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Enough of Boris Johnson! The way he has conscripted his Cabinet ministers to defend his wretched Rasputin, Dominic Cummings, is a symptom of much more.
A tinpot tyrant act. Trying to sideline scientific debate. Doing everything he does in the pandemic with a priority of paying profits to his mates, Serco or Deloitte or others, and evading responsibility.
On 20 May, Boris Johnson told Parliament: “we will have a test, track and trace operation that will be world-beating, and yes, it will be in place by 1 June”.
Leave aside the sickly talk of “world-beating”. Dido Harding, another posh Tory without relevant education or expertise (but she went to uni with David Cameron), has been brought in to run the “manual” track-and-trace. On 28 May, she admitted it would not be in full operation until the end of June.
Back on 20 March, the government said it was planning a smartphone virus-tracing app to be put in circulation when the lockdown was eased.
The contract for the app, with a US software company, has been managed by Matthew Gould, the boss of “NHSX”, the “digital policy” bit of the NHS. Gould has no education or expertise in medicine, public health, or information technology. But he did go to school with George Osborne and then to Cambridge.
In late April, the Tories promised the app for mid-May. We’re still waiting.
In other countries, track-and-trace has been run by local public-health employees, augmented by police, who, whatever else about them, are permanent public-sector employees with some relevant training and some slight level of accountability.
Under Johnson, the tracers are being recruited by Serco, an outsourcing company with no relevant expertise but with Rupert Soames as CEO (from an old Tory family, Eton, Oxford). Serco is hiring them for 12-week gigs, on minimum wage or a bit more, and giving scanty training.
Track-and-trace at best is only part of a policy against the virus. To work at all it needs smaller numbers of cases to be tracked than currently in Britain.
John Edmunds, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of the government’s advisory committee, said on 29 May that he estimated 8000 new infections a day outside hospitals and care homes. The daily number of new confirmed (tested) cases in Britain is going down slowly, but is still four times the level in France and Italy. So is the daily number of deaths.
Back in January-March, when the government ran track-and-trace before dropping it in mid-March for lack of testing capacity, the average delay for getting test results and then reaching the close contacts of someone infected was five days. As a recent report by scientists convened by the Royal Society comments, “by the time contacts were found, half of their onward transmissions [to infect yet others] had already occurred”.
To work better than it worked then, the operation needs quicker test results. Taiwan can provide them in four hours, Vietnam in five hours. Britain, with its big biotech industry, its big university biology departments, and its riches, but its Tory government — two days if you’re lucky.
The testing is organised by Deloitte, a firm of accountants, not people with medical knowledge. (Boss is David Sproul. A tax accountant. Paid himself £3.3 million last year, enough to endear him to Johnson).
Then if the contacts are traced, they need to be able to self-isolate. They need isolation pay. But not even all care-home workers have that yet.
The case-numbers won’t be kept down long-term without PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] being available for workers across the board.
Even in the NHS, “securing sufficient levels of PPE” is still “a challenge”, according to the boss of NHS Providers, an umbrella body for NHS trusts, speaking on 25 May. The NHS doesn’t have “sustainable supply in place, and really effective testing of NHS staff and patients”. Dentists, due to reopen on 8 June, say they can’t get PPE.
A new report (see here) shows how the NHS supply chain has been divided into 11 contracted-out segments. Each contractor is a middle-man, which then does exclusive deals with suppliers. (That is why suppliers offering PPE could get no replies to emails when they offered extra supply in the earlier days of the pandemic). “Four layers of profit-taking”, and as many layers of buck-passing, intervene between the NHS paying the money to contractors, and the supplies coming.
The labour movement must demand requisitioning of industry for direct public provision of PPE and tests, workers’ control over reopenings, isolation pay for all, and work or full pay for the workers now facing job cuts.
We need to get rid of the Tory government and the whole nexus of privilege and profiteering which it serves. Getting rid of Johnson will be a start. It would be hard even for a Tory successor to get away with his tinpot-tyrant stuff, like his attempt to shut down Parliament last year and his rush for a hard Brexit formula before 30 June.
Make Labour speak out!