The death toll soars in Britain through neglect and incompetence as the US spitefully blocks aid to countries all over the world, reports Shabbir Lakha
In a dramatic turn of events, Boris Johnson was admitted to intensive care on Monday evening. The news brings to mind Western politicians and the media telling Iran it wasn’t taking the outbreak seriously enough after the Iranian Vice President and parliamentarians tested positive for coronavirus just a month ago.
If Boris Johnson’s condition, and the prevarication by Downing Street officials over the severity of his condition, don’t convince you that our government isn’t taking the outbreak seriously enough, then the 854 people that have died in hospitals in the last 24 hours should. Dominic Raab, who had not a thing of substance to offer at today’s briefing, taking over the reins only makes this more disturbing.
On the one hand, this government is making things up as it goes. Take testing as an example. Despite WHO advice being test, test, test from the beginning, the government has only started taking testing seriously in the last week. The promise of 10,000 tests a day made on 11 March was only achieved in the last few days. The UK’s vast network of biomedical facilities have only just started being directed to testing and there has only just been a shift to procurement and production of the chemical reagents needed in the tests – unlike in South Korea and Germany where testing was a priority and these measures were employed from the onset.
The nation was shocked, including a BBC reporter who couldn’t mask her disbelief, when the government announced they were expecting a mere 30 new ventilators by the weekend gone – a drop in the ocean of the 30,000 (minimum) the NHS estimates is needed. The government has now commissioned ventilator production from companies like Dyson and Rolls Royce, after failing to apply for ventilator procurement through an EU scheme it was eligible for, and ignoring several companies that offered the NHS ventilators, 25,000 in one case.
The negligence is criminal.
But on the other hand, it is apparent that government decisions are being based on judgements of what is and isn’t politically acceptable, as it continues to essentially pursue herd immunity. A damning interview in the Financial Times with Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College revealed that the government was aware of the results of a wide range of scientific modelling which predicted a death toll as high as 250,000 from the government’s strategy up to two weeks before the supposed change of strategy. The move away from herd immunity, which Matt Hancock now claims was never even part of the strategy, was not driven by a change in the science but in what was politically defensible.
The article goes on to refer to a source that says that Chris Witty, the Chief Medical Officer, and Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific advisor, remain committed to a long-term strategy of herd immunity. At today’s briefing, both talked primarily about mitigating the crisis so that the number of people hospitalised doesn’t exceed critical care capacity. Isn’t that what herd immunity was all about? Letting the virus pass through the population but mitigating, or ‘flattening the curve’ so that the NHS is not overwhelmed. But according to them, the NHS’ critical capacity hasn’t been overwhelmed and yet a third of those who have been hospitalised have died.
Just a week ago, the government was talking about ‘green shoots’ while the death toll continued to climb rapidly. They flip flopped over the weekend on whether or not the lockdown would become more stringent or might be lifted altogether – and at today’s briefing Raab did everything possible to not assume the likelihood of the lockdown continuing beyond next week.
It is the government and its advisers who have allowed non-essential employers to carry on as normal and to require workers to keep working. The logic is determined entirely by economic interests. Tony Blair has been the latest to parrot the claim that ‘the cure will be worse than the virus’ because of economic damage if the lockdown continues. Lifting the lockdown while most of the population haven’t contracted the virus and there isn’t a vaccine takes us back to square one, but extending the lockdown is bad for business.
It really lays bare how inept our economic and political system is and how little consideration there is for human life. To think that there are hospitals which have had to carry bodies out in sheets because bodybags have run out, and place bodies in car park freezers because morgues are full; that children as young as 13 with no health conditions can die from the disease; that doctors, nurses and transport workers are dying in growing numbers, and those in charge are trying to limit the loss of profits.
The scale of this crisis should have warranted a complete reorganisation of society and total international cooperation with protecting human life as the highest priority. The common sense and compassion of ordinary people comes through at this time and shows just why it should be us running the country. People in every community have been organising mutual aid groups and more than 750,000 people signed up to volunteer with the NHS. Workers have been organising across the globe to set corporate priorities right whether on protection or on redirecting production like General Electric workers who walked out demanding to produce ventilators.
Meanwhile, the United States government has sent warships to threaten Venezuela, it vetoed urgently-needed IMF loans for Venezuela and Iran, and blocked Chinese medical aid from reaching Cuba. It seized ventilators headed to Barbados that were paid for by Rihanna, and it just today released 3 million masks purchased by Canada after stopping the shipment three days ago.
These obscene events and our government’s gross negligence are not born out of this crisis, but are the symptoms of the structural rot of a system that places profit above humanity. We have to fight for every life now and be clear that there can be no return to ‘normal’.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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