With further lockdown-easing announced from 17 May, many people are coming to think that the Covid pandemic is “almost over”.
It’s not. The battle for social measures to underpin pandemic control remains urgent.
• Requisition the assets of Big Pharma, especially the vaccine patents and the know-how to expand new vaccine-production facilities. The US administration’s move to support a patent waiver is a victory for campaigning here, and Labour should demand that the UK government does similar.
• Full isolation pay for every worker self-isolating because of Covid symptoms, testing, contact, or travel quarantine. Publicly-provided quarantine accommodation for those otherwise trying to “self-isolate” in crowded housing.
• Take social care into the public sector, and give care workers NHS-level pay and conditions.
• Workers’ control of workplace safety.
The news on vaccine efficacy is almost all good. Cases and deaths are now low in Britain. But worldwide Covid death rates have risen again since mid-March, are still only fractionally below their highest-ever, and have eased off only recently and tentatively.
Even in Britain, case and death rates are not as low as last July. Then, governments across Europe responded by accelerating from the step-by-step easing since April 2020, and rushing to reopen bars, cafés, and tourism. The result: a new rise of Covid from August-September, which created fertile conditions for new variants and so for dramatic further rises.
Vaccines will limit the death and long-Covid toll of future spikes. But vaccination rates are still low in many countries; no vaccine is 100%; we don’t know how long vaccines’ protection will last; and the risk remains of new variants which evade the vaccines.
The Seychelles, an Indian-Ocean archipelago, has the highest vaccination rate in the world. But recently, and especially since reopening to tourists with few precautions from 25 March, it has had a big Covid spike. Because of the vaccinations, the death rate is lower than it would have been for a similar spike earlier, but still, since 25 March, it is the equivalent, relative to the Seychelles’ small population, of 7,000 dead in Britain.
Countries like Australia and New Zealand have been able to ease most “internal” covid-distancing rules, but only by keeping their borders rigidly closed, and deploying intermittent lockdowns to contain inevitable leaks from border quarantines. The same is not possible for most countries, with more porous borders. (Britain has 10,000 truck drivers arriving each day).
How to develop, step by step, a liveable longer-term covid-distancing and selective-quarantine system, we don’t yet know for sure. It looks possible with the vaccines. It will surely be difficult unless we can win the social measures like isolation pay, workers’ control of safety, requisitioning of essential supplies.
The Tories, after being forced into less slapdash policies from January, are now edging towards “open up and hope for the best”. Solidarity will support campaigns like Safe and Equal pressing for continued social-solidarity measures against Covid.