Virus: getting through the months

Submitted by AWL on 24 November, 2020 - 9:18 Author: Martin Thomas
Covid image

The news is good on vaccines for Covid-19. But, as every expert says, it will be several months at least before vaccination shrinks the need for covid-distancing and quarantining. Longer, if the vaccines block symptoms but not the virus itself or transmission. (We don’t yet know).

As of 24 November, infection rates have been edging down in Europe since 8 November. They look like plateauing worldwide, after rapid growth since mid-October, but are rising sharply in the USA.

The lockdowns in Belgium and France have reduced rates there sharply, and Spain and Italy (without lockdowns) have also turned the curves (slightly) down. Wales is so far plateaued since its 23 October to 9 November lockdown, and at a rate similar to 23 October.

England’s lockdown has reduced rates, but, at two-thirds of the way through it, not much. If “tier 3” is applied very widely after 2 December, then post-lockdown will be not much different from lockdown, and the statistics suggest that’s how it should be.

Thinking that unenforceable bans on people meeting family and friends over Christmas may bring more harm (by building habits of disregard for covid-distancing rules) than good, the four UK governments promise a temporary easing then.

(Full disclosure: the writer’s younger daughter plans to visit. There is a case for banning such visits; but we’ll take advantage of the fact they’re not banned. I guess many others will feel similarly to me. My daughter arrived from Australia to start a new job in the Netherlands, where she knew no one, in mid-March, and went straight into lockdown. She will observe her self-isolation after travelling, and we’ll be careful. I’d rather reduce my statistical expectancy of disability-free life, seven years at my age, than definitely lose to inactivity one of my maybe-few years left...)

Labour movement demands

Further lockdowns or strict tiers must be very probable for January. Whatever the details, the core issue for the labour movement is still to shift the Tories on:

• Full isolation pay for all, and publicly-provided quarantine accommodation for those who would otherwise “self-isolate” in crowded housing

• Requisition facilities and supplies for the NHS; bring social care into the public sector, with regular public-sector pay and conditions for staff

• Public-health testing-and-tracing

• More funding for schools to allow more staffing, rota systems to “thin out” crowding, improved ventilation, and extra temporary buildings

• Workers’ control of workplace safety.

We need those social measures for their own sake and to build the social solidarity necessary to make covid-distancing work all across society, including in its restrictions on private socialising.

An 18 November report from the National Audit Office showed how the Tory government has undermined that social solidarity.

It documented £18 billion of pandemic contracts handed out, mostly off-hand, many via a “high-priority lane” for contractors recommended by officials and MPs, some with the paperwork done retroactively after the contractor had actually started, many with the proper information for checking and auditing not published.

NHS supplies and logistics were already tangled up with four layers of profit-taking subcontractors between the public authorities and the actual work. The Tories have added more layers of profit-taking and given more jobs to their cronies.

The Tories have denied that they are set to spend £100 billion on mass rapid testing (“Operation Moonshot”), but they are doing a pilot scheme in Liverpool. Scientists such as Angela Raffle and Jon Deeks argue that the effort will do more harm than good. Probably more people will get “false positive” tests than true positives: that will further undermine commitment to self-isolate when testing positive. Many will get “false negative” tests, and be encouraged to discard precautions when in fact they’re infectious.

It looks like another of the Tories’ gimmicks: like the ballyhooed antibody testing, the phone app, the new test-processing labs which return results slowly and in a way that leaves the rate of real self-isolating among those testing positive below 20%.

Gimmicks and profiteering won’t curb the virus. Social provision and social solidarity will lay the basis to do that.

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