Boris Johnsons has more or less announced the end of lockdown in his own incoherent way, while some on the left in Britain are claiming the advent of (further?) “mass murder.”
” Workers who do not feel safe returning to their job should continue to be paid by the furlough scheme.”
It must be said that thousands of people, especially the old, have died unnecessarily. Their deaths could have been prevented by prompt and appropriate Government and State action. Their deaths are to be laid at the door of both.
The article points out the undoubted incompetence, mendacity and utter shambles of the response to Covid-19, but on the face of it it makes little sense. Workers are not afraid of mass murder, at least not the ones I work with or those I meet. They fear, to a greater or lesser extent, catching Covid and being exposed to the risks involved. Those risks for the majority of the population are small and most people know it.
Those who are vulnerable have a greater fear, of their being lumped in with the greater population on the way out of lockdown in the same way as they were in the way in: that is without proper appreciation of their vulnerability and the necessary measures to protect them.
By exaggerating the threat to the general population the threat to them was underestimated because it failed to adequately distinguish between them. This lack of differentiation removed the focus on those most at risk, and then the price that they paid, by a Government that couldn’t protect them, so pretended it was going to protect everyone – by declaring instead that it was going to protect the NHS.
A policy of blanket opposition to a return to work does nothing to help.
First, everyone will have to go back to work before any possible second wave because the Government and employers will compel them and because the effects of continuing to pay people for not working will be worse. The demand for furlough payments might seem revolutionary because it challenges the profitability of the capitalist system but if there is no real possibility of overthrowing capitalism in the next few months (pretty much a given for me) then simply proposing bankrupting the state and multiple businesses is not socialism but a form of nihilism.
Second, most workers are working and drawing a line in the sand over those not doing so, or like me working from home, is really to have missed the fact that the majority of workers have been working away throughout, and we would be facing many more deaths had they not done so.
In my own work, the local union committee is discussing with management how the staff are coping with working from home, and we have successfully argued that consultation on returning to work can wait until this is completed. This is a reflection of the concerns of staff. But as I have just said, this is unsustainable and the local union committee is clear that the issue will quickly turn to what terms we return on. For a socialist the question is – how do we impose some control over that return? No one, and certainly not me, will be declaring the potential advent of mass murder.
The virus has not inflicted the casualties many predicted. It is clear most people have relatively little to be concerned about. The point now is to protect the most vulnerable in a way that was not done before when the lockdown was first implemented. Saying everyone is facing massive danger doesn’t help this task but detracts from it. If the danger facing everyone is at this level why have the vulnerable suffered so much more?
Over half the deaths in the North and South of Ireland have been in care homes for older people and the failure to protect them has been repeated in many countries. In the North of Ireland (and also in relation to services in the South) and in Britain, the NHS stopped doing its day job and became a National Covid Service. Countless people will die because of this. Countless, in the sense of very many and countless in the sense that many will not be identified as having died from lack of health services that they might otherwise have received. And this isn’t an issue belonging to the past.
The disastrous performance of health services resulted from their working to a political agenda determined by the Governments in power, whether it be the Tories in Britain, the unelected Fine Gael in the Irish State or the coalition of reactionaries in the North of Ireland. For them the issue was one of political performance and credibility. The Tories highjacked the NHS brand, so easily done since they are in charge of it; the Irish administrations did the same with perhaps less outrageous brass neck, and they all did what politicians do and fight a political campaign as well as a public health one.
The Tories showed their utter incompetence while Varadkar’s Fine Gael gained popularity with a combination of nationalism, fear, an overwrought initial threat of the virus that didn’t materialise, subsidies to workers and business; the fact lockdown hasn’t lasted too long, and of course the fact that the Irish State sits between its two greatest cultural and economic influences – Britain and the US – who are widely regarded as having f****d it up.
Now they face two issues. The backlog of healthcare cases, which in both Irish States is horrendous, as it also is in Britain, and how to approach a second wave. Oh . . . and how the bill for the lockdown is going to be paid and who is going to pay it.
