Covid-19 in Britain just before the Easter ‘holiday’ 2020
Items of news that have come to light in the last few days.
As always, the first in the queue.
On 7th April Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, admitted that the failure to carry out testing early may have cost lives. He admitted that Germany had “got ahead” on testing and “there’s a lot to learn from that”.
But there seems to be little evidence that they have, certainly not going forward on this outbreak. Will they learn the lessons for the next outbreak?
Spain saw its daily number of virus deaths fall for a fourth consecutive day on Monday (6th April). Officials intend to begin testing even those without virus symptoms, saying: “We are preparing ourselves for de-escalation for which it is important to know who is contaminated to be able to gradually lift Spanish citizens’ lock down.”
This is a bizarre one this. The Government’s testing chief has admitted that none of 3.5m antibody kits work sufficiently. Now, I’m no expert, but if you are going to acquire something so important wouldn’t you make sure it was fit for the job BEFORE ordering 3.5 million? Politicians make these statements with a straight face and the rest of the population just let them get away with it. And how much have they spent on these kits they don’t want to use?
These kits were bought from China and as they have a regime in place now which allows people to carry on a more normal life based upon these tests we have to assume the Chinese believe the tests work. If they were so useless that a more general and widespread outbreak were to hit the country again then the present Chinese government wouldn’t survive the backlash. They don’t want to lose power so they are, surely, not going to take such a high risk with bum tests?
Yet for the British, who have no alternative they can use in their place, believe the kits don’t ‘work sufficiently’!
Because this country is so far behind in the testing stakes this will increase the period of the lock down and a general disaffection among the population. And who knows what that might lead to.
But we shouldn’t be concerned. On 8th April, Edward Argar, a Minister of State for Health (everyone wants to get their face on the tele at these press conferences, no?) stated that the government was ‘firmly on target to met its commitment of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month’.
This was on the same day that it was announced that the count the day before was a mere 14,000 but the biggest surprise, at least to me, was that this involved less than 10,000 patients. Why the number of patients is less that the number of tests I don’t know but if it’s the case that to get a definite yes or no more than one test has to be taken from each – or at least some – individual even if the target of 100,000 per day tests is reached we are still a long way from getting around to testing the whole population.
Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)
This has fallen out of the news when it comes to supplying the NHS – but the problem hasn’t gone away.
On 9th April the Alzheimer’s Society complained that care homes might not be able to operate due the lack of testing and the shortage (or lack) of PPE. On the same day the National Care Association said that care homes were being left behind. They stated that ‘staff felt at risk’ and ‘it shouldn’t be right they (staff) are wearing plastic bags’ for protection.’
A ‘united front’ against the pandemic?
Unfortunately not. Not only is there no clear thinking in the UK the situation is repeated in Europe. On 7th April Mauro Ferrari, who had been President of the European Research Council, resigned after his suggestion that ‘a large scale scientific programme to defeat covid-19 be established providing the best resources to the best scientists’ was rejected by the EU.
Nationalist children behaving badly
It’s not just in Europe that politicians have their own agenda. The ‘devolved’ countries in the UK are also playing the nationalist political game. Prior to a meeting on the 9th April to produce a common approach to the lock down (probably the first sensible thing the Tory government has done – is it just a coincidence that the Buffoon is out of the game?) – both the Scots and the Welsh leaders wanted to get their voices broadcast on the media by pre-empting the meeting.
The four constituent parts of the UK will do the same thing together – this was just political posturing and gamesmanship.
Company greed and the bandwagon
It’s truly impossible to understand why companies make such bad decisions – although often (but nor always) when caught out they back down.
Waitrose was one of them. For weeks amongst the new brand of heroes have appeared those who work in the supermarkets – huge companies dominating the food retail market in the UK much more than in any other European country. Some one thought that – in the present situation – they could get away with following company policy when it came to time off. Wrong decision! Waitrose did a U-turn.
Liverpool Football Club – one of the richest clubs in the country in one of the poorest cities – thought it, too, should have the right to feed at the disaster funding trough. They, when shamed about it, also backed down.
Tesco’s – the biggest supermarket chain in the country saw it’s sales jump by 30% towards the end of March – due to the panic buying prompted by Government ineptitude. They have also benefited from business rate relief – introduced as a government ‘aid’ to struggling businesses in March 2020 – to the tune of £585 million. And, of course, with such a bonanza the most deserving of people will get the rewards. This year Tesco will pay out in the region of £635 million to its shareholders.
