Britain and the Pandemic – May Day weekend 2020
Over this weekend workers worldwide should have been demonstrating and marching for May Day – the Workers’ Day. In the recent past in Britain these demonstrations have been embarrassingly small – if indeed they take place at all.
As this pandemic drags on there is more news of workers being abused in the situation of the lock down as well as major companies announcing job losses (more on that in a later post). This means that it is likely that many thousands of people will be told that they have no job to go back to whilst they are either being laid off or on ‘furlough’.
British Trade Unions have forgotten that what makes the working class different from other classes is their solidarity which enables them to face the attacks of the capitalists. It is almost certain that when the ‘new normal’ is established there will be a need for workers to take to the streets to retain or regain their jobs – and this will be in all sectors and will effect all age groups.
When we do go on the streets we should not be demanding a return to the previous period of exploitation but a change in the very structure of society. After all, billions of pounds is already being spent to prop up private businesses – both big and small. Capitalism has been fighting against state intervention since its inception – unless it means bailing them out of their self made crises, as in 2008.
If we are paying for these companies to remain in existence then it shows that capitalism has failed under its own ‘rules’. If we are paying to keep them alive then they belong to us. We should not give them back.
Although a day late Happy May Day to all! (although, of course, not to the Buffoon and his mates)
Chris Smith, a virologist at Cambridge University, said on BBC Radio 5 Live, on 17th April, when addressing the need of getting Britain moving again;
‘We need to have a strategy to getting out of lock down and part of that strategy is almost certainly going to be testing. And testing to find out who has got the virus right now but also tests to find out who has had the virus, who is immune from the virus, which bits of the country are more vulnerable to getting resurgences and which are not. And until that testing is rock solid and in place I think it’s a slightly risky then to say ‘well, let’s just take our foot off the pedal.’
Britain woke up surprised and shocked, on Thursday 30th April, to the news that the Government’s target of 100,000 coronavirus tests by the end of the month would not be achieved.
And then they were equally surprised and shocked to wake up on 1st May to hear that the Government would reach, or at least get close, to their self chosen target.
They did – or didn’t, depending upon who you belive. It all revolves around around 40,000 tests they were posted out. No doubt this will be kicked asround over the weekend of the 1st – 4th May.
The fact that this is just a numbers game will, no doubt, be forgotten in the celebrations and the noise of champagne corks popping.
Here’s part of Matt Hancock’s presentation of the ‘goal’;
‘At the beginning of last month, at this podium, I set a goal that anyone who needs to be tested should get a test and that, as a nation, we would achieve 100,000 tests per day by the end of the month. I knew that it was an audacious goal but we needed an audacious goal because testing is so important for getting Britain back on its feet.
I can announce that we have met our goal. The number of tests, yesterday, on the last day of April, was 122,347. This unprecedented expansion in British testing capability is an incredible achievement but it is not my achievement, it is a national achievement. Achieved by a huge team of people working together and I tell you this the testing capacity that we’ve built, together, will help every single person in this country.
Testing is crucial to suppress the virus. I know from personal experience, too, just how much people with symptoms want to know if they’ve got the disease. I know that I did. It helps remove the worry, it helps keep people safe and it will help us unlock the lock down. So many people have tragically died and the challenge that we still face is vast but we’re making real progress.’
At the daily press conference at 17.00, 1st May.
But that target bears nothing to the, as usual, even bigger claim by Donald Trump when it came to the USA. At a news conference on Tuesday (28th April) he claimed the US would reach 5 million daily virus tests ‘very soon’ – he’s never specific. The figure comes from some scientists who said that number of daily tests by the end of June would be needed to re-open the economy safely. Presently there are about 200,000 tests being carried out daily.
Prof Devi Sridhar, chair of Global Public Health at Edinburgh University, added her voice to the call for a much wider testing programme associated with tracking and tracing which would require thousands of amateur detectives. Quite rightly she said there would be no shortage of volunteers to do this and also cast doubt upon the cheaper but less effective option of using a Smartphone app to do this. (Since the government said it wasn’t going to use the Apple/Google app this issue – like so many others in the past two months – has gone somewhat quiet.)
