The rate of compliance with Covid quarantine rules in New York state is estimated around 98%. In South Korea, over 99%. In the UK, a majority, perhaps as many as 80%, don’t fully comply.
In South Korea those going into quarantine receive the equivalent of £300, regardless of employment status and income. They also get a kit with food, drink and medical supplies, and regular check-ins with an individual through an app. Many local authorities offer temporary accommodation to people for whom isolation at home is impossible or difficult.
In New York anyone who tests positive, and their close contacts, can get free hotel accommodation, plus food, medicine and protective equipment.
South Korea’s infection and death figures are vastly better than the UK’s; New York’s, proportionally, worse. No one measure is enough to deal effectively with the virus. New York City, responsible for a clear majority of its state’s deaths, has a lot of poor quality and overcrowded housing and a population in various respects vulnerable to the virus. It was slow on covid-distancing in early 2020. Democrat state governor Andrew Cuomo has resisted proposals for stronger social support.
US legislation to provide 14 days full pay to millions of workers if they need to quarantine is estimated to have prevented hundreds of new infections a day. But thanks to resistance from Republican politicians and a lack of fight from the Democrats, the provisions were limited to workers in medium-size businesses — excluding a majority of private-sector workers.
The legislation expired at the end of 2020. Biden has proposed to reinstate it and remove the exemptions, but the Republicans are still resisting.
There is growing recognition that lack of material and financial support is a large part of why the UK’s infection and death rates are so high, despite so much testing. The Tories have repeatedly pointed to the £500 self-isolation payment “available” to those receiving benefits — but two-thirds of those badly-off enough to be eligible have had their application rejected.
They also point to Statutory Sick Pay — set at just £95.85 a week and not available to millions of mostly low-paid and precarious workers. The TUC found that a fifth of workers receive no sick pay, and another quarter only SSP. Among care workers, and other low-paid groups of workers, the proportion is higher. The GMB found that 80% of care workers felt they would need to take on debt in order to take time off sick.
SSP covers only 20% on average of workers’ incomes. In all but three of 27 EU countries, the equivalent minimum level is more than 50%. It is 70% in Germany, Croatia and the Netherlands; 80% in Denmark, Bulgaria and Poland; and 100% in Luxemburg.
Many European countries have more generous arrangements for those who need to self-isolate. In Portugal most workers who have been in contact with a confirmed case get 100% of their basic salary for two weeks; those with symptoms or a positive test, for 28 days. The self-employed and people on temporary contracts receive support based on their declared income; although those without the right formal paperwork, including many migrants, are effectively excluded.
In Germany, most workers who need to isolate get full pay for up to six weeks — though again there are gaps.
In the last couple of months there has been an increased buzz about the problem of sick pay and isolation pay in the mainstream media and in the labour movement. It has translated into relatively little political movement, in large part because the Labour Party has sat on its hands. Labour spokespeople indicate they support increasing sick pay, but with few specifics and less vocal campaigning.
Sick pay is a crucial issue, on which progress is surely possible given a fight. A number of labour movement and left organisations are agitating on this. They should link up and coordinate to build a united, much higher profile campaign.
We must fight to win the right for all workers to self-isolate on full pay, and decent, liveable sick pay for all.