Boris Johnson announcing the new lockdown. Photo: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at the bottom of article Boris Johnson announcing the new lockdown. Photo: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at the bottom of article

The government’s refusal to close schools and universities marks the latest in a string of failures to protect people from the pandemic, argues Caitlin Southern

The announcement of a new four-week national lockdown, less than a month after Boris Johnson categorically ruled out doing so, combined with the last minute extension of the inadequate furlough scheme, has thrown more chaos into the mix as many business leaders will already have made the decision to lay off staff in anticipation of the even less generous support package that was previously announced.

The decision to force schools, colleges and universities to remain open while businesses close will not help to reduce the infection rate but will only heap more misery onto students and staff. The implication seems to be that teachers and students are expendable, and completely ignores the reality of how community transmission works. We must join the education unions in fighting if we want to retain any hope of bringing the pandemic under sufficient control.

Absent strategy

Since it became clear that Covid-19 was arriving in the UK earlier this year, the government has spectacularly failed to protect either the health of the nation or the economy. We have both the highest Covid death toll and the worst recession in Europe, neither of which look like they will be tackled soon.

The failure to address the pandemic head-on has meant that rather than a coherent strategy to protect the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, we have had a mishmash of policies that have simply added unnecessary stresses during an unprecedentedly harrowing year.

The pandemic response was always too slow as the government chose to pursue the strategy of ‘herd immunity’, either not knowing or deliberately misunderstanding what that entails, and only changed course under extreme pressure. Their reluctance to fully commit to a zero-Covid strategy led to a delayed and extremely porous lockdown, a situation that looks to be repeated this time around as the construction and manufacturing industries are once again excluded from the shutdown.

While the initial lockdown slowed the spread of the virus to an extent, it was not enough to eradicate it, meaning that when lockdown measures began to be lifted the virus was able to spread rapidly once again, helped by the push to return people to work and encouraging us to eat out. When this was coupled with a failure to create a functioning test and trace system, and the absolute shambles that was the outsourcing debacle, it caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths along with untold suffering.

As the months have worn on it has become ever clearer that the government never truly abandoned the idea of herd immunity but merely dropped the name when it became clear that people object to being compared to livestock.

The abject failure to protect anything but the bank balances of their cronies while deliberately undermining the advice of their own scientific advisors has also led to the Tories losing influence in many areas of the country on a catastrophic level. Government announcements are met with tired derision; measures are increasingly flouted or ignored, particularly when they seem to favour the richer classes at the expense of the poorer.

The official guidelines are vague and convoluted enough to allow for differing interpretations, hindering any attempt at unified action. The Tories have seriously damaged their own credibility by their choice to abandon the majority of the population, a decision that may return to haunt them in short order.

Resistance to the Tory assault

The Labour Party under their new leadership has offered no resistance to the Tory assault on society. Even now Starmer maintains that schools should remain open during the lockdown. It has instead chosen to continue its war on the left with the disgraceful suspension of Jeremy Corbyn, appalling and alienating many who had been energised by the hope he represented as leader. We cannot look to Labour to lead the opposition to the Tories but must continue to organise and take the initiative as we have been doing since March.

People have combined to form local Covid support networks, including supporting the extremely clinically vulnerable while they were shielding and trying to ensure that as few people as possible fell through the ever widening cracks. Collective pressure has forced the government into u-turn after u-turn.

This movement is heartening as it demonstrates that it is possible for extra-parliamentary organisation to effectively oppose the government and shape a better society for the majority. We must break from the hope that Starmer’s Labour Party can be a positive force for change and continue to build the resistance to the rotten Tory government that holds us in contempt, a contempt that is quite literally threatening our lives and diminishing our futures.

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