By Mark Buckley
Covid-19 cases are rising globally, including in Europe and in Britain. There is very little publicity about this renewed deterioration as the majority of the ruling class are anxious to get people back to work regardless of the risks. In this they have the full support of the media and the leaders of both major political parties. Preventing a renewed surge in deaths will therefore mainly rest with the opposition from the labour movement, with allies in the medical and scientific professions, campaigners for justice for Black and Asian communities and others.
The first chart below shows the global picture for both cumulative registered cases and deaths from coronavirus. Clearly both are still rising rapidly. At the time of writing there were over 21 million confirmed cases and over 750,000 deaths. The latest daily totals were over one quarter of a million new cases and over 5,000 new deaths. The majority of both cases and deaths are now located in the Americas, North and South. The virus is very far from burning itself out.
But neither Britain nor Europe as a whole are immune from these trends. Cases are rising in many European countries, Britain included and in some there is already a rise in deaths, naturally with a time gap following the rise in diagnosed cases.
The British government has made repeated changes to both the collection and publication of testing, cases and deaths data. This is clearly to suppress the terrible comparisons with other countries. Even so, it is clear that cases are on a rising trend.
Recorded cases reached a post-lockdown low-point (on this data) of 541 cases on a 7-day moving average basis on July 29. The latest reading is 1,079 on the same basis. In effect, cases have doubled in 3 weeks.
Death rates have not yet risen and in fact continue to fall. Ignoring the time lapse between case diagnoses and deaths, in the US Trump falsely boasted that deaths were not going to rise and higher cases were a product of better testing. Then US cases surged once more.
It should be noted too that the official SAGE groups says that the R reproduction rate may be above 1, https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-r-number-in-the-uk, where cases would rise. This seems probably given the rise in cases shown above. Both new cases and new deaths are higher now than when the lockdown was belatedly imposed on March 23.
Back to work – for those not unemployed
The entire thrust of government policy throughout the crisis has been to put business and the profits of business first. Lockdown was only reluctantly imposed and almost immediately ministers began a campaign for its removal. The failed campaign to get pupils back to school was another aspect of the same policy. Yet data continue to show that footfall in shops, pub-going, restaurant-going and public transport usage are all way down on previous levels. The public does not go along with the policy, which is confirmed in opinion polls. Almost as many of the public remain concerned about the pandemic as before lockdown, 72% now versus 75% then.
Unfortunately, the Labour leadership under Keir Starmer does go along with the government policy. It argued vociferously for schools to reopen against teachers’ advice and even sacked Rebecca Long Bailey for a safety-first approach. The Labour leadership even opposes the wearing of masks in schools, despite that fact that masks are now compulsory in many closed public spaces. Recently Keir Starmer attacked Boris Johnson from the right, demanding that schools reopen regardless of the risks. “My message to the Prime Minister: I don’t just want all children back at school next month, I expect them back at school. No ifs, no buts, no equivocation”, Starmer tweeted.
Resistance to the government’s catastrophic back-to-work policies is not coming from this Labour leadership. The claim that Starmer is a continuity Corbyn leader is patently false. But the teachers’ unions have already shown strong resistance to force pupils back to school. As previously noted, cases are rising and if that trend continues it would be surprising if deaths do not begin to rise too.
Crucially, parents and carers have overwhelmingly rejected the government’s demands. Initially 9% of pupils went back, mainly children of essential workers without alternative childcare options plus pupils with special educational needs. Despite a fierce campaign, the percentage returning never rose above 16% before the holidays began.
So, the government have resorted to the stick rather than the carrot. Ending furlough prematurely has caused hundreds of thousands of avoidable job losses. But the government has resisted all pleas to extend it, as this is a key weapon in forcing workers back to work. Similarly, the ban on evictions introduced during lockdown is going to be ended, which again is designed to force reluctant workers back. And ministers have openly discussed fining parents or carers who don’t send their children back.
Teachers’ unions have shown the way. Their earlier refusal to go back until it is safe undoubtedly saved thousands, possibly tens of thousands of lives. In terms of the number of deaths and both the level and growth of cases, the situation is now worse than when schools were shut. It should be noted too that, almost alone among public sector workers, teachers were granted a pay rise this year, presumably in an effort to soften militancy. But recently nurses have mobilised in large numbers to fight for their own pay. Union leaders in the civil service and transport unions have spoken about putting safety first, not a return to work. And any union taking action can be sure they will receive strong support from the burgeoning BlackLivesMatter movement, as Black and Asian communities have been so badly hit by both the virus and the lay-offs.
The propaganda campaign that we all need to return to work to save the economy should be disregarded. The Tory politicians and their Labour shadows who supported austerity clearly do not prioritise the living standards of workers and the poor. It is also simply foolish to expect any consumer-related business to recover while a pandemic is raging. There is no prospect for economic recovery in those sectors until the virus is eliminated.
Socialists in the trade unions and Labour Party can argue strongly for a public health approach to a public health crisis. They should support the demand for extending the furlough, keeping the block on evictions, and no fines for reluctant carers and parents. The overall aim of policy must be to eliminate the virus. There are campaigns underway in large trade unions for new general secretaries and these demands can be put to candidates to endorse.
Other countries have virtually eliminated the virus. It is possible here too if people are put before profits.