Begging letters must be filling the letter box at 11 Downing Street. P and O ferries are seeking a government bail out of £250 (Telegraph AM 7th April). Even little start-ups want to get their snouts in the trough, especially those involved with ‘new technology’.
Children getting free school meals
Although the figure has nothing to do directly with the pandemic I became aware, on 7th April, that as the schools are now closed due the pandemic those families will instead receive vouchers they can use in a number of supermarkets. What is the disgrace in this whole affair (forgetting that there are some problems in the distribution of these vouchers) is the number of children who are eligible – 1.3 million. This is the situation in one of the richest countries in the world – and the United Nations talks about abolishing poverty world wide by 2030. What chance is there of that when poverty stalks those capitalist countries which have been raping countries and stealing the resources of the planet for centuries
Johnson and NHS
This weekend was probably the first time the Buffoon has entered a NHS hospital without the aim of making some PR stunt. I can’t imagine him ever queueing in A+E after having fallen over at one of the Bullingdon Club dinners.
At the present time he couldn’t have done anything other than go to an NHS hospital – but they chose not to send him to the spanking new temporary Nightingale Hospital in London’s dockland.
Whilst he is there I wonder if he will be reflecting on what he has said about the NHS in the past – that’s rhetorical, of course he won’t. However, it might be useful to remember some of the things he has suggested the rest of us should have to put up with in the context of our health care.
In an article he wrote in 1995 he said:
Once the Buffoon had taken the opportunist decision to back the Leave side in the EU Referendum (don’t you remember the country was on tenter hooks for days as it awaited his decision – so much for his conviction on the matter) he went around the country saying that the ‘NHS would be funded by the savings made from leaving the EU’. Those figures were challenged then and have been ever since but once uttered he is unable to stop repeating them.
During the campaign for the leadership of the Tory Party in 2019 what he said he would do and what he had done in the past were contradictory, and fundamentally posed ‘an existential threat to our NHS’
This was just one of a number of lies he has told in the past which were also pointed out during this leadership campaign.
Before he got the top job he was part of the gang which was more than willing to see the NHS basically privatised through the back door, with NHS contracts worth £15bn being given to private companies, since 2015, despite government’s ‘no privatisation’ pledge.
A great deal was made in the speech which outlined the future budget for the NHS after the Tory victory in the General Election of December 2019 – many, however, questioned the figures.
And we mustn’t forget his compassion, demonstrated when shown a picture of a 4-year-old child being treated for pneumonia on the floor of a hospital A+E room.
As in most circumstances you can always rely on Trump to trump anyone else’s crazy ideas. He suggested that US ‘medical experts’ based in London go to treat Johnson – as if those staff in the NHS (who are praised every time a politician opens his or her mouth) aren’t capable enough. It also begs the question; if these doctors are so brilliant why aren’t they back home in the US helping out there – the country that has now been designated the epi-centre of the outbreak? (Telegraph AM, 7th April)
Trump later added that people everywhere were praying for the Buffoon – however, he didn’t say for what outcome.
How effective are Government measures?
Since the first post on this blog the argument has been that all the British government has done since the covid-19 infection took a hold in the country has merely been a reaction to circumstances and there has never been even an attempt to take control. They say what people can’t do because they have no idea of what they (the Government) should be doing. This attitude also gets them off the hook as their ‘strategy’ relies on people staying at home (whatever effect this will have on millions of peoples’ lives and the economy in general not withstanding).
One result of this approach is that there are innumerable ‘unintended consequences’. (One of these which I only realised myself yesterday, when a contractor came around to do a service check, was that with so many cafes and fast food places now closed ‘essential workers’, who used to rely on these places for their meals, now have nowhere to go.)
Another is that a decision might be made because it looks like the government is actually taking a stance when they have not really thought things through and perhaps have over emphasised the importance of the action. One such action, which was questioned on 7th April, was the closing of schools to the overwhelming majority of students.
Some scientists, having looked at the figures, are now saying that the closure of schools will have a minimal effect on the spread of the virus. Although the closures have little effect on the virus other costs are high; the children’s education suffers, it puts strain on family finances and it also has potential mental health consequences.
