Britain – start of week 3 of the pandemic lock down
A few things that have happened in the UK in the last few days – and some important things that haven’t.
There may not be much testing for the covid-19 virus going on in Britain at the moment but it is certainly testing having to listen to, or read about, the pathetic attempts of various Tory Government ministers trying to give the impression they know what they are doing.
From a miserable less than 10,000 a day that will rise to 100,000 a day by the end of April – that was the promise made on the afternoon of the 2nd and reiterated throughout the day of the 3rd. But – things changed.
First the promise was for both types of test – the one to test for presence of the virus and the other for acquired immunity. Then we were told the second type isn’t reliable enough, even though reference had earlier been made about the test that is already being used in Germany which appears to be quite accurate. Then doubts started to creep in if it was doable at all. The idea of shortage of chemicals was again raised – why no news of solution to the problem? – then there appeared to be a shortage of swabs. And behind everything there was the idea that there weren’t enough people or laboratories in the UK that could deal with such a demand.
To every problem there’s a solution and this one is easy. There is a war on, a war against a virus. It’s unseen and we need to see it – where it is now and where it has been. Means are available to do that. The UK is one of the top ten economies of the world. It has a long history of science and technology and despite the efforts of successive governments to de-industrialise the country in recent years there is still a huge capacity in terms of locations and personnel to carry out these tests on a nationwide scale. All that needs to be done is for the government to TELL the companies with facilities and personnel to carry out the tests. I’m sure that the overwhelming majority of the people who work in these businesses would be more than happy to do so but if there was opposition then I see no reason why the government shouldn’t use an element of coercion to achieve the desired aim.
So what’s the problem? The myopic and self-centred individuals we have allowed to call themselves our leaders are sticking to their neo-liberal, free market private enterprise philosophy when it has patently shown to be totally incapable of dealing with the issue at hand. We get confirmation of that approach when the companies that will be involved in the testing procedure are reffered to as ‘partners’ and Hancock, the Health Minister, says that ‘money is no object’. So – as is always the case – major players in the chemical industry will make a killing out of doing something that is necessary for the country to come out of this capitalist created crisis as soon as possible.
And still any questions about mass testing are conveniently avoided or ignored.
As days go by this matter gets worse, rather than better. On 5th April Professor Neil Ferguson, a government ‘advisor’, said that he hoped ‘rapid access to testing and contact tracing [could be in place] by the end of May’. That’s right, May. Eight weeks away!
During the announcement about the increase of testing to 100,000 a day by the end of April there was one statement which brings up some potentially serious issues. Hancock stated that if the test to check on immunity was able to identify those who might have developed a natural resistance to the virus those people could be issued with an ‘immunity passport’ and could therefore return to ‘normal’ life.
These are early stages yet but this whole issue has to be monitored very carefully. This would be introducing something akin to a national identity card system through the back door and is what tends to happen in societies in such situations – the State introduces something which people might consider reasonable at first but which can have serious consequences later on. This was broached in my post on 1st April.
Such a situation would also divide British society into two halves. Those with the passport and therefore able to live a ‘normal’ life and those without who would be in perpetual lock down and restricted in their movements until a valid vaccine had firstly, been invented and proven to be effective and, secondly, provided to everyone in the country.
And it’ll also provide a field day for forgers. And the potential dangers of the virus sprouting up in unknown and untraceable circumstances.
This is an example of how China has reacted in this situation:
‘For a country where having a smartphone is an indispensable part of daily life, it wasn’t difficult to introduce creative systems, and technology has been deployed in full force. I have a digital health passport on my phone, a green QR code that gives me access to my favourite restaurants and bars – should it turn yellow or red, I would be required to self-isolate again. Some establishments ask people to scan a QR code that displays their GPS locations for the past two weeks to make sure they haven’t left quarantine early. Contactless temperature checking is everywhere: entering the metro, a noodle shop, my gym or even a late-night speakeasy, I’m temperature-checked several times a day and should it ever go above 37.3 degrees, I’d be in trouble.’
Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)
Like testing this is an issue which doesn’t seem to get any closer to a resolution. And again shows how the Tory government makes declarations without having the infrastructure in place to carry such matters through. This was the regulation that all health workers (in hospitals, care homes or in General Practices) should wear PPE – but, as the majority of GP’s are saying, they just don’t have access to such equipment and have no idea when it might be readily available. What do they do, stop seeing patients who need assistance on matters which has nothing to do the covid-19?
