Britain’s reckless relaxation of Covid restrictions burnt a terrible trail for much of Europe to follow.
In July Britain’s health secretary Sajid Javid told the public they must not “cower from the virus” but instead learn to live with it.
His words were warmly greeted by business leaders across the continent, demanding an end to Covid laws. But they also had an appeal to those sceptical about the virus and hostile to vaccinations.
We are all now paying a terrible price for the right’s complacency.
The European director of the World Health Organisation, Hans Kluge, warned last Thursday that there could be 500,000 more coronavirus deaths in Europe this winter.
That’s on top of the 1.4 million who have already died.
“Today, every single country in Europe and Central Asia is facing a real threat of Covid-19 resurgence, or is already fighting it,” said Kluge.
“Over the past 5 weeks, Europe has seen a more than 55 percent increase in Covid cases. Last week, Europe and Central Asia accounted for 59 percent of all global cases and 48 percent of reported deaths.”
The highest infection rates are to be found in central and eastern Europe where vaccination rates are catastrophically low.
In the last week some 8,000 have died in Russia, 3,800 in Ukraine and 3,000 in Romania—a country of just 19 million people.
Slovakia, where just 46 percent of the population is fully immunised, recorded 6,713 new cases in one day last week. That’s its highest number of daily infections since the pandemic began.
In Poland, where 53 percent of people are fully vaccinated, the number of new cases jumped almost 50 percent on Thursday. It had already quadrupled in the preceding three weeks.
The rapid rise in cases can also be found in Belgium, France and Germany. It is here that the malign influence of Boris Johnson and the business lobby can most be felt.
Britain’s lifting of all Covid restrictions in July coincided with a sharp rise in cases and deaths that continues today. The freeing of bosses to return to unfettered profit making, put pressure on rivals in Europe to do the same.
The result has been catastrophic. A huge rise in case numbers and hospitalisations in Belgium forced the government to reinstate mandatory mask wearing in public areas.
The order came just weeks after they abandoned the rules. The scale of the infection was emphasised as the US Centres for Disease Control told people not to travel to the European Union and Nato headquarters there.
Germany recorded almost 34,000 new cases on Wednesday last week, surpassing a record set in mid-December 2020.
Only 67 percent of the population is vaccinated, with the east and the south of the country significantly below the national average.
Vaccine refusal and Covid scepticism appear to have fuelled infection hotspots in Dresden, in the east, and Munich, in the south.
Ruling classes across Europe have shown they are neither interested nor capable of bringing in measures to control the virus because their primary concern is always profit.
Action must curb Covid
The rapid spread of Covid across Europe demands an immediate response.
As he issued his grim warnings, Kluge emphasised the need for basic precautions such as mask wearing, social distancing and good indoor ventilation.
He said 188,000 lives could be saved in Europe this winter if 95 percent of the population wore masks in public areas.
“We must change our tactics, from reacting to surges of Covid to preventing them from happening in the first place,” he said.
But we can go further still and save even more lives. Case numbers can be brought down by using effective contact tracing, vaccination campaigns organised in a far more democratic fashion—and lockdowns where necessary.
People should be told to work from home where possible. And there should be a limit to numbers using public transport to prevent the spread of infection there.
Business leaders and their right wing backers will no doubt howl with rage at such measures.
But labour and trade union movements across Europe must find the strength to resist them.
Far right gain from vaccine hesitancy
The introduction of Covid passes has met opposition from people distrustful of politicians, which the far right has capitalised on.
For instance when Italy introduced a strict health pass last month, the northeastern port city of Trieste became the centre of protests.
In particular, dock workers argued that the measure infringed on their right to work. Two weeks later, Trieste emerged as the centre of a Covid outbreak.
The region’s president, Massimiliano Fedriga said “It is the moment to say with clarity—enough idiocy.”
Fedriga is a member of the far right League—which is currently backing the government. But other more openly fascist groups are backing protests.
In France a similar dynamic has taken place.
In Greece around 300 healthcare workers protested in central Athens against mandatory vaccines last week, a day after the government imposed restrictions on the unvaccinated.
They were protesting against calls for unvaccinated healthcare workers to be suspended from their jobs.
Millions of people are hit by Covid and the poverty of the system. They rightly distrust mainstream politicians’ handling of the pandemic.
Wrongly they are providing a bolt hole for the far right and limiting our ability to overcome Covid.