If what I have heard about Belfast is correct and applies more widely, the health systems are still going to be focused on Covid and how they are going to address the second wave. The excuses trotted out everywhere for the failure to protect the most vulnerable do not inspire confidence that they will receive the protection and support they need the next time, if there is one.
Promises that cancelled and postponed services will be renewed are not completely reassuring when this is caveated with ‘explanations’ that re-creating these services will not be as quick as shutting them down, and that some services will return at much reduced capacity.
At the start of the lockdown it was argued that what was going on was not social distancing but physical distancing, and that this was a more accurate description. But that has not really proved to be the case. One metre or two depends on the expert medical advice you listen to. The fear and confusion involved with Covid-19 has led to a situation of social distancing in which the State and mass media has imposed a climate of fear that has justified the most draconian restriction of civil and democratic rights, and without the protest it has deserved.
Dependence on the state and its propaganda that (some) socialists have lamented and opposed has grown enormously. To oppose it has been seen as the preserve of the deranged right, who unfurled the banner of freedom only as outriders for that part of the capitalist class that most exploited it workforce or who otherwise wanted out of the lockdown as quickly as possible. The left’s penchant for highlighting opposition to the far right kicked in with warnings that this would assist the secret project of less extreme Government leaders getting ready for implementing the same policy.
Only the protests against the state murder of George Floyd in the US, encapsulated in the Black Lives Matter protests, has shattered the instruction that the people must do as they are told. Social distancing was more or less ignored. Social isolation, whether in terms of ‘stay at home’ or unemployment, is no basis on which to create a working class movement, a task not suspended by the virus.
The left, or much of it, has saddled itself with a policy of maintaining a lockdown that largely doesn’t exist for many; will not exist for much longer; is unsupportable; that incurs costs workers will face paying or an almighty fight to oppose, and misses the main issue, which is not to extend lockdown but to try to help workers take some form of control over how it is ended, while accepting that it will and it must.
There is of course the alternative to what I have just said; that what I am advocating is a continuation of mass murder and that this is what we are about to face.
I sent you an e-mail a couple of days ago. As I haven’t heard back I thought I’d check in case its disappeared into your Junk mail.
There are some good points in this article concerning the social condition of workers who are dependent on capital for meeting their everyday needs. The employers will decide for how long workers either work from home or look to the Government for income support. One of my sisters is already back at work against her will and the other is expecting the same thing to happen. The employers have decided the matter with no consultation, for there are no unions to consult with in very many workplaces.
However there is much to argue over what you have said. You have not got the science story in good shape, not surprising for the science story has been confusing and contradictory. Two weeks ago the British Medical Journal published a study of the science story to date and concluded that it had been very ‘inadequate’ or more bluntly a right mess up.
As I read the evidence the concept of shielding the old and vulnerable is a nice idea in theory but really impossible to do in any practical way. The concept of the old in this crisis is itself a very elastic one, just to point out that the vaccine makers are saying that they hope to have enough to dose everyone over 50, not old in my estimation.
The other big issue is your theoretical solution of shielding and isolation the old and the vulnerable is based on the idea that most people who are not old are strong and healthy enough to withstand the infection. Two points here, the most vulnerable are not the old per se, we have witnessed 90 year old people walk out of hospital. The vulnerable are those with other health conditions, diabetes is the worst health condition to have, followed by hypertension, followed by other vascular and lung conditions. Unfortunately these underlying conditions are rife with the population in general. In point of fact, to be blunt about it fat and overweight people are in the biggest at risk group and there are very many of them around, even with the children. Also many people have diabetes and don’t even know about it, it the worst pandemic of our time, some scientists are now referring to dementia as diabetics type three.
As a theoretical solution we would be better of putting the country on wartime food rations for six months to deal with the corona crisis, you can cure many of the above conditions with a restrictive diet, it would work even better than trying to merely isolate the elderly.
