Pandemic – what pandemic?

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Pandemic – what pandemic?

Surely pandemics of the past were nothing like the one the world is living through now. In previous pandemics news about what was happening on the other side of the world either just didn’t exist or would take some time to filter down to the vast majority of the population. With modern technology what happens in Australia and New Zealand, for example, can be known about almost instantly. However, the speed of communication is nothing if people don’t know how (or don’t want) to use that rapid sharing of knowledge to the advantage of all.

That means each country is following its own road with no concern for the long term, worldwide domination of the virus. The consensus now seems to be accepting that covid will be with us forever and that attempts to achieve and maintain a zero level of infection is unlikely – although China and New Zealand still seem to be sticking with their original ‘strategy’. If different countries are shooting into different goal mouths then it doesn’t bode too well for the future.

When it comes to vaccines the selfish, ‘western’, capitalist world continues to grab as much as possible for it’s own privileged populations – the UK just in the last day or so announcing that they had ordered (and paid for) 100 million doses of the very expensive and difficult to transport Pfizer vaccine. The fine statements made at the G7 meeting in June about sharing the available vaccines with the poorer nations on the planet are conveniently forgotten. In England children are being brought into the programme and third doses are being proposed for an, as yet, indeterminate section of the population.

So the chaotic situation that has dominated the last 18 months or so has morphed into surrealism. Life ‘goes on as normal’, people go on holiday, mass sporting events go ahead and it’s difficult to remember that the virus is still with us and we still lack a real strategy to deal with it.

As has been the case for a while now there’s a great dependence being placed upon chance, that the virus will not be as virulent if it returns in a major way in the autumn. But if things do turn bad later in the year there’s no strategy to deal with another major outbreak – so, basically, nothing’s been learnt since the beginning of 2020.

Many of the world’s ‘leaders’ (and probably a sizeable proportion of the populations in the richer countries) are like ostriches with their heads buried deep in the sand. Pandemic, what pandemic?

Vaccination programme in Britain …..

UK doctors alarmed at ‘shambolic’ roll-out of covid jabs for children.

Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) ‘largely opposed’ to Covid vaccination for children under 16.

Vaccinating teenagers is beneficial, even if their vulnerability to covid-19 is low – if you ignore the moral argument about what is happening (or not) in the rest of the world.

Oxford-jab chief criticises UK’s covid booster plan.

How will covid vaccines work on compromised immune systems?

Teenage jab roll out moving cautiously.

Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine: rare blood clot syndrome has high mortality rate.

Should we tell stories of vaccine sceptics who have died of covid?

Is catching covid now better than more vaccine?

….. and the rest of the world

World Health Organisation (WHO) calls for moratorium on booster shots – is it justifiable?

How effective are covid-19 vaccines? Here’s what the stats mean … and what they don’t.

India is preparing for another covid surge but low vaccine coverage leaves it vulnerable

G7 nations will have stockpiled a billion spare covid vaccine doses by end of 2021.

India approves world’s first DNA covid vaccine.

After India’s brutal coronavirus wave, two-thirds of population has been exposed to SARS-CoV2.

Immunocompromised people make up nearly half of covid-19 breakthrough hospitalizations – an extra vaccine dose may help.

Anti-body testing

Antibody tests offered to public for first time. Is there a reason this wasn’t started a long time ago? The more information the better to deal with the pandemic, no?

The ever mutating virus

What happens if a far more lethal coronavirus emerges in pets?

SARS-CoV-2 mutations: why the virus might still have some tricks to pull.

New covid variants ‘would set us back a year’, experts warn UK government.

New wave of covid infections possible when schools and office workers return.

UK covid cases have fallen dramatically – but another wave is likely.

Jabbed adults infected with Delta ‘can match virus levels of unvaccinated’.

Self-isolation

Thousands isolated unnecessarily because of NHS covid app error.

Why are things so different in Africa?

The impact of covid-19 has been lower in Africa. Why?

What does China have to teach us?

From ground zero to zero tolerance – how China learnt from its covid response to quickly stamp out its latest outbreak.

