE company Medpro, a firm that had been set up a month earlier. 

At the time, hospitals across the country were reporting shortages of personal protective equipment—clothing and accessories to protect medics from the virus.

But months later they still haven’t been worn.  

The government said contracts for the gowns must meet the British Standard for the sterilisation of medical devices or a “technical equivalent”. 

PPE Medpro took the second option. 

The government would have to seek approval from the MHRA health regulator for the gowns to be used in the NHS.  

It has so far declined to comment on the approval process.


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