England will be the first country to roll back mandatory safety measures that give protection against Covid-19, by PM Boris Johnson. Scientists and doctors condemn it, as a third wave of the pandemic is rapidly spreading across England. Every disaster film begins with the most informed and socially conscious scientists being ignored, but this isn’t a film; it’s reality.
Johnson branded 19 July “Freedom Day”. Such misleading propaganda is very dangerous. “Freedom Day” could lead to 100,000 infections per day by August. People will be sacrificed without sufficient vaccination and immunity will be ‘achieved’, predominantly in the young, by natural infection. This echoes the approach taken in Brazil by far-right President Bolsonaro.
Before 19 July, the UK has one of the highest numbers of new daily infections globally, over 48,000. Many are warning that new variants can emerge. Even those with two doses of vaccination are not risk-free and, if they become infected can infect others. The poor working-class and immigrant communities will suffer the most as many such neighbours have the lowest take up.
The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, just as Covid-19 was taking hold. Johnson’s strategy and tactics in dealing with the pandemic are informed by his idea to enhance Great Britain’s prestige on the world stage. The drive to build a ‘Greater Britain’ is based on boosting capitalist profit and privatisation. The last eighteen months reveal what they want Brexit to look like and the risks they will take (what it means for big business and workers will be discussed in another article).
Since January 2020 he has used Covid-19 dangers, as far as possible, to enrich big business and its friends in the Tory party. His policy is the same in the “opening up” of the economy following the stop-start lockdowns of the last months. He now intends to allow the full reopening of the airline and tourist industry. He argues that we now have to “learn to live with Covid”. For many, this means learning to ‘live’ with death and illness.
Capitalism does not have a zero Covid-19 policy because to have such a policy means fighting to ensure the entire world population is vaccinated. That is beyond the ability of capitalism as the imperialist centres have vast amounts of vaccines and drug companies refuse to waive patent rights. While Covid, on a world scale, is out of control.
In England, Johnson is now removing known safety measures that stop the spread of the virus as if Covid has been eradicated. Mask-wearing and social distancing are to become a personal choice! This will be particularly dangerous in confined spaces. Employers will use the change to ignore the concerns in factories and workplaces – unless workers organise and fight.
Mask-wearing by all people – particularly indoors, where airborne transmission is most likely – can make transmission near-impossible, especially when combined with good ventilation. A study published in September 2020 by researchers at the University of Edinburgh found masks can block 99.9 per cent of Covid-linked droplets.
Opening up the economy also means accelerating privatisation such as the NHS. The government’s introduction of the 2021 Health and Care Bill marks the final stage of the destruction of the NHS.
NHS England touts “Integrated Care” as a move designed to help the NHS cope with growing pressure, which is an attempt to deflect the reality of moving the NHS to a US-style private health system. The NHS will be split into 42 Integrated Care. This system has been designed in collaboration with US insurance companies like United Health, through their servant Simon Stevens (departing CEO of NHS England). This is the final step in the dangerous restructuring that has been taking place since 2015 and is now ready for completion.
Fighting for European health and the NHS
We must continue to build support for health workers who are fighting for a pay rise, for patient safety and against privatisation. We must build a national strike movement to support nurses and staff and to keep the NHS as public health service free at the point of need.
Health workers across Europe are fighting the same battle as those in Britain. Starting in Belgium and France there have been recent mobilisations involved in at least five countries. On 29 May, Sante En Lutte organised more than 3,000 people in Brussels to mobilise on the streets. A&E and intensive care workers at Erasme hospital started a march with a spontaneous strike that began on 7 June. On 17 June, strikes spread to many hospitals.
The reason? To fight for an increase in wages, staff and for refinancing health care. Let’s learn from the best strike movements in Europe and build a European strike movement including here in Britain.
As a third wave of the pandemic rises across England, the UK government say vaccines have “broken the link between infection and mortality.” This is not true. The Lancet reports that “The link between infection and death might have been weakened, but it has not been broken, and infection can still cause substantial morbidity in both acute and long-term illness.” [i]
The UK Health Secretary acknowledges their policy means using the discredited “herd immunity” for the young.
There are about 37 million people who have had two doses and 47 million who have had one. That still leaves without protection, a majority of whom are willing to be vaccinated. Opening up means that newly emerging variants could undermine the vaccine programme, increase the number of people getting Long Covid (already affecting approximately two million), and prevent the NHS from coping with the huge backlog of other health problems. This policy will continue to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and marginalised, deepening inequalities.
To save lives, suppress infection and limit the development of new variants, it is essential to ensure a rapid and equitable global roll-out of billions of vaccines. In the short term, this means a redistribution of vaccine stock to oppressed countries. It means a waiver of patent rights across the world to produce more vaccines in these countries. No one is safe until everyone is safe.
Only the working class with informed scientists on their side can fight capitalism and achieve what is needed. Yet again the Covid-19 world crisis illustrates that workers’ control is essential to solve this problem.
Workers maintain full safety measures!
Double vaccines for all now!
Waive patent rights for Covid vaccines – vaccinate the world!
End the privatisation of the NHS!
Workers’ control of health and the economy!