The new haphazard approach of leaving local areas to impose their own small lockdowns shows callous disregard for lives, argues Lucy Nichols
In the wake of the extended lockdown in Leicester and the news that Scotland will also be implementing local restrictions, it seems as if our new normal is going to be regional lockdowns; imposed if and when localised outbreaks occur. Earlier this week, Boris Johnson likened this new tactic to a game of ‘whack-a-mole’: an unwittingly apt description. When we are comparing a pandemic to an arcade game, it is only right that in our analogy the Prime Minister (in charge of whacking the moles) is a somewhat incapable child. He can choose whether or not to take this game seriously, and he is more or less unaffected by its outcome – this is just as well, because he isn’t very good at the game in question.
As Leicester and many towns in Scotland are subject to even stricter lockdowns, the rest of England is preparing for the reopening of pubs and restaurants, and Wales is making plans to open up for tourists. From Saturday, people (outside of postcodes beginning LE1) will be able - and encouraged - to head down to their nearest pub for a pint.
The government is ignoring the infection and death rates, which are both still relatively high, and pushing for a business-first reopening. This essentially marks the end of the lockdown, which began in March - though the infection rate in the UK is still relatively high, with hundreds of new cases recorded every day. Despite this, the government is hailing the reopening as a great victory; finally we have beaten the virus and we can now go back to normal. Museums, cinemas and theme parks will be open to the public soon, and it will be compulsory for children to attend school from September. The NEU has argued that this return ‘must be safe, well-planned and in pupils' short-term and long-term interests’, and that sufficient measures must be taken by the government to keep students, staff and parents safe.
But we are still facing up to the consequences of the pandemic. The working class, BAME people, the elderly, the vulnerable and the disabled have all been completely left behind. In addition to having the highest infection rate in Europe (and fifth highest globally), we are facing a mental health crisis, the NHS is barely holding on and we are hurtling towards an economic crisis that is likely to be devastating. An estimated 60,000 people have lost their lives: for reference, this is more people than died in the Blitz, the Troubles and 9/11 combined.
We must be clear in emphasising the role the Conservatives have played in all of this; from the very start, the government’s approach to the lockdown has been an absolute farce. The reality is that our Tory government will always put money first, regardless of the effects this may have on working people. While the government continues to treat people’s lives as disposable, the opposition is nowhere to be seen. Keir Starmer’s strategy of ‘constructive criticism’ over effective opposition marks the Labour leadership’s return to neoliberalism, and the Labour left is under increasing attack. It is crucial, then, that the extra-parliamentary left remain clear and coherent. Socialist analysis and intervention is key; we cannot allow working people to pay for the pandemic or for the coming economic crisis.
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