By Mark Buckley
The upturn in new coronavirus cases in Britain has become so marked that even the Tory government, its media and the supportive Labour leadership cannot ignore it. Instead, the government has admitted a ‘second wave’ is on the way, is openly toying with idea of a second national lockdown and then immediately turned to blaming the public for the spread of the virus.
The facts are clear enough. There has been a continuous upturn in new cases globally. Recorded cases began to rise once more in larger European countries weeks ago. And, in a predictable repeat of what happened in February and March, UK cases tracked that rise with a time lag of just a few weeks.
The moving average for new cases has risen to just under 3,700 per day which is on its way to the peak level of 5,000 last seen in late March and early April. As shown in the chart below, new hospitalisations have also surged. It is therefore only a matter of time that new deaths begin to rise sharply too, even on the government’s measure with its artificially short cut-off point of 28 days after a positive test.
New COVID-19 hospitalisations in England
Having forced schools to reopen and university students to return, bribing people to eat out and demanding that workers return to work, ministers are now attempting to blame the public for the resurgence. In fact, in all the data, on school attendance before the summer holiday, public transport usage, retail footfall and pub takings, it is clear that a large majority of the public have been trying to adhere strictly to lockdown measures where they can.
It is the government and its policy of putting business first that is clearly responsible for the resurgence in cases, hospitalisations and ultimately deaths. Even sections of the Tory press have begun to attack Boris Johnson, both for allowing the resurgence and for threatening a renewed lockdown. There is open speculation from former supporters that Johnson will have to go.
The claim that cases are rising because of increased testing is a myth. The rate of testing has not increased in the last 6 weeks. Hospitalisations never increase because of testing and always require very severe symptoms. The rate of hospitalisations is doubling about every 8 days, which means it is growing exponentially. Unchecked, the overall health crisis will deteriorate very rapidly.
The government may also be repeating its previous vile policy of ignoring the consequences of the virus in care homes. NHS have been told to clear wards in preparation for a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and it is not clear that any safeguards have been put in place to prevent seriously ill patients being returned to care homes once again.
It is wrong in principle and from a purely political viewpoint for the Labour leadership to have offered a blank cheque to the government on its catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic. Even the government admits over 41,000 deaths, one of the worst in the world on a per capita basis and rising once more. The ONS said there were 51,000 deaths by the end of July, and measures of excess deaths long ago put the true death toll at over 65,000.
Of course, none of this has even met the government’s deadly wrong priority of ‘saving the economy’. There can be no resumption of normal economic activity while a pandemic is spreading rapidly. Other countries have shown that it is possible to effectively eliminate the virus. This has been done either by the dwindling international band of governments that are in practice social democratic, such as New Zealand, or in socialist countries such as China, Cuba and Viet Nam.
The Starmer leadership of the Labour Party has backed Johnson at almost every turn in prioritising the economy. Its criticism is mainly confined to the timing of announcements, or process. Faced with the Tory admission that they had allowed a ‘second wave’ (in reality they never broke the first wave) Starmer’s call was not for lockdown, testing, tracing, the public sector to take control to ensure effectiveness and so on. It was to call for COBRA meeting.
Starmer bears equal responsibility for the crisis, even writing to Johnson privately to say he would support him. His sharpest criticism was reserved for complaining about the thoroughness of the schools’ reopening. If the Tories do throw Johnson overboard, his shadow ought to go with him.
By contrast, the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs has issued a Statement calling for a zero COVID strategy, aiming to eliminate the virus as has been done elsewhere. MPs like Diane Abbott, Richard Burgon and others have been campaigning on this, the only way to save lives and return to normality. As the objective situation worsens and if the campaign is intensified, it can begin to gain traction.