New Covid plans

Submitted by martin on 29 June, 2020 - 3:08 Author: Editorial
UK, Belgium, Netherlands

Daily Covid-19 deaths per million, UK, Belgium, Netherlands

Doctors and scientists want a shift in virus-control policy. An open letter to all the political parties, on 23 June, by leading medical figures, called for an urgent effort to map new policies because "the available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk".

Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government's official scientific advisory group SAGE, told the BBC (28 June) that unless the next two months are used "cleverly", we'll have "rebounds and second waves... come the winter".

Other SAGE members have criticised in coded language. The "Independent SAGE" group set up by David King in early May is strident.

Different scientists have different alternatives. Most don't want covid-distancing reduced just yet. Many stress what the "Independent SAGE" calls a "Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support" plan.

Others, like Marc Lipsitch of Harvard University, warn that: "We should be trying to get contact-tracing infrastructure in place because it will help around the margins... We must stop thinking of it as a magic bullet (which it has been arguably nowhere, at most in a few very low-incidence settings)".

Solidarity cannot claim scientific expertise. We don't know.

But we do know social measures important for making a virus-control system effective which are not being taken.

The Labour leadership has supported the government's 4 July plans to reopen pubs with reduced covid-distancing, making only mild criticisms on the side. We want rank-and-file pressure to turn that round.

• Power for workers, using expert advice, to stop unsafe working. Around late March many groups of workers forced safety changes by using their rights to withdraw from unsafe work areas (under legislation like section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996).

Barnsley postal workers did the same on 22 June. As we go to press, Jobcentre workers are considering the same.

It's harder for workers in pubs and cafés, due to reopen from 4 July, but possible for them too. Refusing unsafe work is not "industrial action" in legal terms, and groups of workers can do it even without a union.

• Full isolation pay for all. We now know that in early March infections rose to thousands a day in early March, escaping the eyes of official testing and tracing. Around half those with Covid-19 and symptoms continued to work, because economically they couldn't afford to self-isolate.

Yet now the Tories propose to cut isolation pay for outsourced workers in the civil service. And we’ve won full isolation pay in only 40% of care homes. We need to win the other 60%. Identified contacts of Covid-19 sufferers, who may themselves have no or scant symptoms, also need to be able to self-isolate.

• All care homes should be taken into the public sector, and the jobs in them should be made secure and well-paid under public sector conditions. Christina McAnea, assistant general secretary of the public service union Unison, told the Observer (28 June) that we need "quick change, not a new commission... a national care service".

• The testing and tracing operation should be made a direct public-health operation, with direct public management and responsibility, and workers on public sector conditions.

At present large parts of it are contracted out via Deloitte for the testing and Serco for the tracing, with Serco employing tracers as casual workers on little more than minimum wages.

The tracing system is not working. There are lots of tests, but geared only for headline testing-numbers, and without the reliable rapid turnaround needed for tracing to work.

• Industry should be requisitioned for reliable supplies of PPE, and private hospitals should be nationalised into the NHS.

• Suitable accommodation should be requisitioned by the government for people who should self-isolate but live in crowded housing, and for people coming into the country to quarantine. Other countries have done this. Hotels and student accommodation will serve the purpose.

The worst of the pandemic may yet be to come. Worldwide, cases have been rising fast again since late May. Deaths too, since early June - slowly so far, but that may be a statistical illusion from undercounting in Brazil and India.

The lockdown-easings done carefully and piecemeal across Europe since 7 April continue to "work". But in Iran and Israel botched easing has already produced second waves.

Belgium and the Netherlands have had high Covid-19 tolls, like Britain, They have reopened cafés and bars, the Netherlands on 1 June and Belgium on 8 June (and schools, too, earlier), without disrupting their clear decline in infections.

But, by cases per population, Britain is now where the Netherlands was early May, Belgium late May, By deaths, Netherlands mid-May, Belgium early June. Further solid infection decline might justify further easing in England in mid-July. Not now.

As it is, the Tory government's move to reopen pubs from 4 July will probably avoid serious hurt only if it "fails" in the Tories' terms, that is, if their drive to encourage people to pack in fails, and the pubs remain fairly empty.

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