And throughout the NHS there are a growing number of complaints that the equipment that is supplied is of an inferior quality. It’s well known that in war situations shoddy equipment gets sent to the ‘front line’ as unscrupulous companies seek to milk the situation for as much as it can get. It seems that those working on the present ‘front line’ speculators are doing the same.
As with the government – will such producers be held to account when ‘normality returns?
At the end of the second week of the lock down there was a mention of re-opening ‘moth-balled factories’ in order to produce the necessary equipment. That suggestion soon hits a number of buffers; I wasn’t aware the country had any ‘moth-balled factories’, presumably meaning places that have been shut down but have all the previous equipment in place and in working order; machines can’t just be made to produce whatever a politician would like – a machine that was making a car can’t be readily adapted to make a plastic face mask; and where would you get the people to work in these reopened factories with the necessary skills – the de-industrialisation of the country over the last 30 to 40 years hasn’t created a situation where there’s an infinitely flexible work-force able to turn their hand at anything.
In lieu of the Government getting a grip on this situation there are groups, and sometimes individuals, throughout the country who are making masks in an artisan manner. Although this is admirable and displays a fine community spirit what it ultimately does is get the government off the hook.
But it’s more than likely these community efforts won’t be enough as all groups of workers that should have PPE are not getting what they require. On 5th April 400 companies that provide care for people in their own homes stated that if they are not supplied with adequate equipment they will not be able to provide the daily care that thousands of people need to survive. This is a service which has been cut to the bone every year of so-called ‘austerity’ and the care provision is already at its lowest level possible. It wouldn’t take much to push those people dependent upon such daily visits into total despair.
Who’s watching you?
Google have produced location data to show the effectiveness of the lock down in various countries throughout the world based on data from mobile phones. They say that there is no personal data being collected here – and that might be true, at the moment. But surely if the computer knows where you are (anonymously) it can’t take more than a few keys strokes to put names and faces to that location. Or am I being paranoid?
But perhaps it’s not necessary for Google to tweak a few lines of a programme. As reported earlier the Government (through the NHS) has released an app that will inform mobile users if they are in close contact with someone who eventually develops signs of the virus. This will be ‘sold’ as a health and safety aid and almost certainly with the promise the information will not be used for any other nefarious purpose. Well that’s OK then, we know we can trust the Buffoon and his government. As of 3rd April 1.9 million people had put their information into this app. The argument goes that this will help to reduce restrictions on people’s mobility and speed the end of the lock down but people should be aware that once you’ve given permission for such tracing it’s much more difficult to get back control.
We now have more faith in experts – or do we?
It was Michael Gove, who said (to support his arguments following the vote of whether to stay in or leave the EU Referendum in 2016) ‘people in this country have had enough of experts‘. But now experts are in fashion again – even for Gove who, in recent days, has been standing beside ‘experts’ when giving Government briefings.
But for how long? Up to now there has been a general consensus amongst scientists but that is starting to change and the catalyst is the wearing of face masks. On the 2nd April a report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) was released which suggested that there was an argument for everyone to wear masks and another ‘expert’, Dr Elaine Shuo Feng of the Oxford Vaccine Group used similar arguments on the 3rd. However, all masks are not equal and I cannot see how, in the society in which we are living where a knee jerk reaction is the more common response, that any real effective use of appropriate masks will be happening before this pandemic runs its course.
In an age of constant news the media is always looking for someone to say something other than repeat the official statements. Unfortunately, sometimes that can cause more confusion rather than make people more aware of the issues.
On 3rd April, the same day the Tories said they were ‘working in partnership’ with the likes of Amazon (why Amazon?) and Boots to increase the number of tests for the virus another ‘expert’ was throwing a cat among the pigeons. Paul Hunter, Professor of Medicine at the University of East Anglia said; ‘these are tests that can’t generally be just done by anybody. They do need people with expertise in the NHS. These tests are done by bio-medical scientists who have several years training.’ Reading the results might need expertise, but not surely the actual tests themselves?
What’s happening indifferent parts of the world
And plans are in place for something similar in East London – though that seems to have been kept relatively quiet.
I don’t really follow the logic of this decision. Perhaps like politicians throughout the world doing something (anything, no matter how ludicrous) is seen as better than doing nothing. Panama has also come up with this novel solution to the pandemic.
But this policy was reveresed after quite a backlash a couple of weeks later.
