By Mark Buckley
The issue of the enormous Covid-19 death toll from British government policy is firmly back on the political agenda. The renewed upsurge in cases and deaths has received only limited attention from a media keen to support the government’s back to work agenda. But the latest joint report from two select committees in the Commons has been much harder to ignore.
The report is scathing, leading to the reasonable conclusion that this is the worst response to a public health crisis in British history. Among other issues, the cross-party MPs emphasise the scandalous policy of pushing infected patients out of hospitals and back into care, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. The authors do not say so, but this fits in with the eugenicist neoliberal policy first attributed to Dominic Cummings, of ‘putting the economy first and who cares if a few old people die.’
The presentation of the report was deeply flawed, despite the accuracy of many its assessments. This was inevitable when the main spokesperson for the report was Jeremy Hunt, who was directly responsible as Health Secretary for the rundown of the NHS prior to the pandemic and the disastrous shortages of staff and equipment, including a lack of basic PPE.
In presenting the report, it was claimed that that the successful vaccine roll-out exonerated government from its earlier ‘errors’. It was also strongly suggested that this was of purely historical interest, as the pandemic is all but finished, ‘all over bar the shouting’ as one unnamed minister has said.
In fact, the current rises in new cases, hospitalisations and deaths are all at levels much higher than this time last year. The government’s vaccine-only policy is not at all a success and compounds the disastrous effects of its previous policies, as the data shows. Recently, British cases have been as high as other large European countries combined. Their cases are subsiding because they have combined vaccination programmes with some continued precautions and mitigations (including masks in public places, ventilation, and vaccine passes). Hunt was lambasted by campaigners for bereaved families for talking about the government response as ‘a game of two halves’.
It should also be clear that the pandemic in this country is not being brought under control. The situation is continuing to deteriorate.
More fundamentally, it should be clear from the repetition of lethal policies that these were not errors at all. This government has consciously inflicted a defeat on the working class and the oppressed, who have borne the brunt of the pandemic death.
It has ‘let no good crisis go to waste’ where there has been an enormous shift of resources away from the NHS and other public services towards the private sector, including blatant corruption. It has undermined the NHS, and almost completely cowed the labour movement, led by the subservient Starmer. It is now pressing home its advantage directly in the sphere of living standards, where it is lowering real wages and the social wage in an effort to boost profits.
The overall policy has been to boost profits at every turn, even at the cost of 160,000 lives and rising. The government has no intention of shifting course, because its entire attack on workers and the oppressed has letting the virus rip as its centrepiece.
Therefore it remains the task for socialists to unite with the broadest layers possible even on the most basic demands such as mask wearing, ventilation in schools, permitting isolation for the symptomatic or those who have tested positive, protection for the immune-suppressed, disabled people and the elderly, and so on.
This can include all types of campaign groups, unions concerned about health and safety and notably the devolved governments who have adopted different, less reckless measures than the Tories in England. There remains a strong body of specialists in the fields of science, medicine, behavioural psychology, maths and other disciplines who have refused to bend to government pressure for a laissez-faire approach to public health.
At the same time, new ways must be found to promote the Zero Covid strategy, the only sustainable alternative to the current policy. The government has promoted policies which are responsible for 160,000 deaths. We cannot argue for 100,000 deaths as the alternative, or say over 100 new deaths a day are unacceptable, but 50 a day can be tolerated.
As one of the leaders of #WeCanBeZero group in Ireland put it in a campaign meeting, we have a zero fire policy. This does not mean there are never any fires. It does mean we do not leave the flames burning when only one house is in flames. This is an excellent way of presenting the Zero Covid idea, and we should build on it.