Second point about the science story. The evidence is mounting that those who in theory have recovered from the infection are in fact plagued by major health conditions. Even the BBC has started talking about it. This does not come as a surprise to me as, researches in other countries have been documenting that at least one third of the recovered have not been able to return to work because of the damage caused by the infection, to the lungs, to the kidneys, to the heart and even to the brain. This is a potential condition facing healthy people in recovery. You just do not need to contract this virus old or young.
Third point about the virus, it is always mutating, the mutations so far have been frequent yet small. The latest outbreak in Beijing is an instance of it. The science so far says that only one amino acid had changed to make it a variation, the same but different from the infection in Wuhan, the problem is that the virus is now more virulent than the Wuhan one, it has more spike proteins able to attach into the human cell membrane than previously. In short the science story about the virulence of the virus is a changing one making it difficult to assert definite conclusion of the direction of travel. It may get worse it may get better. That Italian hospital director who said that it was becoming just like a light cold, in theory could be right, the question I would raise is that he happens to be the personal doctor of Silvio Berlusconi, and has been for 40 years. You need to be very careful to not mix science in with the ideology.
The other side of the story concerns the social science rather than the natural science. You say the lock down was a mistake, yes it was but only because most of the Governments were complacent or negligent about doing it. The lock down worked well enough in some countries, New Zealand for example, but some European governments have done it well too, Greece and Finland are examples of successful use of lock down.
There is an old expression about locking the stable door after the horse has bolted, this was what occurred in many countries, including both Britain and Ireland. I recall a RTE news programme discussion between a scientist and Simon Covney the Irish foreign minister as to the merit of closing the country down early. This was two weeks before St Patrick’s Day when the Government was adamant the parades must go ahead, the scientist was alarmed by the complacency. He asked Covney if at the very least the Government could put in place controls at the airports, he did not mean close them down, he meant temperature testing, recording of names, addresses and phone numbers. Covney said No to it all, he said any change to international travel regulations would have to be an initiative of the EU. This may have been true, though France and Germany ignored the EU when they decided to close the airports to international travel about a month later.
Incidentally the New Zealand government put their great success with a lock down strategy down to the early closing down of international travel at the airports.
You are right about lock down but only if it is done too late, even this needs to be qualified, the lock down did stop the hospital system form crashing in spectacular fashion, it was of course a very expedient political decision to prioritise the health service. Both governments were terrified to think about the likely media reports of the showing a tragic collapse of the health service would do to the reputation of conservative/liberal governments. We are now getting media coverage of other countries like Brazil and India of Governments being less astute about this matter, of sick people being turned away from hospitals and dead people being left outside the doors of the hospital, how does that look like! You can say that the lock down helped ‘our’ governments avoid a massive crisis of confidence in the State.
Having avoided one crisis they now face another, the economic consequences of the lock down are very severe, this you are right about, however there is another side to it, you invoke the idea of nihilism, an unfortunate use of the expression most associated with individual terrorism, the first nihilists were Russian populist assassins, they were over written in the great Russian novels.
It seems to me that we can speak about a lock down in at least two different ways, the State mandated lock down is one form, however this was preceded by a lock down that I would prefer to call a shutdown. Well before Governments resorted to lock downs workers were already leaving their places of work in protest, there is every reason to believe that the process of shutdown would have become more widespread, workers in the food processing plants in NI had walked out, they demanded that the working environment be made safe, so they intended to continue to work.
Did Governments around the world take notice of the fact that workers shutdowns were already
well underway when they acted to move to lock down? Did they anticipate workers taking on the task of operating the factories and work places themselves? I don’t know but I don’t rule it out as a factor in their calculations. The thing to do now is to draw up a sort of minimum programme first about what are the health and safety rules to be acted on going forward, not just the rules the work hours should be altered too, the current inspections are non existent, my sister told me that her employer is flouting every rule going, the last time I looked the enforcement office had three people on staff so the workers have to be able to police the new health safety rules themselves, this is only one suggestion. Also Sweden did not mandate a Government lock down yet 60 percent of the workforce were not in work, this was an agreement made between unions and bosses.
