COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom
ongoing coronavirus pandemic in the United Kingdom
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom is part of the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The virus reached the country in late January 2020.
- Herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad.
- Dominic Cummings, senior adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, speaking about pandemics containment strategy on a government meeting. Coronavirus: ten days that shook Britain — and changed the nation for ever, 22 March 2020.
- Callousness, incompetence, and cynicism — the British government's response to the coronavirus has demonstrated all three. Despite the public outcry against the inhuman "herd immunity" strategy and the resulting changes in government policy, major threats to public health, living standards, and political freedoms remain. We have a continuing refusal to institute mass testing; an economic package that prioritises profits over workers' economic security; insane policies that deny proper protection to health workers; and a new law to restrict democratic rights. All this reveals a government and economic system incapable of defending ordinary people and forever prioritising profit. As well, the Tories are absolutely mendacious in their empty and meaningless promises to "do everything necessary".
- Those in power are afraid the crisis will expose the reality of NHS under-resourcing and creeping privatisation. Because of Tory underfunding there are not enough testing kits, not enough protective suits, not enough ventilators, not enough staff, not enough, not enough — even though they have known for a quarter of a century that a major pandemic was a clear and present danger. Even now, if they chose, a government invoking near-wartime powers could fix these shortages rapidly by requiring companies to shift production to the needs of fighting the virus. [...] But it involves massive resources, a society-wide strategy to defeat the virus, and that is something the government is not prepared to envisage. The Tories are terrified by any kind of mass mobilisation from below — because it would marginalise elites and empower ordinary people.
- The Boris Johnson government's initial response to COVID-19 was the now discredited policy of "herd immunity" — the strategy of letting the virus rip through the population, infecting up to 40 million people, most of whom would recover and then supposedly be immune to the virus. The only problem was that this would have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths — a prospect the Tories had to abandon in the face of expert denunciation and widespread public outrage. Johnson's change of tack was to move finally towards lockdown, advising against mass gatherings and urging people to avoid clubs, pubs, and restaurants — and most travel — as well as advising older people to self isolate. (And of course, it was only 'advisory' – so that finance capital does not have to foot the bill for hundreds of thousands of insurance claims from small businesses.)
- But this has still left a gaping hole in government virus strategy. First, the World Health Organization (WHO) advice — "test, test, test" — is not being implemented. Health workers who were being organised to take on this role were almost immediately stood down. Everything is being done in secrecy: there is no openness, no transparency, no grown-up debate, no democratic scrutiny, no public accountability. We can only guess at the reason. Perhaps they realised it was hopeless because they didn’t have the testing kits. Perhaps it dawned on them that mass testing would reveal the vast numbers already infected and thus expose the scale of their negligence. What is certain is that willful blindness is central to Tory policy. There is virtually no testing anywhere. The WHO policy that you test, you trace, you isolate, you contain is being TOTALLY ignored by the Johnson/Cummings regime. They are not even testing health workers.
- This is putting thousands of health workers at risk, and essentially abandoning hundreds of them to catch the virus, to spread the virus, and in many cases to die. The experts in a health emergency are, of course, the health workers. But they are silenced by the Tories and the NHS bosses — threatened with dismissal if caught telling the truth to the public they serve — as if we were living in Stalinist China.
- Without mass testing, tracing, and isolating, you cannot contain. So everything else — the ban on mass gatherings, the school closures, the lockdown measures — all of it, of course, too late — amount to only half a strategy. In fact, all the signs are that they haven't really let go of their callous notion that people with "underlying" health conditions should be treated as expendable. But that is not just a few old people. About 43% of adults are reckoned to have at least one long-term health condition — disproportionately, of course, poorer people.
- The Tories have proposed a huge economic package to help companies, but their support for working people sacked, laid off, or forced to self-isolate is pitiful. [...] Nothing is being offered to workers who are simply sacked or forced to take unpaid leave. This includes around 5 million "gig economy" workers, many of them subject to phoney "self-employed" scams, many with "zero hours" contracts. And there are firms like delivery company DPD, which is insisting that employees who self-isolate will still have to pay the costs of renting their vans and equipment. This is the bitter fruit for working people of 40 years of neoliberal attacks on their unions, their employment rights, their terms and conditions of service.
