The labour movement’s fight for social measures on Covid is far from over. It is entering a new phase.
Four weeks’ delay, to 19 July, will probably not be enough to enable the “complete easing” scheduled for 21 June.
The story that some countries have already conquered Covid and “reopened completely” is untrue. By keeping rigid border curbs, some remote islands like New Zealand, and other countries with strong “natural” borders, have been able to ease internal restrictions except for episodic short lockdowns when border quarantine fails.
It’s not “all over” even for them. They still have their emergencies, like Taiwan’s and Vietnam’s now. Melbourne (Australia)’s virus-spill from quarantine in summer 2020 brought a strict four-month lockdown there, and it is still in a new lockdown introduced on 27 May after another spike.
Britain has looser borders, a boon in usual times. The Delta virus-variant now dominant in Britain may have a reproduction rate, absent curbs, of 8.0, three times as high as the variants of early 2020. It spreads fast even with curbs which would quell previous variants.
The Delta variant is still rare in continental Europe (except perhaps Portugal) and the USA. But the latest data are 50% increase of it in Germany, 60% in Belgium, 150% in France. If the governments there continue to ease border quarantines and other curbs, then Delta is likely to explode there too. Worldwide, weekly Covid death rates are still over 50% higher than the April 2020 peak.
The vaccines are doing well. But vaccines are never 100%. In well-vaccinated Britain, hospitalisations and deaths are rising much slower than infections, but rising. We planned our summer school Ideas for Freedom (10-11 July) from the start with precautions assuming that the Tories’ 21 June “full easing” would not go ahead, and we think our plans are still solid.
Possibly rapid vaccine roll-out and the growth of immunity from previous infections — 80% of adults in England are now estimated to have antibodies, enough to give “herd immunity” with previous variants — can check the rise better than we think.
The government seems to think that high infection rates are OK as long as death rates remain subdued. But high infection rates create breeding grounds for yet new and worse variants, and will spill into other countries with lower vaccination. Responsible policy demands keeping infection rates down too: some continued curbs, coupled with top-speed emergency global vaccination. (Some want teenagers in the UK to be vaccinated. The decisive objection to that now is that frail people and health workers in poorer countries with a hugely greater risk of death or serious illness should come first, until expanded production and roll-out makes it possible to vaccinate everyone).
Solidarity makes no claim to expertise in the exact design of Covid curbs, and we’re not enthusiasts for always making lockdowns stricter and longer.
We can see, though, that the official government measures, here as in other countries, are made less effective against the virus by always evading long-term social improvements. They evade:
• Adequate isolation pay
• Workers’ control of workplace safety, new risk assessments for new variants, fixing ventilation
• Bringing social care into the public sector, with staff on NHS-level pay and conditions
• Rebuilding the health service to gain leeway to deal with spikes and emergencies
• Requisitioning Big Pharma and other healthcare suppliers
• Getting good housing for all, and for a start providing public quarantine accommodation for those otherwise “self-isolating” in crowded quarters.
Solidarity campaigns to win those social improvements and to generate a sustainable regime of social solidarity and mutual aid which enables all to help each other to push back the pandemic.