China hits zero covid cases with a month of draconian curbs.

Hundreds quarantined in Shanghai as China nears 2 billion covid-19 vaccine doses.

British Trade Unions get to grips with the pandemic

Urgent call for covid-safe ventilation in schools.

‘Herd immunity’ – or not

Delta variant renders herd immunity from covid ‘mythical’.

Travelling in a time of covid

Ministers accused of destroying trust in England’s covid travel rules.

‘Collateral damage’

Private schools poised to widen lead over state pupils at A-level.

Covid is making a summer break something only the rich can afford.

Could NHS waiting lists really reach 13 million?

England’s pandemic crisis of child abuse, neglect and poverty.

Almost 1.2 million people waiting at least six months for vital NHS services in England.

Working from home has created an ‘overtime epidemic’.

A million jobs in peril as one in 16 UK firms say they are at risk of closure.

How the pandemic exposed the crisis in children’s social care. (Links to a podcast.)

Record number of young people wait for eating disorder treatment in England.

The pandemic transformed how social work was delivered – and these changes could be here to stay.

How decades of Neoliberalism left the NHS on the brink.

Poverty in Britain

The National Housing Federation released a report in July 2021 about the experiences of social housing tenants in claiming Universal Credit during the present covid pandemic entitled ‘Universal Credit: claiming during the coronavirus pandemic – A survey of housing association tenants claiming Universal Credit in 2020/21. In comes in two versions, the Executive Report and the Technical (full) Report.

Cuts to Universal Credit will leave children hungry.

Who’s making it big in Pandemic Britain?

Covid contracts: inquiry to look into use of WhatsApp, says Information Commissioners Office – they knew they were doing something illicit hence trying to do business through less traceable forms of communication.

‘Lost samples and late results’: the Tory donor, his son and their travel-test firms.

Church leader who sold £91 bogus covid remedy appears in court. This was first highlighted here about a year ago – so things aren’t moving particularly fast.

Mask wearing – after the pandemic?

Will mask wearing still be common in Britain after the pandemic is over?

Impossible to get the testing right – or how to make easy money

Anger at overflowing covid test drop boxes.

PCR tests for travel: Competition watchdog to investigate if excessive profits are being made.

Ministers face calls to intervene in ‘scam’ covid travel test system.

UK watchdog (Competition and Markets Authority – CMA) vows to help fight rip-off covid test firms.

Government warns covid test firms over misleading prices.

How are the ‘strategies’ working in other countries?

Has the Delta variant derailed Australia’s zero-covid strategy? (Podcast.)

New Zealand borders to remain closed for rest of the year.

Why I no longer think we can eliminate covid – public health expert.

New Zealand pandemic strategy in doubt amid Delta spread.

What will happen when it’s all over?

Plagues and classical history – what the humanities will tell us about covid in years to come.

More on covid pandemic 2020-2?

The Landlord Parliament

Buffoons times two

Buffoons times two

The Landlord Parliament

by Nick Bano

[This article was first published on the Tribune website on 4th August 2021.]

115 MPs – 90 of them Tories – are landlords making thousands per year from privately rented properties. The housing crisis won’t be solved until that changes.

Last week, while MP Apsana Begum was defending herself against fraud charges relating to her socially-rented studio flat, a quarter of Conservative MPs were supplementing their salaries by renting out homes. openDemocracy analysis has found that 90 Tory MPs, including 27 percent of the party’s ministers or whips, had declared earnings of over £10,000 per year from rent. The law was treating one of the victims of the housing crisis with suspicion and contempt, while at the same time rewarding its beneficiaries with unearned profits.

On one level, it’s immediately obvious why the existence of landlord MPs is a problem. It offends against notions of independence. There is a whiff of the self-serving and the corrupt. It’s exactly why we have a register of members’ interests, why Jeremy Corbyn has rightly raised the scandal of Sajid Javid remaining on the payroll of private companies with an interest in the NHS, and why we’re aghast at the revolving door between local council seats and property development jobs.