The financial winners …
Short selling is the practice where hedge funds and other financial speculators borrow shares in listed companies from pension funds and sell them in the expectation that they will fall in price. There’s an argument that short-selling in a crash exacerbates stock market slumps.
…. and losers
Meanwhile, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned low-paid workers, young people and women are likely to be hardest hit by the financial impact of the virus lock down. According to the IFS, low earners are seven times as likely as high earners to work in a business sector that has suspended trade, such as hospitality or retail. Workers aged under 25 are about two and a half times as likely to work in a sector forced to shut down, while women were around one-third more likely than men to work in an affected sector. “For the longer term there must be serious worries about the effect of this crisis on the young especially and on inequality more generally,” senior IFS economist Xiaowei Xu said.
House buyers or renters
Not surprisingly, given their obsession with home ownership, any financial support that has already been announced is weighted overwhelmingly towards those who are buying their homes, with certain ‘mortgage holidays’ and a relaxing of rules in general. However, that’s not the case for those who rent. They are being told they have to continue to pay rent even though they might have no income coming in whatsoever. If they don’t pay their rents they will be guilty of putting the whole rental market at risk – another area where failings in government are placed on the backs of the people.
The Government gives support to house buyers as that helps to ensure the profits of the property speculators and building companies that are their supporters and/or themselves. On the other hand renters are most often likely to be the poorest part of the population, those with low wages, zero hours or short contracts, single parent families, etc. Cuts in social housing provision (whether it be by Councils or Housing Associations) and the selling off of those properties that do exist have meant that the private rental sector has been cleaning up in recent years.
The Housing Benefit system has meant that billions of pounds has been given to private landlords whereas a proper and sustainable social housing programme would have reduced costs to the country and would have provided better housing in general to a greater proportion of those who will never be able to buy – or just don’t want to buy.
The number of workers being ‘furloughed’
There are great number of words being used during this pandemic which we have never used before or certainly not in the way they have been in the past. I don’t think I had heard the word ‘furlough’ being used for ordinary workers before. ‘Laid off’ was the term in most common use – but that had negative connotations. Now ‘laid off’ workers are now being ‘furloughed’ receiving 80% of their pay – but not necessarily with a guarantee of their jobs when this pandemic is brought under some sort of control.
It will be interesting to see how many of these companies, who have been taking the billions offered by the government, will then close down later in the year, being ‘unable to survive the consequences of the pandemic’.
But what is astounding is that, to date, there are 9 million workers on furlough. Apart from all the other effects the shut down is having on the long term future of working people this number itself should be enough to make our so-called leaders think of an effective way of getting the country moving as soon as possible.
Our capitalist system is showing itself unable to cope with such a crisis and instead just throws public money into the hands of private companies – both big and small.
In the UK attendances at A+E departments around the country dropped by 25% in March 2020 in comparison with the same month in 2019. Why the surprise? Obviously the hypochondriacs are staying at home.
Quote of the last few days
This one of 8th April from Andrew Cuomo, Governor of the State of New York, when commenting on the disproportionate ratio of deaths, due to the covid-19 pandemic, in minority and poor communities:
‘Why is it the poorest people always pay the highest price? Let’s figure it out. Let’s do the work. Let’s learn this lesson and do it now.’
Is Cuomo just naïve or plain stupid? The poor, everywhere and every time, always pay the highest price. It’s a law of capitalism.
Obviously there’s nothing to talk about here.
However, it might be useful to remind those who are supposed to be in control of the actual meaning of strategy. My large Collins English Dictionary gives the following definition of strategy;
1. the art or science of the planning and conduct of a war; generalship; 2. a particular long-term plan for success, especially in business and politics; 3. plan or stratagem.
Perhaps the two words to pick out here are ‘plan’ and ‘success’. That is what the government of the Buffoon should be working on. That is what will help them convince people to abide by the present restrictions and will not necessitate them constantly coming up with threats of even more draconian restrictions in the future.
They did not have a strategy at the beginning of the outbreak and due to that they have been constantly reacting to events and situations. They have been following and not leading.
There has been, in this country and most throughout the world, a ‘social contract’ between governments and the population. Most populations have accepted the restrictions on their movements for weeks and going into months. That ‘social contract’ is two sided. Governments have told us what we cannot do but they rarely talk (and more importantly are able to convince their populations) about what they are going to do.
That is called having a strategy.