Getting a deeper understanding of the virus
People are now dying in large numbers, in the UK and in other countries as well, who didn’t have ‘any known underlying health problems’ – and young people are also being effected. The most important word here is ‘known’. Presumably there are no post-mortems on these people so a deeper understanding of why they died – ‘out of the norm’ – will not be added to the sum total of the world’s knowledge of the virus.
On the 4th April it was reported that 13 residents of a care home (Burlington Court Care Home), to the west of Glasgow City Centre, had died during the course of seven days. As they died in the home and not in hospital they were not tested but it is assumed they had contracted the virus. In the same way as ‘unexpected’ deaths are not really investigated and hence information is lost (or more exactly not collected) this is yet another reason to bring in a much more extensive testing regime as soon as possible.
The new ‘Nightingale’ hospitals
A big thing was made towards the end of last week of the Excel London Exhibition Centre being converted into an up and running hospital in 9 days. The question that should be asked is; why wasn’t that location ‘up and running’ at the end of February? The answer is obviously finance, no one wanted to spend money when a temporary hospital might not have been needed. This is the result of the wishful thinking of capitalist governments – they hope disasters won’t happen even when history is periodically telling them otherwise and they don’t want to be accused of ‘wasting’ money.
I thought it was a nice British tradition in the official opening of the building as a hospital by Charles Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. I didn’t see it but did he cut a virtual ribbon?
Care home residents allowed to die
Letters emerged, sent to a number of care homes in the south of England, which stated that residents, over 75, of care homes who show symptoms of the virus would be refused entry to hospital. Care homes were also asked to update their ‘do not resuscitate’ records.
This was later dismissed as being a mistake but fitted in with what most people believe – there will, if the situation gets out of hand and the demands on intensive care becomes so great that the system is close to breaking – that some people will be allowed to die (and not based on medical evidence but merely on age).
Perhaps the first example of a conspiracy theory leading to direct action is the destruction of two mobile masts, one in Sparkbrooke, Birmingham and the other in Melling on Merseyside. The ‘theory’ is that radiation from the 5G transmitters has caused the virus – Wuhan being a centre in China where 5G roll out has been most prominent.
How is the lock down faring?
On 3rd April the Leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party in Westminster, Iain Blackford, said; ‘It is important that people have some idea when the restrictions will be lifted’. Loath as I am to agree with any Nationalist this is, indeed, an important aspect of determining how people in the UK react to the loss of mobility as a consequence of the lock down. Not that people necessarily want a definite time and date. What they want is to be told the truth and not to be constantly being, potentially, blamed for any extension of the lock down.
The government has been reactive since the very beginning, they have never given the idea that they knew what they were doing and turned it all into a political game when they did do something.
The only ‘strategy’ is to close the country down – no advance on what was done during the ‘Black Death’ of the 14th century. The ‘hope’, and it’s only a hope, of the government is that the present day plague will advance slowly enough that the dead don’t pile up in hospital corridors. The lack of testing, the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the sometimes confusing (and contradictory) messages coming from the official press conferences don’t inspire a great deal of trust.
On 3rd April it was announced that the football Premier League top players ‘may defer wages’ – for how long wasn’t stated. This followed the news that some of the richest clubs in the country (indeed in the world) were putting ‘on furlough’ their minimum wage staff and claiming the 80% of their wages from the government’s ‘give oodles of cash to private business’ fund. As some of these top players receive more in a week than many people earn in a year it was considered that they should make a gesture.
Then the flood gates of concern opened up to protect this previously unrecognised ‘vulnerable’ group in society.
Gary Lineker – himself a multi-millionaire – declared that we should give these players time to ‘do the right thing’. He added the question ‘Why not call on all the wealthy to try and help if they possibly can rather than just pick on footballers?’ Wayne Rooney (himself another multi-millionaire, even richer than Lineker) asked ‘Why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats?’
They both ask why bankers, CEOs of major companies and other extremely rich people are not being targetted – and they have a point on that. Those who have become even more wealthy in the last 12 years or so should be put in the spotlight. As it was stated after the crash of 2008 ‘we are all supposed to be in this together’ but some are effected more than others.
The disparities of wealth need to be challenged, not just in the context of covid-19, and it would have to include the all those who get a disproportionate amount of a society’s resources – which would include the likes of football players. People are making lists of those who are ‘key workers’ at the moment, upon which the majority of society now rely. I’ve never heard sportsmen and women, so-called celebrities nor any banker, CEO or any billionaire mentioned in that context. The population of this country and throughout the world should not forget that lesson once the present catastrophe has passed.