But it’s too simplistic just to argue that some MPs are landlords, and that Parliament is going to look after its own. After all, as Tribune has repeatedly pointed out, housing makes up a massive part of the UK’s economy, and the government would have an interest in protecting that market regardless of any landlords in its ranks. This does not mean that openDemocracy’s findings are irrelevant, though. As a recent London Review of Books piece said about the housing crisis, ‘in the absence of global meltdown or a collective Maoist turn by […] renters, politics remains the only remedy,’ and it is therefore worth understanding exactly how and why this intersection between landlords and lawmakers is politically relevant.

Parliamentary business can have a dramatic effect on everyday reality and social attitudes. In the housing field, we see this through the changing language of the law. In 1977, at the historical high point of tenants’ rights law, a senior judge called Lord Justice Lawton said the following in an illegal eviction case: ‘the [landlord] at times seemed to be suggesting that this was a comparatively minor dispute between a landlord and a tenant. I emphatically disassociate myself from that. To deprive a man [sic.] of a roof over his head in my judgment is one of the worst torts which can be committed. It causes stress, worry and anxiety.’ Lawton was no comrade—at the beginning of his career he was an open member of the British Union of Fascists—but his attitude towards evictions reflected the legal and social reality of the time.

Contrast that with 2016, when Supreme Court judges Baroness Hale and Lord Neuberger wrote a judgement explaining that successive Conservative and Labour governments had since stripped away tenants’ rights by imposing laws that were designed to ‘[make] renting out a property a much more attractive alternative for owners.’ The Supreme Court was examining the relationship between today’s quick and easy evictions and human rights issues, and decided that Parliament’s erosions of tenants’ rights since the 1980s ‘reflect the state’s assessment of where to strike the balance between the [human] rights of residential tenants and the [human] rights of private sector landlords.’ In other words, Parliament had decided that these profitable short-life tenancies with ‘no-fault’ evictions are good enough for tenants, and the courts would not interfere with MPs’ decisions in that respect.

This gulf between judicial moods tells us two things. First, it shows the extent to which matters have moved on over the last 40 years. The Supreme Court’s easy conscience about evictions now chimes with the general tone of today’s landlords, judges, media, MPs, and even some tenants. Today, even during a housing crisis and a pandemic, we tend to talk about a landlord’s legal entitlement to ‘get their property back’ (although this phrase has always struck me as absurd in the case of buy-to-let homes). There has been a government-led project of commodifying and deregulating the housing market, and Parliament’s attitude towards landlords’ rights seems to have has become lodged in the public consciousness.

Second, in the 2016 case the Supreme Court effectively told us, ‘Yes, housing security is a very important human rights issue, but really it’s down to Parliament to decide what to do about it.’ The fact that such a heavy responsibility rests exclusively with Parliament means that we ought to scrutinise MPs very carefully indeed. ‘Which side are you on?’ is absolutely an appropriate question.

When we look at how housing law reform happens under parliamentary democracy, it becomes clear why the landlord-MP phenomenon is a genuine problem. One of the reasons rent controls remained in place for so long during the twentieth century was that a series of reports and inquiries found that there was a general consensus in favour of them, and rent controls were consequently re-enacted several times between the First World War and the 1970s. The current position is that there is fairly broad support for improving housing law, but the landlord lobby is standing in the way of the reforms that are needed to begin to tackle the crisis.

As a recent House of Commons Library briefing paper points out, many are urging the government not to delay in implementing its Queen’s Speech commitment to reforming the private rented sector, but the lone voice against reform comes from the landlords. The landlord lobby represents a tiny proportion of the population (about three percent), which means that government ministers are vastly overrepresented in that small, self-selecting group of people who rent out homes for profit. That also means the voice of the National Residential Landlords Association is a particularly powerful one when it speaks for so many members of the government, and we should bear this in mind when we see the Tories refusing to implement their own manifesto commitment.

