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Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson visits Appledore Shipyard, Devon. Photo: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, linked at the bottom of article

Real preparations for the second wave must be the demanded of the whole movement, writes Chris Nineham

The strained expression on the faces of Johnson and his cabinet colleagues make it clear the penny has dropped. They know they have lost control of the pandemic. Infections are growing most in areas of the north, but the virus is spreading pretty much right across the country and the number of hospital admissions is rising across the board. 

The scientific advice is that the death rate is likely to rise sharply soon. At a time when both schools and universities are reopening and with young people the main spreaders, even ministers are realising that the situation is looking bleak. 

Exposed

What really panics them though is that they are being found out. Despite all the warnings over the summer of the likelihood of a second wave, it is becoming clearer and clearer that they have done nothing to prepare.

The lack of a concerted effort has meant that the testing regime is a shambles. Not only is the total number of tests nowhere near adequate but laboratory capacity has gone down rather than being scaled up. There hasn't even been an attempt at the kind of national to local coordination necessary to make a test and trace system work. 

Test and trace has been the mantra of most of the scientific advisors for months now. Having an effective system in place is the essential condition for any attempt to open up. Without one the opening of schools and universities is very likely to be unsustainable.

But rather than following and actually implementing the science, the government has made fantasy claims about instant home testing kits or delivering ten million tests a day and sat on its hands.  

Learning nothing

This is like groundhog day. Though ministers deny it, it is now well documented that the during the first few weeks in March the government ignored the advice of the World Health Organisation and bucked the global trend by treating Covid like a bad outbreak of the flu. In the words of one government advisor quoted in the Financial Times:

"It was a strategic choice very early on about how we were going to deal with this, giving up on containment did not have anything to do with capacity and had everything to do with following a flu plan."

For 'flu plan', read 'let the virus rip'. 

The current surge is a product of this denialism combined with an obsession with 'getting business back on its feet'. This has meant the lockdown ended too early, people were encouraged to go on foreign holidays to boost the tourist trade and bosses were urged to call their workers back into offices. It means even now pubs are being kept open when the evidence shows they are one of the key vectors of the surge and even schools with outbreaks are not being closed down.

The testing fiasco should be a warning. It means that the government is unprepared all down the line. The NHS will not be ready for a surge set to coincide with the usual winter crisis. It means most likely once again there will be shortages of PPE in care homes. It means there will be no plans to boost essential services and food deliveries or to look after the homeless and vulnerable if the outbreak is sustained.

In workplaces up and down the country trade unionists and staff are pushing for decent health and safety, pay and conditions and against job cuts by opportunist managements.  

This movement needs to head up a fight for real preparations and a serious and humane response to the second wave.

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Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.

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