In the very first post in this series I mentioned the reason the Tory politicians always had an ‘expert’ at their side when making statements at the regular press conferences was so they always had someone who could be made a scapegoat in the event of everything hitting the fan.
Those experts have obviously become aware of the situation (very naïve of them if they didn’t understand that from day one – but better late than never) as can be seen in the followiung statement by Stephen Powis, Medical Director, NHS England, on the 26th April;
‘I think it’s highly likely there will be a different combination of measures, some of which are in place at the moment but others that have heard about, such as more sophisticated track and tracing. It’s the role of the scientists to look at that and to provide advice but, of course, it’s the role of Government, quite rightly, to look at these and decide which particular combination is the appropriate combination to take forward.‘ [My emphasis]
Many people have been saying what needs to happen about testing, tracking and tracing (including on this blog) but the Government is just playing the numbers game. Powis is basically saying; ‘don’t blame us [experts and scientists] if the Buffoon doesn’t act on tracking and tracing as the way to go forward.’
The poor always pay the most – surprise, surprise!
More poor than wealthy in Britain die
It always bemuses me when reports that the poor have suffered more than the rich, in such circumstances as the present pandemic, is presented as something which comes as a surprise. You don’t need to be an ‘expert’ to understand that poverty is the cause of the overwhelming amount of suffering, disease and death in the world. Why should it be any different even in a ‘properous’ country such as Britain?
On 1st May it was reported by the Office for National Statistics that those from the poorer areas of England (and it was also the case in Wales and almost certainly the same in Scotland – if not more so) were twice as likely to die from the covid-19 pandemic as those in more prosperous areas – 55 per 100,000 as opposed to 25 per 100,000.
The reasons for the higher death rate?
Professor Danny Dorling, Oxford University, 1st May;
‘People are much more crowded in the poorer parts of our cities and often in worse health overall. This has been the case for years and years but now some of the worse health inequalities in the whole of Europe. The virus moving through the country is revealing some of our weaknesses and some of our inequalities.’
Helen Barnard, Acting Director Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1st May;
‘If you are on a low income a lot of the time you’ve got constant anxiety, the stress of trying to make ends meet when you just don’t have enough money to cover the basics. You’ve often got people who are going out to low paid , insecure, hard jobs which is putting a lot of pressure on their health. And people are more likely to be living in homes that are overcrowded, damp, that aren’t healthy. So all of those things come together and mean that people are a lot more likely to have underlying health conditions.’
Will we continue to permit the existence of a system which allows such a situation?
‘Collateral damage’ in the poor southern hemisphere countries
As a result of the basic close down of the industrial societies over the last few weeks there are fewer supplies of drugs getting to the poorer parts of the souther hemisphere. Diseases which are easily controllable with vaccines, such as measles and polio – which have all but been eliminated in the northern hemisphere – are still a major problem in many poorer countries but international programmes by the likes of UNICEF have been having success in recent years.
In the past much of these consignments have arrived on commercial airlines but as international travel of any kind has ground to a halt these vaccines are no longer arriving to the places where they are needed.
Richer countries have long been myopic when it comes to problems in other parts of the world – or even other parts of the same country. There are north-south divides within countries, London-centrism, Euro-centrism, and decisions are often made without taking into account the collateral damage that might occur in other places ‘where we are not’.
The inability of capitalist governments to get to grips with the pandemic and resolve matters so that society can get back to functioning in a reasonable manner is necessary not just for those particular countries but for the populations in those countries that have been made poor at the expense of the imperialist nations of the past and the present.
Without the vaccines untold thousand, mainly children, will die.
It was reported on 29th April that 90% of rough sleepers were now off the streets, some of them in 4 star hotels which would have refused them entry little over a couple months ago. The report didn’t mention actual numbers but it will be interesting to see what happens when the hotels are permitted to have paying customers and the ‘rough sleepers’ are ‘asked’ to leave.
On 29th April Dominic Raab suggested that the biggest threat to care homes was the amount of staff who are constantly going in and out of the buildings and they could be bringing the virus into the environment with them.
Another attempt of the Government to place the blame on anyone but themselves. For years they have been following policies which make the situation in care homes almost unsustainable but the past is forgotten in their ‘blame culture’ and don’t accept the fact that the whole service had been on the brink of collapse long before the pandemic outbreak is just conveniently forgotten.