- The Tories and New Labour have created a casualised, insecure, low-wage economy in which the bosses rule and workers are forced to take what they can get. Millions will find themselves with no income. When they try to claim benefits, they will find in place a ruthless regime of cuts, sanctions and suicidal despair — another achievement of Tory austerity. The most that Johnson has said about this so far is that claimants will not need to attend job-centre interviews any more. And what of expenditure? There is vague talk of a "mortgage holiday" and even vaguer talk of renters not being evicted during the crisis. But no talk of all the other payments that should be suspended, including, of course, utilities bills and other fixed household charges. Meanwhile, the profiteers are marking up the prices on goods in short supply — hand sanitiser, paracetemol, toilet roll, etc — and, needless to say, the Tories have done absolutely nothing to control prices.
- In any case, there is no evidence that the Tories have any intention of doing any of the things they say they will do. The "do everything necessary" rhetoric is bullshit. It’s just a mantra to hide the absence of concrete action and any enforcement mechanism. This can only get much worse, as the entire world economy nosedives, millions more are laid off, and we enter a period of catastrophic social breakdown comparable with the Great Depression. The Tories know this is coming. They are preparing for it.
- In the immediate period, millions in the hospitality industry, in leisure and tourism, in retail and services, and in aviation are being laid off without pay or fired outright. But the entire edifice of global finance is crumbling and we could easily see a generalised economic collapse across the entire system. Talk of the irrationality of capitalism is being posted everywhere. Extensive industrial collapse could create millions of unemployed. A banking collapse would impoverish millions more at a stroke. This is what the government's authoritarian new bill is preparing for — a repetition in Britain and on a global scale of the kind of economic and social collapse that happened in Argentina in 2001–2, when most working-class and middle-class people lost all their savings and millions lost their jobs. Mass social and political anger could shake the system to its foundations, and those in power are preparing for emergency measures against radical "subversives" — left-wing activists, trade unionists, social activists — liable to lead mass resistance. This, it seems, could take the form of mass detention without trial.
- The utterly shambolic response of ruling elites to the coronavirus crisis in both Britain and the US is symptomatic of neoliberalism — of 40 years of profiteering, of grotesque greed, of privatisation of public services, of contempt for ordinary people and their needs. The Tories, presiding over this travesty, will not only try to ride out the storm; they will seek to use the crisis to strengthen the wealth and power of the very people who are responsible for it. This is what happened in 2008. It must not happen again. We need to be absolutely clear. We will not be dictated to by the rich, the Tories, and the police. We will not have our health workers put at risk. We will not have our loved ones killed to protect big business. We will not tolerate their lies, cover-ups and negligence. We will not let them use this crisis to smash democracy so they can continue to siphon wealth to the top. The time has come to put an end to neoliberalism. This crisis is a radical opportunity. Another system is possible. Another system is a necessity.
- It's quite unusual for a government to publish a plan with things in it we hope we won't have to do. [...] It's far too early to be able to tell in that instance. What we can say for sure is that, right now, we do not recommend the cancelling of mass events, and schools as well should not be closing unless there is both a positive case and the school has had the advice to close from Public Health England.
- So, right now, as long as you wash your hands more often, that is the number one thing you can do to keep you and the country safe. [...] The scientific advice is that the impact of shaking hands is negligible and what really matters is that you wash your hands more often.
- I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands. People obviously can make up their own minds but I think the scientific evidence is… our judgement is that washing your hands is the crucial thing.
- Boris Johnson, at a press conference, as quoted in U.K. Leader Boris Johnson Boasts He Has Shaken Hands With Coronavirus Patients by Khaleda Rahman, 3 March 2020, Newsweek.
- I want to stress that for the vast majority of the people of this country, we should be going about our business as usual.
- Boris Johnson, as quoted in Coronavirus: Up to fifth of UK workers 'could be off sick at same time', 3 March 2020, BBC News.
- We are telling cafes, bars, pubs and restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can and not to open tomorrow. To be clear they can continue to provide take out services. Night clubs, theatres, gyms and leisure centres should close on the same time scale. These are places where people come together and indeed the whole purpose is to bring people together. Some people will be tempted to go out tonight. Please don't. You may think you are invincible bit there is no guarantee you will get mild symptoms. As far as possible we want you to stay at home - that's how we can protect our NHS and save lives.
- We have so far succeeded in the first and most important task we set ourselves as a nation to avoid the tragedy that engulfed other parts of the world.
- At this stage I do not think that the international comparisons and the data are yet there to draw the conclusions that we want.
- According to the Director-General of the WHO, the choice to abandon systematic testing and contract tracing, which were effective in Korea and Taiwan, was a major mistake that contributed to the spread of the virus in virtually every country. [...] On the basis of the fatalist and crypto-Darwinian strategy of "herd immunity." Boris Johnson's United Kingdom was entirely passive in its initial approach.
- Christian Laval and Pierre Dardot, The pandemic as political trial: the case for a global commons (March 28, 2020), ROAR Magazine