The Tories are about to launch a huge gamble over lockdown restrictions—and they are using our lives as their stake.
Health secretary Sajid Javid announced last Sunday that “We are going to have to learn to accept the existence of Covid and find ways to cope with it—just as we already do with flu.”
And Boris Johnson announced on Monday that virtually all remaining coronavirus restrictions in England are expected to cease on 19 July. These include mandatory mask wearing and working from home.
Despite concerns from prominent scientists about the dangers of reopening too soon when daily cases are running high, Johnson said the country must find a new way of living with the virus.
He admitted that case numbers could almost double to 50,000 a day by the reopening date, with deaths likely to continue rising.
The final decision on whether to proceed with “step four” of England’s lockdown easing will be taken on 12 July. But a senior government insider said, “There is no plausible reason it will not go ahead.”
Scotland and Wales are following different timetables for easing.
The Tories hope that with over 60 percent of adults now vaccinated the link between Covid and severe illness is broken.
But if his bet goes wrong, thousands of people in Britain will be put in grave danger of hospitalisation. People will die entirely preventable deaths.
Many of the government’s own scientists are already warning that Javid’s plans are like building new “variant factories”, and that his attitude is “frightening”.
Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, warned last week that Britain "is in an absolutely unique position. We have the biggest Delta outbreak in a well-vaccinated country. We are a petri dish for the world.”
The NHS will again be at risk of total overload. Its short-staffed wards and battle-scared workers are already at their wits’ end.
They should not have to cope with a new, avoidable wave of infections.
As if to acknowledge the threat, the Tories this week got the queen to give the NHS a collective medal for bravery and service.
That doesn’t make up for putting yourself and your loved ones at risk of deadly infection for more than a year. Meanwhile, despite all workers’ sacrifices, and the urgent need to attract new staff, the government plans to offer them yet another below-inflation pay rise.
The Tories had initially offered a paltry 1 percent increase.
As Socialist Worker went to press, it seemed likely that the NHS Pay Review body’s recommendation would be announced. Many expect it to suggest a rise of just 2 percent.
Such a pay insult ought to light the fuse for an explosion of anger from the health unions—and a fight for a 15 percent rise.
NHS workers are seething at the way they’ve been treated. A lead from the top could easily see that turn into action. The RCN union has already told its members to prepare for a strike ballot.
Even the conservative leadership of the giant Unison union could be forced into action over the issue if there is enough rank and file pressure.
The fight over pay is part of a wider battle over the future of the NHS. The government was this week expected to announce plans to seize direct control of parts of the NHS, with a new health and care bill.
The bill will concentrate many new powers into the hands of the health secretary, and take them away from people with medical knowledge and experience.
Fighting over pay is an opportunity to raise all of the key issues facing the NHS—and a chance to close the book on Javid’s great gamble.
Mental health beds crisis
The number of beds in NHS mental health hospitals has fallen by a quarter since 2010.
Official figures show that more seriously ill people are being taken far away from home to receive treatment.
The NHS in England now has almost 6,000 fewer beds for people with conditions such as schizophrenia and personality disorders.
The drop in beds coincides with a huge increase in the number of people seeking help.
And the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to lead to a still greater surge in demand.
Dr Trudi Seneviratne, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said, “Sending mental health patients far from home because there isn’t the right bed available locally is completely unacceptable.
“It can have a devastating impact on patients and their loved ones.
Treating patients close to home speeds up recovery, reduces the risk of suicide and shortens hospital stays.”