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‘Live with virus’ means sacrifice lives for profit

Despite a growing NHS crisis, the Tories want to relax restrictions
Issue 2787
Two health workers in scrubs stand at the gates of Downing Street with a banner reading "You failed the public, you failed the NHS, Boris must go

Health workers are suffering after years of cuts, and months of Tory Covid failures (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Do the Tories’ reckless pandemic policies know no bounds?

Official figures last week reached 150,000 Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic. Yet a leading government minister told the BBC that he wanted to reduce the self-isolation period for those who test positive.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday that he wanted to reduce staff absences in the workplace by cutting self-isolation from seven to just five days. This, he said, would put the country on the road “from pandemic to endemic”.

He was joined by “levelling up” secretary Michael Gove, who on Monday said Britain must learn to “live with Covid”.

Gove said that after two or three weeks of pressure on the NHS, “we can look forward to the progressive lifting of restrictions.” He said we can then start to treat Covid like other coronaviruses, which can cause the common cold.

But the Tories are living in a dream world if they think that this is the end of the pandemic.

In Britain, a further 16 hospitals have declared “critical incidents”. At least 17,000 Covid patients filled hospital beds and more than 40,000 staff were unable to come to work for two days last week.

Staff shortages are so serious and so widespread that hospitals are now unsafe, said the Royal College of Nursing.

“Outside of healthcare, ­staffing shortages are closing shops and ­cancelling trains but nurses can’t stop helping their patients,” it said.

“Instead, they find themselves spread thinner and thinner, but they can’t keep spinning plates indefinitely either. This situation is simply not safe.” The idea of relaxing restrictions now reflects the way the Tories see our lives as merely collateral damage in the fight for profits.

The same process can be seen in the US, the country ministers most want to copy. There the ­seven-day average of daily infections is a ­staggering 720,000—ten times the number at the end of November.

The US halved self-isolation times to five days in December in a bid to cut Covid workplace absence.

Tory plans are also said to include a scaling back of the testing ­programme, with free lateral flow tests being scrapped for all but the most high risk settings.

The government knows well that this will lead to a huge spike in the number of infections.

But they are gambling that the NHS will somehow survive the surge in hospital admissions and staff absences, and that business will function with people working while sick.

The inevitable cost of the wager will be that thousands of people will lose their lives.

Already around 1,000 people a week die from Covid. But they are often written-off as “unvaccinated” or “older” or as having “underlying health conditions”.

In other words, the dead and dying are those who are less likely to be helping turn the wheels of commerce.

Still no proper protection

Health workers are still routinely being provided with only thin surgical masks and aprons—even when caring for confirmed Covid patients.

A survey of nearly 2,500 nurses by the Nursing Notes website found that 81 percent are still provided with only the most minimal personal protective equipment.

More than half of respondents said they regularly care for patients who are either confirmed or suspected of having the virus. Health unions have been calling for the use of higher grade FFP3 masks, which prevent cross infection, since the beginning of the pandemic.

The government and regulators still haven’t answered the call.

The survey also found that of 1,842 respondents that said they’d tested positive for Covid an overwhelming 92 percent believed they had caught the virus at work.

Mandatory jabs policy is disaster

Tens of thousands of people could be sacked within weeks as compulsory vaccination for public-facing health workers comes into effect. The new law, passed by parliament last year, insists that staff have two doses by April.

But that means anyone who hasn’t had their first jab by 3 February could face dismissal.

With many trusts already reporting at least 10 percent of health staff off sick or self-isolating, the demand could cause services to meltdown. Many NHS trust bosses are already preparing to axe thousands of workers.

Union activists in Nottingham report that 1,600 people—10 percent of the workforce—could be sacked.

“We had thought the NHS would redeploy at least some people, especially those in non-clinical roles,” Jamie Godber, the Unison branch secretary at Nottingham University Hospitals, told Socialist Worker.

“But that’s not going to be the case because there are so few non-public facing roles. Even if you use corridor or canteen shared with the public or clinical staff that counts as public-facing.

“These sackings could be a death blow to the NHS and open the door to further privatisation.”

Godber said it was also a challenge to the Union. “As it stands, we could lose hundreds of members and three of our union reps to the sackings,” he said.

In the Black Country some 8,000 are at risk of losing their current jobs. In Shropshire there are 978 workers who have not been doubled jabbed and no one is sure of their fate.

The government guidance to NHS trust bosses says, “If it is unlikely that the worker will be fully vaccinated by April 1, 2022 (and no exemption applies), undertake a formal process with the individual in line with internal policy if applicable ensuring that the individual is aware of the possible implications of their failure to be vaccinated by 1 April 2022.”

That means if the employer cannot redeploy an unvaccinated worker to a role that is not public-facing, they should terminate their contract.

Health unions already insist the policy is a disaster.

Not only will it mean losing vital staff at a time when the NHS is under huge pressure. But it will also set back attempts to convince people to get vaccinated and boosted.

It also risks handing the issue of sacked staff as a gift to the anti-vax movement, and its dangerous hard right core.

It is vital that union leaders move now to turn their opposition to mandatory vaccination into action. They should tell employers that if anyone is sacked for refusing a vaccination, they will argue for the whole department to come out on strike.

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