Tories, hard right newspapers and self-serving industry bodies are coming together to demand an end to all lockdown measures by the end of April. They want to ignore coronavirus levels— however dangerous they are.
Some 60 backbenchers last weekend also demanded that no new virus protection measures are put in place—ever.
“The vaccine gives us immunity from Covid, but it must also give us permanent immunity from Covid-related lockdowns and restrictions,” said the Tories’ Covid Recovery Group.
Pub bosses were quick to join in, with Patrick Dardis of Young’s saying “the great British pub” is “closed on unproven and unfounded statistics”.
The government was keen to play up these demands so that it could appear as a moderating force. Ministers insisted they would follow a timetable “guided by the science” and the media largely played along.
But it is not true that the government is checking lockdown measures against the risk of the pandemic.
Instead, Boris Johnson insisted that falling Covid-19 rates are paving the way for Britain to get back to normal.
“Thanks to the efforts of the British people, the lockdown, plus possibly the effect of the vaccine, we’re going to see the rates coming down more sharply,” he said.
“They’re falling at the moment. We want to be in a position where we can begin to open up.”
Johnson is next week set to announce specific dates for the full reopening of schools, and the order in which businesses can then restart. He is as keen as any Tory to get workplaces fully open and commuter trains once again packed to the rafters.
He is widely expected to announce 8 March as a reopening date for all schools in England. That’s irrespective of the levels of infection, or how much we know about the risk.
Non-essential shops and pubs and restaurants will follow soon after.
The news was greeted with glee by newspapers. The right wing press thought the prime minister had “gone soft” with lockdown measures and state support for people who’ve lost jobs or income.
But leading scientists warned that Britain could face another coronavirus wave as big as the current one if lockdown measures were all lifted.
“No vaccine is perfect,” said Professor Steven Riley of Imperial College London.
“In the short term, if we were to allow a very large wave of infection, that wave will find all the people who couldn’t have the vaccine for very good reason and those people who had the vaccine but unfortunately it didn’t give them the protection they need.”
He added, “I think scientists are genuinely worried.”
The Tories’ track record on the virus has proved one thing consistently—that profits come way before people’s health.
No one should trust the government’s new guidelines when they emerge.
Resist any risky reopenings
Workers told to return to offices and schools must insist they are safe before they go back.
No one should be put at risk by their employers—even if they are following government diktat. And no non-essential workplaces should reopen until virus infection rates have fallen consistently.
That means unions should be using Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act to call people out of potentially dangerous workplaces. The Act allows for immediate walkouts if workers are subject to any health “detriment” or a “deliberate failure to act” on behalf of the employer.
Some activists want a legal strike ballot before taking action. But that could mean putting workers—and others—at grave risk for weeks.
Instead, we should use the experience of schools in January. Then the government was forced into new lockdown measures after safety walkouts.
The GMB union has said workers in the government’s “quarantine hotels” are being put at risk.
The policy, in which people arriving in Britain must stay in quarantine in a designated hotel, began on Monday of this week.
But the GMB, which represents security guards in the hotels, has warned that they and other workers risk contracting and spreading the virus.
The union pointed to an outbreak in Victoria, Australia, which has has been linked to a quarantine hotel, as a warning.
It said it was demanding immediate negotiations with private contractors G4S and Mitie, who employ the security guards.
GMB national officer Nadine Houghton said, “The government has given security companies less than 36 hours’ notice to put staff and plans in place to carry out this policy. It’s a shambles.
“This isn’t just about the safety of workers, it’s about preventing new variants from spreading at a time when we are beginning to turn the tide on the virus.
“We will not sit back while our members are asked to do potentially unsafe work.
“There must be thorough negotiations on risk assessments and ensuring proper PPE is being provided.”
The union should advise its members to leave work immediately if conditions are unsafe.