But not only would the players suffer so would the NHS – this from the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) – the players union. The reasoning was that if the wage bill was reduced by £500 million (the estimated figure of their collective wage cut – a figure itself being obscene as it concerns such few people and for such a short period) then the Exchequer would lose out to the tune of £200 million in tax. That seems wrong on so many levels. Not least they would be paying a fortune to accountants to come up with the most imaginative ways of tax avoidance and if that £500 million existed and wasn’t being paid to the players why isn’t it sent directly to the NHS?
Things that go by the wayside
Important issues get ‘forgotten’ in times of crisis. One is a recent report which highlighted the increase in modern slavery. This is something that’s been developing in the UK for some time with little effort being made to stamp it, and the perpetrators, out. With attention being concentrated elsewhere the present situation will be ideal for such scumbags to exploit vulnerable people, both citizens of Britain and any other country.
A nonagenarian speaks to the nation
If there are problems about how the ‘crisis’ is being managed we in Britain can relax. Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg-Gotha spoke to the nation at 20.00 on 5th April. People didn’t really need to watch/listen as all details were being broadcast up to 24 hours before the Sunday night transmission.
Was there a medicine that would have helped?
Mention was made on the Radio 4 ‘The World Tonight’ on 2nd April, of a ‘ potential life-saving medicine which should have been weeks ago but wasn’t allowed by the government’. I never heard mention of it again.
How is capitalism reacting to the crisis?
But not on Grand National Saturday – on the much quieter Thursday of the meet, when they struggle to get people there. That Thursday will be renamed ‘NHS Day’. Anyone visiting Aintree will probably spend much more by being there than they would if they stayed at home, betting and food/drink etc.
Wimbledon souvenirs as if it took place
A company attempted to sell off the souvenirs people would have bought when visiting SW19 for the tennis.
The government announced that a number of prisoners, close to their release date, would get out of gaol early in an effort to restrict the spread of the infection behind bars. When this was announced by the Tories (which sticks in their craw as it goes against their creed of flog ’em and lock them up and throw away the key mentality) they made reference to the ‘brave’ prison officers and the need to ‘protect the NHS’. However, they made no reference to the well being of the prisoners themselves. For the Tories it’s OK for every prison sentence to be also a potential death sentence.
Yes there are some pretty unpleasant people in prisons but most are just ordinary people caught up in a downward spiral. The most dangerous and those most deserving of a prison sentence are very often those in positions of power or protected by those very persons. The vast majority of the prison population are made up of people from working class backgrounds.
I don’t live too far from a major river in the UK but I have never seen, before the afternoon of 5th April, a sizeable flock of seagulls searching for food. One of my neighbours (for some bizarre reason) puts out stale bread for the pigeons. But that Sunday afternoon they had little chance as the battleships which are the seagulls pounced on the crumbs. Due to ‘social distancing’ there will be few people on the river front and therefore won’t be leaving scraps of fast food upon which the seagulls have gotten used to for survival. So they have to come further inland.
Will we see an increase in seagull attacks in places which are normally safe?
Capitalism always seeks to make money out of a crisis
Over the weekend it was revealed that the company which owns the ExCel building in London which has been turned into the temporary ‘Nightingale’ Hospital were originally asking for fixed costs to be borne by the NHS. Once the news got out they backed down fairly quickly but they did try it on in the hope of getting away with it. However dire the situation becomes there will always be those who seek to benefit financially from other peoples’ suffering. The richer the company the bigger the amount they expect to get.
Such is situation is encouraged by this Tory government as they see everything as a financial opportunity, it’s in their DNA. The Coronavirus Act agreed by all Political Parties just over a week ago has many stipulations on what the people can (and more importantly can’t) do in the present situation. However, there’s no threat to private capitalist interests at all in the document, they will not be expected to pay their share of the costs of the pandemic. Considering it was supposed to be a blueprint of how to fight the war against covid-19 the word ‘requisition’ doesn’t appear once in all its 300 pages.
Quote of the Week
Matt Hancock, Secretary of Health and Social Care, 5th April, 2020;
‘… the date of a return to normality is entirely [my emphasis, his meaning] dependent on how people follow the rules on social-distancing.’
So nothing at all to do with the failure of the government to get to grips with testing and provision of PPE!
He added that this was ‘mission critical’. I think I know what it means but why do they continue to introduce these bizarre terms and phrases.
Still nothing to add here.