Covid won't end. It can be curbed, with different policies

Submitted by AWL on 22 June, 2021 - 4:34 Author: Martin Thomas
Workers in masks on bus

Sixty-four per cent of applications for the official ÂŁ500 Covid-isolation payment have been rejected since the scheme was expanded early this year. The councils who administer it complain of restrictive government rules and limited funds.

Even after many gains on isolation pay won by campaigning in the last year and a half, 51 per cent in insecure jobs get zero sick pay, and 31 per cent receive just Statutory Sick Pay (SSP, ÂŁ95.85 a week).

30% of all low-paid workers get just SSP, and 19% get no sick pay. All those figures are from a TUC survey.

Back in early 2020, civil service bosses saw a way that the furlough scheme could be used to cover isolation pay, but chose not to publicise it.

Poor isolation pay isn’t the only reason for low rates of Covid-isolation, but it is one. With infections rising again since 7 May with the Delta variant, the issue has new urgency.

Vaccinations will probably curb the impact of Delta in Britain in the next weeks. Our Ideas for Freedom summer school on 10-11 July, with precautions, will have Covid-safety of similar order to a visit to a supermarket. But curbed is not zero. Months to come will demand vigilance, with possible new variants, tourism expanding, life less outdoors, and, maybe, vaccine protection fading.

Outside Britain, Delta is already spreading fast in Europe, though from a small base as yet except in Portugal. It will probably spread fast in the USA.

The USA and Europe may keep the impact low by vaccinations; but maybe not. Most European countries have lower vaccination rates and looser covid-distancing than the UK.

In richer countries vaccinations have been at around 0.8 doses per 100 people per day. The world average rate has risen over 0.4, thanks to a sharp acceleration in China. But over the last month the rate in Africa has been 0.04, in India 0.18, in Bangladesh almost zero.

And, as Delta spreads, worldwide, already in Africa the case-count is three times its mid-May level, and in Bangladesh four times.

So far Africa has counted less than 7% the average Covid death rate of Europe. (And Bangladesh, less than 6%). We don’t know how much that is due to undercounting, how much to the population being younger, and how much to such as, maybe, some immunity derived from previous disease burden. We don’t know enough to exclude the possibility of Delta taking a huge new toll in Africa, and in already-hard-hit South America too. (Cases are rising yet again in Brazil).

Covid waves will probably never end, only fade. The successes of vaccination, however, show that they can be curbed. So do the relatively low tolls in some European countries like Norway, Finland, Denmark. They have not been able to lock down their borders like New Zealand. They have prevailed mostly, it seems, through previously-acquired better sick pay, housing, elderly care, work conditions, health-system capacity, etc.; and limited lockdowns too, of course.

To open out civil rights, to keep schools operating, to restore meeting and socialising, is important. The labour movement can be effective on that front and against the virus only if we fight for full isolation pay for all, for workers’ control of workplace safety, and to requisition Big Pharma to vaccinate the whole world at emergency speed.

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