In mid-July, the government received a report commissioned by its Chief Scientific Officer which warned that July and August were likely to be a lull in the pandemic followed by new spikes over the winter.
Even if this virus is not “seasonal” in the way some others are, the fact of people spending more time indoors in winter will boost infections. The usual seasonal rise of flu will make it harder to trace chains of SARS-Cov-2 infection, and put pressure on the NHS.
The report urged the government to use the July-August lull to get preparations in place for the winter.
At first, it seems, the government just didn’t read the report. Boris Johnson blustered about life being back to normal for Christmas.
Then the ministers read it, or someone who had read it caught their attention. The government “put on the brakes” about lockdown-easing, though only after it had reopened pubs and cafés, known to be possible virus-transmission hubs, on 4 July.
The government has also increased the volume of testing, though the organisation of it remains a largely contracted-out mess, rather than a proper public-health operation.
But little else has been done during this period when virus hospitalisations have remained at a low level, though, thanks to the reopening of pubs, cafés, and tourist activities, infections have increased across Europe.
Now Health Minister Matt Hancock is warning, obviously enough, that the current quick rise in infection numbers (since late August) will feed through, sooner or later, to one extent or another, into more hospital cases and more deaths.
At the same time, the government is pushing to get more office workers out of “work from home” and back into offices. They are demanding that 80% of civil service workers be back in their offices (at least some of the week) by the end of September.
Not so that they can work better! No, so that they can pack into the pubs, cafés, and shops of the city centres, the buses and the trains, and so spread infection!
The Tories want to be able to end furlough pay at the end of October and minimise the consequent unemployment spike. (Over three million workers are still on furlough). The labour movement should demand the continuing of full furlough pay for many months yet; rent holidays for residential tenants and for small businesses; and a great expansion of public services which will provide good new jobs for
At the same time, schools are being reopened, universities are restarting, and the government is encouraging more passengers for public transport.
Each of reopening schools, re-filling public transport, and even restarting universities, may be possible to do without setting off a new spiral of infections. But each one is bound to add something to the infection figures. To do a “back-to-the-office” drive at the same time, and while positively encouraging people to crowd into pubs and cafés, is foolish and short-sighted.
The NHS and the virus-precaution system needs to be rebuilt now, while we still have time, for winter.
Ever since 2010, and before that too, the NHS has been run on the basis of cutting to the maximum as long as it can just “get by”. It has been routine, even in ordinary winters, for hospitals to be at 95% capacity.
Care homes, the same. A recent report showed that larger, fuller, less-staffed care homes have had more Covid deaths. In other words, the more cost-cutting, the more deaths. But the drive has been for cost-cutting.
The pandemic has shown us the destructiveness of the capitalist logic of “what the market calls for, right now” as against the socialist logic of “social provision, with social foresight”.
The labour movement must fight for the rebuilding of the NHS and of social care, with good pay rises for all staff, with all jobs taken in-house, and all contracting-out reversed.
And above all we must fight for workers’ control at every level. The Tories and the bosses cannot be trusted. Only the workers, in each workplace and industry, have adequate motivation and adequate interest to keep us safe.