The government are full of praise for citizens and health staff but their actions show them up, argues Shabbir Lakha
In the deadliest day of the virus yet, 393 people have died from the coronavirus in hospitals across the country in the last 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 1,808. Michael Gove, delivering the government’s daily briefing, was caught in the contradiction of warning things were going to get worse, while trying to claim the government’s response has been effective.
The latest rise in the death toll amounts to a person dying every 4 minutes. It has sadly included a 13 and 19 year old, both with no underlying health problems in London. And as we now know, the figure doesn’t include those who have died from the coronavirus or related to it outside of hospitals. The ONS released figures today for all deaths related to the coronavirus up till 20 March which were 18.6% higher than the official figure at the time. This means the actual current death toll is likely to be over 2,000.
It’s hard to take the government’s “green shoots” seriously in light of this. Today’s briefing was particularly vacuous with rehashed platitudes and no concrete measures to deal with the gaping holes in the government’s strategy.
For the last three weeks, the government has claimed daily that it is “ramping up” testing, even though it still hasn’t reached the target it set on 11 March of 10,000 tests a day. Today was no different. Britain’s data on confirmed cases has been completely useless because of the lack of testing and the disparity with other countries grows wider daily.
The government has been under increasing pressure to ensure, in the first instance, that NHS workers are being tested, especially after the deaths of three doctors and the growing number of NHS workers who are now hospitalised after contracting the virus.
Gove’s excuse for why the government has been slow on this was that the chemicals used in the tests are of limited availability, but they’re now procuring them from abroad. This was completely debunked by the Chemical Industries Association who say no such shortage exists. In reality, Britain was among the first to develop tests for coronavirus, but the government did nothing to boost production or ensure procurement for the NHS. As a result, a number of private research institutions and manufacturing companies have been exporting more test kits than have been used here.
The government faced an embarrassing climbdown in the last day, when it had to revise down its claim that it had distributed 170m masks after it was proved false. It was also revealed that Jeremy Hunt rejected advice on stockpiling eye protection equipment in case of a pandemic, because it would cost too much.
There are reports from all over the country from health workers who still haven’t got enough, or the correct, protective equipment. So, while the government attempted to co-opt the clap for the NHS last week, the national outpouring of support for the NHS puts their failure to protect NHS workers in the spotlight.
The failure to acquire and distribute PPE applies to all key workers. Conditions for social care, postal, supermarket and warehouse workers are increasingly disturbing. These are the people that Michael Gove today thanked in his briefing, he has a funny way of showing it.
The lockdown continues
It looks all but certain that the lockdown will continue at the same level beyond next week. Gove and Stephen Powis, the Medical Director of NHS England, praised the British public for adhering to the lockdown. Powis showed in a graph that use of public transport, especially the London underground, had gone down by over 90% since the lockdown began.
So much for those selfish people packing out the trains at rush hour. The trains which are still packed every morning and evening by the way, because even though it’s boasting its lockdown, it hasn’t enforced rules on employers in non-essential work to stop workers being forced to come in. Nor has it expanded its economic package to sufficiently support the people it is now telling may be forced to stay at home for up to 6 months.
But while public are being congratulated, the police have obviously not got the memo. Police have been given expanded powers to enforce the lockdown, without any coherent guideline on what this means. So some officers have taken it upon themselves to use their imagination: from Derbyshire police using drones to monitor the streets and dying the Blue lagoon black, to officers arresting people driving in isolation in their cars and apparently banning Easter eggs in some places.
There is also a huge increase in stopping and questioning people arbitrarily on the streets. Given what we know about the overtly racist nature of stop and search before this lockdown, this isn’t good news for ethnic minority people.
The government remains insistent in every briefing that it has taken the correct measures at the correct time based on science. But we know this to be a complete lie – it started with herd immunity and it’s still not very far off. It has, at every stage, put the economy before people, and its half-hearted response has put the lives of thousands of people at risk. We must keep pointing this out and keep demanding that health workers are protected, that we are all tested, and that no one is forced to risk their life by unnecessarily going to work or by staying at home with no support.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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