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Boris Johnson address to the Nation during Covid-19

Boris Johnson address to the Nation during Covid-19. Photo: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street / cropped from original / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, licence linked at bottom of article

The government is still committed to putting profit before lives. We need to organise to force adequate safety measures argues Katherine Connelly

According to Boris Johnson, cases of Covid are doubling every week, and hospital admissions and deaths are rising because too many individuals were involved in ‘too many breaches’ of the rules. 

This story is misleading and it is dangerous.

If he was so concerned with individuals breaking the rules, why did he not sack the most high-profile and shameless rulebreaker in the country: his own chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, when it was revealed that he had driven from London to Durham and then taken further trips at the height of lockdown?

But the rise in cases correlates not with everyone imitating Dominic Cummings. It correlates with government policy.

It corresponds to the aggressive calls to “save the economy” – or the divine right of business owners to make a profit. We were told to return to our places of work; we were encouraged to “eat out to help out”; parents were told to send their children back to school – which conveniently freed up their parents to go back to those offices and spend money on coffees and sandwiches.

The results of these decisions are now plain to see.

After yesterday’s broadcast by the government’s chief medical officer and adviser warning that without action cases could rise within a month to 50,000 a day, it was clear the government would have to act.

Clear to most people anyway. The head of government thought it acceptable to wait thirty-three hours before announcing a plan. 

This plan is being sold as a last-ditch attempt to make people follow the rules to avoid a tougher lockdown. 

That is disingenuous.

Closing pubs and restaurants at 10pm is hardly a serious response to warnings of an outbreak more severe than that which we experienced during full lockdown earlier this year. 

Increasing fines for social gatherings over six people (and waffling about the army) makes no sense whilst insisting that up and down the country far more than six people gather daily for hours on end in school classrooms.

Telling office workers that they should try to work from home, but insisting teachers, lecturers and other workers go into their place of work is clearly contradictory and inadequate.

The plan reeks of a continued commitment to put profits before all else for as long as possible before the inevitable tighter restrictions. Johnson’s broadcast gave every indication that a tougher lockdown will also be blamed on individuals, not the inadequacy of these restrictions. 

It is important that we resist this recurring message. Not just because it is untrue, but because it leaves us more vulnerable to their dangerous priorities and therefore to catching and spreading the virus.

The government cannot be trusted to keep us safe. In fact, the government had to be pushed into introducing every safety precaution around Covid, from shutting the schools to imposing the first lockdown.

The pressure on the government has not been assisted by Keir Starmer, who has loudly proclaimed that he would have more efficiently got everything ‘back to normal’, while saying precious little about workers’ safety. His most vocal opposition seems to have been to the demands of the trade unions rather than the government.

And today, Johnson was able to boast that his half-baked plans had the support of the other parties in parliament.

It is therefore even more important that we organise at work for increased safety measures. This includes demanding the proper track and tracing we were promised; working from home wherever possible; and a return to teaching online to protect staff and students.

The government’s announcements today are a concession. They will have to make more as the virus spreads. We have to organise to ensure that is done not on their timetable and dictated by their priorities, but as soon as possible to save as many lives as possible.

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Katherine Connelly

Katherine Connelly

Kate Connelly is a writer and historian. She led school student strikes in the British anti-war movement in 2003, co-ordinated the Emily Wilding Davison Memorial Campaign in 2013 and is a leading member of Counterfire. She wrote the acclaimed biography, 'Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire' and recently edited and introduced 'A Suffragette in America: Reflections on Prisoners, Pickets and Political Change'.

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