This statement coincided with a report from Scotland which said that 39% of all deaths in the country were in care homes.
Provision of laptops
On 29th April it was announced by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, that 200,000 laptops are to be provided for ‘disadvantaged’ children, who might be even more effected by the closure of schools as they don’t have the facilities to study – even if they want to. Two issues here; they won’t be available until the end of May and, more importantly, why are do we still think it is acceptable that there should be any ‘disadvantaged’ children at all in such a rich country?
Vouchers for school meals
Yet another national disgrace is the fact there are close on 3 million school children who get free school meals – when at school. Even before the decision to close all schools was taken certain charities recognised that there would be a problem if some children were not going to school. When the decision to close schools was made there was a recognition of this need but it took a long time to get it up and running on a mass scale – and there are still a number of problems to date.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Tory Government decided to give this very lucrative contract to a private company. What might be a surprise to the naïve (but not to those who accept that hypocrisy is embedded in the Tory psyche) as this present government is so anti-Europe that the company chosen is a French owned one, Edenred, which has it’s headquarters in Issy-les-Moulineaux, just outside Paris.
As the Tories believe that the poor will always spend any money they get on booze, tobacco and drugs before feeding their children it was decided that in place of cash the substitute for the free school meals would be in the form of vouchers that could be used in part payment in various supermarkets and other smaller chain stores. The vouchers are worth £15 per child per week.
There have been a number of problems with this scheme:
- it’s a completely new concept and people, teachers and parents are floundering to get to grips with the system
- so many people are having to go on the system regularly that the site crashes (described by one frustrated parent as like playing ‘ a really bad fruit machine’.)
- the infrastructure of the stores that can take the vouchers has still not been fully established
- it’s a stress that has to be repeated periodically (every week, fortnight or month)
- government guidelines were poor (e.g., about multiple submissions)
- the site was never designed for such mass applications
On 29th April Vicky Ford (an ex-investment banker), Minister for Children, in an interview on Radio 4’s You and Yours, was boasting that £35 million was paid out in one week, which covered 2 million children. We will never advance as a society if we allow people who think that throwing crumbs at poor workers is all that is needed to make the problem go away.
Former Chief Scientist at the Department of Health, Dr David Harper, also former special advisor to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
He stated that the Government is giving confused and confusing messages about face covering;
‘I still think there are a lot of things we don’t know about covid-19 and the virus that causes it, bearing in mind people might be infectious and not showing symptoms and might not be able to adopt or maintain the physical distancing measures that are the front line protection. In those cases where somebody might need to be in an enclosed space, for example, using public transport to get to work because that are an essential worker, then, I personally, would ask the question; why not wear a simple face covering as a way of possibly reducing the risks to others?’
Should the Government clearly state that if you are going out and travelling then use some form of face covering?
‘It seems to make absolute sense to me to take all the precautions that might help reduce the risk. And it is about risk reduction.’
What about clarity about what happens in the weeks ahead?
I think that it would be helpful [for clarity]. I have no doubt at all that the Government have plans already developed but, of course, the people – they are grown ups, they want to hear more and more about what the Government is planning. And if the messaging is right and people are taken along with the planning process why wouldn’t Government be telling the public what they have in mind to prepare themselves for the sort of situations we are discussing now. To get that messaging right about face covering and so on and if that is going to be implemented at a later stage then why not address it now and particularly to avoid the potential, and real, confusion when parts of the UK is saying one thing and parts of the UK is saying something apparently different.’
The Government says that risks confusing the main message?
‘There’s a real risk that the message could be confused because it feels as if the messaging is confused as we sit here discussing the risks today.’
Are the government treating us like children?
‘I think that is a risk. I think the government have a strategy, that’s what they’re sticking with and they will adjust this strategy according to the changing situation. But at the moment that feels, from what people are saying just in social conversation, that there is this feeling that Government is not sharing as much as they possibly could to help the public understand better what it is that’s being done and maybe to get some reassurance and to increase that trust in what the Government is saying.’
Is the Government hiding behind the science?
