Covid lessons from Chile

Submitted by AWL on 6 April, 2021 - 5:40 Author: Martin Thomas

So far the news in Britain from the vaccine roll-out and the gradual lockdown-easing is good. News from Chile reminds us that battles for isolation pay and for workers’ control of workplace safety (as in the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) remain urgent.

Chile has done more vaccinations per population than Britain, 58 per 100 population vs 56 here. Yet on 25 March it imposed a new lockdown in its major population centre, around Santiago, because of soaring Covid infection and death figures.

The new lockdown is stricter than anything we’ve had in Britain, with borders closed, a night-time curfew, and only two permits per person per week to leave home unless you have an “essential worker” certificate. It is enforced with troops on the streets.

As of 6 April, both cases and deaths graphs show only very tentative and recent signs of turning down.

Chile has long had different Covid restrictions in different areas (which may make more sense in a country 2,700 miles long but only 100 miles wide, on average), but they have almost always, since May 2020 and in at least some areas, been tighter than Britain’s.

Guesses about its new Covid spike (since 20 February) include:

• Restrictions being eased, and people becoming less careful about them, after cases started falling in January

• Travel restrictions being eased, and people travelling to Brazil and bringing back the P.1 and P.2 variants common there, which partly evade immunity from previous infections with other variants (and may also partly evade immunity from current vaccines)

• The Coronavac vaccine widely used there possibly being less effective

• Seasonal effects (it’s now autumn in Chile)

• Chile using a smaller time-gap between jabs than Britain, so it has more people who’ve had two jabs but also more who’ve had none.

I don’t know. But the evidence from Chile, and the rising infections in many parts of the USA despite many vaccinations there, make the case for continued effort on measures like isolation pay and workers’ control, and a slow, check-each-step approach on easing Covid restrictions. Worldwide case and death rates are still trending up again (since late February or early March).

The full reopening of schools from 8 March shows no evidence of producing anything like the 0.5 jump in the reproduction number R which some media, and even official SAGE documents, talked of. There was a marked slowing of measured infection-rate decline in early March, but that may have been to do with increased testing or other factors. Estimates of R by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine show an uptick in late February, before schools reopened, and then a new decrease soon after the reopening.

The US National Bureau of Economic Research has found that street protests are unlikely to lift infection curves visibly, even in conditions of high virus circulation as in the USA during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.

But unsafe workplaces and lots of socialising can raise infections, and give new variants a better chance to develop and spread.

Some scientists, notably Jon Deeks of Birmingham University, criticise the current huge roll-out of lateral-flow virus tests in Britain because, they say, those tests in real-life (rather than lab) conditions are fairly unreliable. Money and effort put into them should (they say) instead be put into improving isolation pay and quarantine accommodation and services.

Their arguments also suggest some scepticism about the talk of pubs and similar being licensed to demand “Covid passports”, on top of the problems there for people with insecure immigration status or medical reasons for not being vaccinated.

A new study finds an improvement in rates of people with Covid symptoms actually self-isolating, from 20% last summer to 43% now. But still, 43%... Not all the failures of self-isolation are people going to work (the study finds only 16% of the breaches are going to work, rather than going to shops, visiting friends, etc.). But that is still a lot of failures, and it’s among those with symptoms. The rate of effective self-isolation among people without symptoms who are nonetheless “contacts”, or recent entrants to the country, is probably lower.

Other recently-published research highlights the scale of “long Covid”, finding that only 29% of 1,077 Covid-hospitalised people studied in 2020 had fully recovered five months later.

Our campaign demands remain:

• Full isolation pay for all, and publicly-provided accommodation and services for those otherwise trying to “self-isolate” in crowded housing. Convert contracted-out “Test and Trace” to a public-health isolation service

• Requisition patents and other Big Pharma assets to allow maximum vaccine production and roll-out across the world. Requisition private hospitals and PPE and medical supply chains

• Bring social care into the public sector, with NHS-level pay and conditions for care workers

• Workers’ control of workplace safety.

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