It would, of course, be wrong not to acknowledge that 18 of Labour’s 199 MPs also declared a rental income, including shadow housing minister Lucy Powell, who lets a room to a lodger. ‘No idea where this list came from,’ she tweeted when this fact emerged. ‘I have a lodger. I’m not a landlord.’ But Powell is a landlord, and the fact that she has a lodger rather than a tenant is if anything an aggravating factor given that lodgers tend to enjoy even less housing security than private tenants. What’s particularly interesting is the defensive stance Powell took on the subject, refusing to acknowledge the economic relationship at play, and failing to see a conflict between rent extraction during a housing crisis and the interests of her constituents.

When thousands face eviction, soaring rents, and inadequate homes, it matters that the state’s managers are personally implicated in landlordism. It would go against these MPs’ own interests to unpick the ‘attractive’ and economically beneficial anti-tenant laws that are causing such a severe social crisis, and they hold the key to manipulating the social perception of landlordism. Given the scale of the crisis we face in housing, and the ambitious changes in law and attitude that we would need to solve it, the over-representation of landlords in the House of Commons is not something we can allow to go unnoticed any longer.

About the Author

Nick Bano is a housing and homelessness lawyer at Garden Court Chambers, and a member of Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth (HASL).

Britain at an hiatus – the calm before the storm?

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Britain at an hiatus – the calm before the storm?

I wonder if people in Britain in past epidemics were sitting around speculating if the epidemic was actually over or whether it was just the calm before the storm.

In the past most people wouldn’t have had a clue about what was happening in the rest of the world and so wouldn’t have known, for example, that the Black Death that swept across Europe from 1346-53 was already ‘burning’ itself out in the first countries it hit before England was affected. That burst was over in about 18 months in Britain. The so-called ‘Spanish’ Flu pandemic of 1917-8 lasted no more than two years – although when it did hit it was much more virulent than covid-19 – at least so far.

So perhaps people didn’t really have time to think in the past. Now we have too much time to think. Globalisation (capitalism’s solution to all ills) has meant that a virus doesn’t arrive in one wave it can arrive time and time again. Social media and fast communication in general mean that news, good or bad, real or ‘fake’, can arrive at the opposite side of the world in an instant. Scientists who are looking for their ’15 minutes of fame’ make prognostications about what will be the consequence of different policy decisions and if they are correct we never hear the end of it, if they are wrong then they slink into the corner until the next opportunity arises.

And as there are as many approaches to a pandemic (that effects every country in the world) as there are countries in the world then there’s always the chance that something totally unforeseen might arise out of a policy decision thousands of miles away which might have ‘unintended consequences’.

To deal with a pandemic a worldwide strategy was needed, is needed, but there were barely any formulated strategies in any country before, during and since the virus landed across the respective borders.

In Britain at the beginning of August (18 months since the virus arrived on the island) things are looking ‘quiet’.

England lost the European Cup but it didn’t lead to the end of the world as we know it. Restrictions were released (or perhaps not, in certain circumstances) a couple of weeks ago and the predicted explosion in infections, hospitalisations and deaths has not (yet) occurred.

In place of expanding massively efforts to vaccinate the majority of the world where the percentage levels of those vaccinated are in single figures the big debate in Britain is about what should be the age of the children where the vaccination programme will end – even though it has long been accepted that they are the least vulnerable to the virus (or at least to any serious infection). Now the debate has changed – we need to vaccinate the children to protect the rest of the population in Britain. We seem to be dealing with an epidemic and not a pandemic, ignoring the billions of people who could be infected in the future and thus see the appearance of more virulent forms of the virus.

The ‘doom-sayers’ in Britain have not been proven correct. The same people are ‘predicting’ serious outbreaks come the autumn and winter so whether they will be believed is in question.

By our selfish, Euro-centric, northern hemisphere, racist approach to the rest of the world we might end up proving them correct after all – but not for the reasons they are arguing at the moment.

Vaccination programme in Britain ….

UK children about to turn 18 could be first in covid vaccine queue. Prof Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at Edinburgh University, says she would be “baffled” if the UK opted not to vaccinate British teenagers.