I am not well placed to offer advice about working place questions so I leave this up to people more qualified, so for now I will do what I have been doing and try to keep on top of the science story and all of its ramifications.
Sorry for the length of this interjection. We don’t agree on much these days, this may be more productive in the long run than just being in agreement.
“Two points here, the most vulnerable are not the old per se, we have witnessed 90 year old people walk out of hospital. The vulnerable are those with other health conditions, diabetes is the worst health condition to have, followed by hypertension, followed by other vascular and lung conditions. Unfortunately these underlying conditions are rife with the population in general. In point of fact, to be blunt about it fat and overweight people are in the biggest at risk group and there are very many of them around, even with the children.”
Simply not true, as the ONS data shows, as indeed did the Imperial data based on what happened in China. The data shows that 53% of deaths are people aged over 80 – most of them even over 85 – with a further 39% aged between 60 – 80. That is 92% in total of all deaths are people over 60. Of the remaining 8%, 7% are people who had other underlying medical conditions such as chest complaints, diabetes etc. So, by far the biggest factor is age. Of course its true that some 90 year olds do not become ill, whereas some 20 year olds do, but that is avery, very perverse way of dealing with data as against dealing with the very obvious probabilities!
I have yet to hear a rational argument as to why the idea of protecting the 20% is a nice idea in theory but not possible in practice. Its a bit like the argument put about Socialism. But it is clearly easier to isolate 20% of the population than to isolate 100% of the population, which is what would be the case were we to believe that a “lockdown” had been implemented in anything other than name. And, if we then accept that the lock down is only in name, and so, therefore, a lie then surely we are led to ask whether what is achieved by this lie is better or worse than what could have been achieved by an attempt to at least try to shield the 20% however practical or impractical that may have been?
Surely, we ought to be able to ask that for all of those tens of thousands of old people in care homes that we were able to provide sheilding to an adequate level that they would not come into contact with the virus? But, instead, we find that half of all deaths have come from these very care homes! Surely, we should similarly have been able to ask that people going into hospital with other conditions be shielded from infection whilst in the hospitals, but instead large numbers became infected and died after having gone into hospital.
Surely, we should have been able to demand that the care workers and health workers looking after elderly and sick people in their own homes, be provided with adequate PPE and contact protocols so as to avoid spreading the virus to such vulnerable people, but instead we have had those care workers rushed off their feet even more, and notably denied access to any let alone adequate PPE!
Surely it is not beyond the wit of even the capitalist state to ensure that the comprehensive online shopping facilities that capitalism itself has created, can be used to ensure that all of the vulnerable people within the 20% are enabled to shop online and to have their requirements delivered safely to their door without the need to have contact with anyone that might put them at risk. It is, because, in fact, I have been doing that simply using online shopping facilities myself to do that for more than 2 weeks prior it the introduction of the lock down. All the state needed do was extend those existing facilities provided by capitalism, and making them guaranteed.
So, as I say I am still waiting to hear exactly what it was that was not practical to achieve this, and why creating the worst economic slowdown in 300 years was then preferable to it. I am waiting to hear how, even if such a solution might not have been implemented imperfectly it could possibly have been worse than not only creating that economic catastrophe, but also doing so whilst leading to around 40,000 elderly people, who could and should have been shielded instead dying as a result of unneccessarily contracting the virus!
Just a couple of points. Nobody is as annoyed about what has gone on the care homes as I am. I listened to an interview with a GP in a small town in South Sweden describing the catastrophe of the care homes in his country. It is genuinely shocking, he says he was told by State decree not to send patients over a certain age to the hospital for tests if they showed symptoms of covid 19. That is only the start of it, he was ordered not to try to give basic medical assistance to the elderly, ordered not to give them oxygen. And it is even worse, he says that he was told to administer a morphine combination instead. He pointed out that morphine is the last thing you would give to a patient with a breathing problem for it slows down breathing and even stops it, this is why it is given to terminal cancer patients. He makes the point that those issuing the medical instructions to him and others knew that perfectly well. So why did they do it and carry on doing it? It is an ugly thing to think about, were they killing the elderly in kindness of with malice? This is the type of question that needs investigating, I am convinced the same thing has been happening elsewhere but has to date been kept under wraps. I know of one doctor in Ireland who resigned his position has resident doctor at a care home who hinted at similar things going on in Ireland.