‘I don’t think they are hiding behind the science. I think the scientists in this country are amongst the best in the world and the scientific processes should be set up to facilitate that input of the scientific advice. But, of course, the risk assessment, the science, the evidence base, is one part of the whole picture and what ministers, as the risk managers, are doing is take account of the science but putting it into the context of the politics, the finances, the social pressures and so on and so forth. So it’s a very complex process. I don’t think government would be hiding behind science. I think that would be a very bad thing to do.’
Why, therefore, are they not coming up with a plan?
‘It seems as though it is very much along the lines that you alluded to earlier, that the Government don’t want to distract from those key messages at the moment, which are absolutely critical; the staying at home, the physical distancing. And I think it feels as though the Government are saying; there will be time to get these other messages out in the right way but at the moment the focus is absolutely, critically, on the first line protection.’
World at One, Radio 4, 13.00, 30th April 2020.
This confusion in Government was demonstrated only a matter of hours after this interview – so Harper’s contribution didn’t have much effect upon those in Downing Street. A radio news report on 1st May reported that there’s evidence that face covering would have a weak but positive effect on reducing coronavirus transmission. On the 30th April the Buffoon had said face masks could be useful in helping people feel safe as the lock down is eased, i.e., it doesn’t really do any good but is a psychological crutch for the frightened. But still no real guidance from the government.
If there’s no consensus on what should be the policy on face masks in the UK this is repeated in Europe. As part of its relaxing of lock down in Germany anyone who enters certain shops are required to be wearing a ‘face covering’ – it seems there’s a fear that stating ‘face masks’ might cause a run on surgical masks and therefore putting pressure on health services requirements as well as creating a black market for them.
Travelling under the Channel
On 2nd May Eurostar put the following on its website;
‘From 4 May, passengers must wear a face mask or face covering at our stations and on board in line with guidelines announced by the French and Belgian governments.
Please ensure you have a mask with you when you travel. Any type of mask is suitable as long as it effectively covers your nose and mouth.
If you don’t have a mask you may be refused travel on our services. We’d like to advise you that fines may be imposed in France and Belgium if you’re not wearing a mask.’
There’s a creeping expansion of face masks use although the science still hasn’t come to a consensus about how effective they are – with some arguing there are more negatives than positives.
The Tories are afraid to make a decision on this as they know there will be a certain amount of opposition from a sizeable portion of the population and don’t want to take the flack – they would rather it creeps in with certain private organisations and businesses (e.g., Eurostar) making their own rules. That way the Tories can put their hands up and say; ‘don’t blame us’. In fact it’s their weakness that’s on display.
On 2nd May it became mandatory for all those travelling on public transport to wear masks. To make this easier for people a total of 13 million masks would be made available for free. One of the other reasons the Buffoon won’t say that it is mandatory in Britain is that they couldn’t be able to do similar. There’s still complaints about those in the NHS and care homes finding it difficult to source PPE – so there’s no chance they will be handed out for free in this country.
What’s important in society
Over the last couple of months there have been many fine words spoken about how the pandemic will change how people see the world. We can only hope that is true – we have allowed ‘our world’ (whether it be in Britain or the planet) to go to crap.
A couple of questions I have about when ‘the world’ returns to some sort of normality is how will we really think of those who are of value to society. The Thursday evening (20.00) ‘Clap for Carers’ – and other key workers – is all well and good but will we, as a society, be making sure that these workers are given the respect and recompense they deserve?
The British people have allowed their public services to be attacked and deprived of resources for decades, with the majority of them doing absolutely nothing to fight against it. On the contrary, there are millions within the British population who have been continually supporting the political parties who have been instituting such cuts in finance. The same people, and others, also seem to think that; a modern society functions better with an ever increasing number of people on short-term or zero-hours contracts; food banks in every town is considered a ‘success’; and that it is OK for the poor, in general, to get poorer and for more and more of the wealth of the country to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.
Their crassness in following, admiring, emulating and aspiring to be a ‘celebrity’ also adds to this distorted view of society and the shift away from what is, or at least should be, important in 21st century Britain. People who contribute nothing to the development of a society are lauded and consequently rewarded with huge amounts of money (various sports-people, ‘social influencers’, financial wheeler-dealers, etc.,) whilst those who produce and keep society functioning are looked down upon and virtually despised.
Will that change when the new ‘normality’ arrives?