Vaccines for covid are much more effective than for flu – and reminding people could drive down hesitancy.

New covid-19 vaccine warnings don’t mean it’s unsafe – they mean the system to report side effects is working.

What is a breakthrough infection? 6 questions answered about catching covid-19 after vaccination.

If I’ve already had covid, do I need a vaccine? And how does the immune system respond?

Covid vaccine set to be offered to 16 and 17-year-olds. When billions of people, worldwide, much more vulnerable, haven’t as mush as had a look in. Why? Narrow-minded, parochial parliamentary politics (playing to the lowest common denominator); stupidity and fear (created by the Buffoon and his Government); Eurocentrism (even though there’s talk of the whole world being in the battle against the virus); and pure selfishness.

….. and in the rest of the world

CoronaVac vaccine: its results are patchy, but the world can’t ignore its usefulness.

Russia’s Sputnik V covid vaccine is safe and very effective but questions about the data remain.

Stalled Russian vaccines cause global anger. How much of this is just a political game? Promises of hundreds of millions of vaccines for the poorer countries of the world haven’t really been forthcoming following the hype surrounding the G7 meeting in Cornwall in June.

The ever changing virus

The beta variant is surging in mainland Europe – should the UK be worried?

‘The war has changed’: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) paper warns Delta variant is far more transmissible.

Scientists warn of risks in easing UK controls for vaccinated arrivals.

‘Herd immunity’

Something that comes and goes in the news.

Is covid-19 on the run in the UK?

‘Freedom Day’?

Why ‘freedom day’ is the latest example of covid propaganda.

‘Freedom day’? Removing covid-19 restrictions will vastly reduce the freedoms of some.

July 19: Three experts share their thoughts on the end of covid restrictions in England.

The trajectory of the pandemic

Why covid cases are now falling in the UK – and what could happen next.

UK can expect thousands of covid deaths every year, warn scientists.

Poverty in Britain

How will universal credit cut hit struggling families? The DWP doesn’t know.

Wearing masks – or not

Should you ditch your mask once restrictions are lifted? A philosopher’s view.

Masks: how and when to ask someone to wear one – without getting into a fight.

‘Long covid’

With one in three patients back in hospital after three months, where are the treatments?

Symptoms experienced during infection may predict lasting illness.

Why Scotland needs to fund long covid rehabilitation now.

Study finds long-term covid symptoms rare in school-age children. Yet the vaccine programme in Britain is to include more of the young people in the country.

‘The Buffoon and the Pandemic’.

Dominic Cummings tells BBC Johnson denied covid would overwhelm NHS.

Following the data?

Covid data is complex and changeable – expecting the public to heed it as restrictions ease is optimistic.

Vaccine ‘passports’

Vaccine passports: what businesses need to know – and why they should have more say.

France’s covid health pass raises serious ethical questions.

‘Collateral damage’

Covid has caused ‘hidden pandemic of orphanhood’.

Media must rise above pitting scientists against each other – dealing with the pandemic requires nuance.

Britain faces ‘decades of financial risk’ as £370 billion pandemic bill mounts.

Poor mental health leaves pupils three times less likely to pass five GCSEs.

RSV: what is it, and why are child cases surging in the wake of covid?

Lack of government covid plan for English schools ‘unforgivable’.

NHS drops from first to fourth among rich countries’ healthcare systems. Not strictly ‘collateral damage’. The pandemic just made a bad situation worse.

Covid disrupted treatment for 30% of NHS cancer patients.

Who’s making it big from the pandemic?

Coronavirus business loans: some directors may have defrauded billions from UK taxpayers.

Regulator imposes £100 million fine over ‘6,000%’ price gouging hit to NHS. Two points to be made here. A £100 million fine is chicken feed for these pharmaceutical companies. And no mention of the profits some of them will be making in the next few years from covid vaccines – most of which were developed with public finance and/or based on previous public funded research.

Cheapest test kits for travellers on UK government site unavailable.

As Delta spreads, Pfizer and Moderna get set for a booster shot to profits.

More on covid pandemic 2020-2?