Social solidarity to slow the virus

Submitted by martin on 6 October, 2020 - 7:38 Author: Martin Thomas
Covid-19 death rates

The "local lockdowns" aren't working. The Tories' helter-skelter mess of virus-control measures may do more harm, by disrupting social solidarity, than good.

Despite the Tories paying vast amounts to private contractors, and achieving high total test numbers, the virus test-and-trace system is nowhere near doing what it needs to do: identify infections and contacts promptly and get efficient quarantining.

NHS workers are weary and resentful, denied the 15% pay rise which they have demanded. Elderly-care workers are mostly still denied isolation pay.

Britain may be unique in the world in the high proportion (4 out of 5) of its two million university students who travel away from their home cities to new and crowded "households" for term-time. That was bound to spread infection, but the government told universities they would get no help if they failed to scoop in the rents and the fees.

Virus conditions are getting closer to Paris, where bars and cafés have now been shut to improve covid-distancing. And the coming months were always going to be difficult. From about now, with colder weather, people spend more time indoors. From about November, NHS facilities will be stretched and test-and-trace will be harder because of the usual seasonal flu, with similar symptoms to Covid.

It is still possible to push back the government and win sufficient elements of social solidarity to make the coming rise in deaths, now inevitable to some degree, much smaller than in spring, and to get sustainable rules which will see us through.

Comparing different countries' trajectories in the pandemic is difficult. In Britain's toll so far of 622 deaths per million, and (to take a country not often used for comparison) Japan's of 13/m, scientists have suggested such factors as different vaccinations (for other ailments) used in Japan, or the mildness of the last flu season in Britain. We don't know.

Japan has dense cities and the most elderly population in the world. It was hit by the virus early. It has had no lockdown and a low level of testing. Its pattern of school closures (closed on 2 March, before other measures; reopened area-by-area between early April and early June; opened early, from 17 August, for the autumn) makes little sense when set against the graph of infections.

Yet it has a relatively low death rate. After its first surge peaking in April, it had a second surge (more cases, fewer deaths) in August (with a government drive to revive tourism within Japan in the summer holidays), but has since seen that subside, for now.

Some differences:

• Scientists in Japan worked on "backward" tracing, to find the origins of infections: mostly pubs, karaoke rooms, gyms, etc. To reduce those "clusters", they have kept one simple message: avoid the "three Cs" - closed spaces, crowds, close contact. During "state of emergency" peaks, bars and cafés were advised (though not compelled) to close. (Japan has found, however, no clusters coming from the packed public transport system, where people don't talk face-to-face for long).

• The government has mandated paid leave on two-thirds pay for most (not all) workers infected, and made an additional £715 back-up payment to every resident.

• Even mild sufferers have been quarantined in hospitals or hotels, not in crowded home accommodation.

• Japan has an exceptionally well-financed system of elderly care, about twice as many critical-care beds in proportion to population as Britain with the Tories' regime of running the NHS always on the brink, and about five times as many total hospital beds.

• The government has distributed facemasks free, and the people of Japan have long been used to wearing masks for other viruses.

Similar measures of social solidarity are found in other countries with low tolls. The labour movement should demand them here.


Sources:

May reviews of Japan's first surge:
www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/japan-ends-its-covid-19-state-emergency
and
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7207161/

Japan's elderly care:
www.independent.co.uk/voices/japan-elderly-social-care-system-uk-nhs-health-old-people-a8377631.html

Criticisms of Japan's pandemic policies:
www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3221

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