Social solidarity to get through the pandemic months

Submitted by AWL on 8 December, 2020 - 2:25 Author: Colin Foster
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As of 7 December, the world Covid-19 death rate neared 150% of its previous peak in April (seven-day rolling average), and was rising sharply.

It will take months, maybe many months, for vaccination to slow that death rate decisively. Strict covid-distancing rules at one level or another will be needed for those months.

The 150% figure is not driven by US statistics, though the death rate there has been rising fast since mid-October and will soon pass the local April peak.

Nor by South America, where rates are still high but falling or levelling. Nor India, the same. Nor East Asia and Africa, which have generally kept rates low.

It comes from Eastern Europe and Russia, which had no real peaks in April but now see rapidly rising rates, and from Western Europe, which had a lull in July-August but is now nearing (or, in Germany, way above) April peaks.

Britain is over 50% of the April peak death rate. Its current downturn of deaths is likely to be small and short-lived, since the downturn of infections in the lockdown between 5 November and 2 December was small compared to other lockdowns (in France or Belgium or Ireland), and infection rates now look like rising again.

Mass testing is more a gimmick than a real quick-fix (Slovakia’s cases are already rising steeply again), and even a proper public-health test-trace operation (in place of the Tories’ current private-profit Serco-Deloitte-G4S mess) is unlikely to contribute much to turning down the curve until infections are at a lower level.

Lockdowns of one sort or another will be necessary. But they will not work well, or be sustained adequately, without building social solidarity which convinces an adequate majority that

• they will be supported when taking precautions

• that their precautions will effectively take care of others

• that their efforts won’t be wasted by a government focused on stunts and fat profits for its cronies.

That requires:

• full isolation pay for all, and publicly-provided quarantine accommodation for those in crowded housing

• workers’ control of workplace safety

• emergency public ownership to bring private hospital facilities into the NHS and social care into the public sector, and guarantee PPE supplies; pay rises for NHS and care workers

• funding for schools to reduce class sizes by rotas and extra buildings, to fix ventilation, to employ new regular staff.

On 2 December, Labour mostly abstained on the government’s “tiers” plan, citing inadequacy of social support and furlough provision. 16 Labour MPs voted against the government’s “tiers” plans. Richard Burgon gave a reasoned though limited case: that more lockdown, with pubs and non-essential shops still shut, was still needed to push the curve down. The others, mostly north-east MPs, a couple of other left-wingers, but also right-wingers like John Spellar? It’s less clear.

It is good that Labour has started differentiating on the pandemic. We need now to make the differentiation clear, and focused on the needed measures of social solidarity.

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