What often happens in a crisis situation is that common morality is just tossed out the window, this happened often during the worst period of our northern Ireland troubles and it is happening all over the world under the strains of the pandemic. You are right that things could and should have been better in the care homes, the fact is that the governments based on things they did in the past, like degrading the resources and staffing faced a resource crisis and they prioritised the Hospitals. I thing they did this for expedient political reasons knowing how bad things would look if the hospitals just collapsed, having to look after so many people at once. The outcome was that what scare resources were available were reserved for the hospitals, remember at one point, there was a shortage of surgical masks, a shortage of gloves and gowns, a shortage of oxygen tanks, a shortage of antiviral drugs, a shortage of capable trained staff. This was not unique to GB, it was general to what you might call the neo-liberal governments. I looked into how Finland performed so much better, turns out they had massive stocks of everything they needed as a consequence of being a worried front line State neighbouring Russia.
I will stop this for now, for this is not my blog and it is bad manners to enter the home of someone else and eat their food and drink their drink.
“Second point about the science story. The evidence is mounting that those who in theory have recovered from the infection are in fact plagued by major health conditions. Even the BBC has started talking about it. ”
Again, this is a statistical fallacy. Those that become seriously ill, and recover, only to then suffer these longer term other illnesses come from the same 20% cohort that are the ones likely to die from COVID19. They are not from the other 80%, who continue to be likely to suffer only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. In other words, they come from that same 20% of the population that are either over 60, or else who have other underlying medical conditions.
Therefore, the argument for shielding the 20% to prevent deaths is the same argument to shield them to prevent them contracting thee other long-term consequences. It changes nothing fundamentally in the general argument.
It’s hard to argue against lock down when the strongest lock down countries, like NZ, have the lowest death numbers and the weakest and slowest, like the UK, the very worst. Opening up, as with schools, has led to upticks wherever it has been tried.
Instead of trying to out-science these now well established patterns, better to stress the political deficit, where popular activity has been massively curtailed while ruling class politics continues apace. In the Labour Party, local branches are not allowed to meet officially even online, though informal contacts continue. At some point the left needs to say that, in spite of the (disputed) health risks, the risk to the political outlook is greater. Today, for instance, we have the navy and airforce and BBC putting the frightners on refugees out of sheer murderous racist deflection. BLM protests showed the way forward. We should be open in saying there are more important things than a rise in deaths.
“The other side of the story concerns the social science rather than the natural science. You say the lock down was a mistake, yes it was but only because most of the Governments were complacent or negligent about doing it. The lock down worked well enough in some countries, New Zealand for example, but some European governments have done it well too, Greece and Finland are examples of successful use of lock down.”
The evidence from Sweden shows this is also false. Sweden has had no lockdown, and yet was able to flatten its curve even before Britain. Its mortality rate per capita is half that in Britain, and it currently has reduced new deaths almost to zero. There is no evidence that lockdowns have been effective as against absence of lockdowns, and the fact that new flare ups of the virus are occurring where lockdowns or effective test and trace regimes were put in place shows the problem with them. That is that without herd immunity having been developed amongst the population, as soon as the lockdown is lifted the population remains as vulnerable as ever to infection, so that logically a lockdown would have to become permanent! Your argument about the virus mutating makes that even more inevitable.
The variable factor in deaths is not where lockdowns were implemented or not implemented, but where the vulnerable were better shielded or less well shielded. And that is because it is the vulnerable where the concentration of deaths occurs.