23rd February 2022
Living with Covid or dying to make a profit?
Any pretence that the Tories have been involved in anything but a de facto strategy of herd immunity during the Covid pandemic was cast to one side this week. The minimal protections in place, such as mask wearing on public transport and in crowded public spaces, will go. Access to regular free lateral flow tests will go, other than for the most vulnerable and social care staff, though not health workers.
Remarkably, the necessity to self isolate when testing positive for Covid will disappear, with responsibility being passed to employers and individuals. To describe this as a monumental abdication of responsibility on the part of the government is an understatement. While many employers in the public sector will acknowledge their duty of care, and advise staff who show symptoms to stay at home, the same cannot be relied upon in the small business and private sector.
Setting out its plans the government states that from 24th February in England:-
- The legal requirement to self-isolate ends. Until 1 April, people who test positive are advised to stay at home. Adults and children who test positive are advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least five full days and then continue to follow the guidance until they have received two negative test results on consecutive days.
- From April, the Government will update guidance setting out the ongoing steps that people with COVID-19 should take to be careful and considerate of others, similar to advice on other infectious diseases. This will align with testing changes.
- Self-isolation support payments, national funding for practical support and the medicine delivery service will no longer be available.
- Routine contact tracing ends, including venue check-ins on the NHS COVID-19 app.
- Fully vaccinated adults and those aged under 18 who are close contacts are no longer advised to test daily for seven days and the legal requirement for close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to self-isolate will be removed.
Infection rates remain high and the death rate across Britain remains the highest in Europe, with over 160,000 deaths to date. Britain is second only to France in the number of cases. Only the United States, Brazil and India are ahead on both cases and deaths from Covid. Yet the Tories’ adherence to private wealth as opposed to public health remains unshakable. Without a hint of irony the Tories call their plan Living with Covid, though their entire strategy to date could best be characterised as Dying to make a Profit, a strategy from which the latest announcement is no departure.
The latest rules only apply to England, for the moment, but it is hard to see how the other UK governments will not follow sooner or later.
It is clear that the impact of the changes, as at each stage of the pandemic, will hit the poorest the hardest. Those who have no choice but to work, often at more than one job, will have no safety net and no incentive or encouragement to stay at home when they display Covid symptoms. Those on temporary or zero hours contracts or surviving in the gig economy will be faced with impossible choices. This is underlined by the fact that guidance also states that from 1st April the government will,
- Remove the health and safety requirement for every employer to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments.
In response to the government plan Prof Anthony Costello, professor of global health and sustainable development at UCL, told the BBC:
“The worry about lifting the legal restrictions is that we are telling not only our population, but the world, that there is really nothing to worry about, that it’s all over when it isn’t.”
The new Covid plans would also see councils in England become responsible for managing outbreaks using existing powers, although there is no indication that any additional resources will be allocated.
Several scientists and clinicians – including Prof Anthony Costello, Dr Kit Yates and Prof Christina Pagel – have signed an open letter to Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, urging them to “clarify the extent to which the planned policies are consistent with scientific advice and what specifically that scientific advice contained”.
Further concern was expressed by Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association, who stressed that infections need to fall further before the rules were relaxed, stating,
“It does appear as if the government is trying to pretend that Covid doesn’t exist in the day-to-day lives of so many people.”
The right wing press and the hard core right wing in the Tory Party may well crow that the “shackles are off” and trumpet loudly the removal of so called “restrictions” but for many people this is simply a case of stripping away protection and increasing their sense of vulnerability. The pressure upon the NHS remains, the working class continue to suffer disproportionately and Tory donors, with their fast track contracts, walk away with fat profits on the backs of us all and the deaths of many.
This is the true face of capitalism in 21st century Britain. It is time for a change.