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Editorial Nurse resignations and travel chaos: the Tories are playing fast and loose with our safety

A NURSE who treated Boris Johnson when he fell ill with Covid-19 last year resigns over the “lack of respect” the Tories show healthcare workers with their derisory 1 per cent pay rise.

Jenny McGee’s forthcoming testimony to next week’s Channel 4 documentary The Year Britain Stopped reveals other sour notes about the Prime Minister’s cynical treatment of the workers who gave him round-the-clock care, such as his attempt to decoy her into a “clap for the NHS” photo-op.

McGee’s anger will be shared across the profession. A below-inflation pay award following a decade of lost income is a slap in the face following more than a year on the Covid front line. It is also deeply irresponsible when MPs warned last autumn that a third of nurses are considering leaving the profession within a year.

But “deeply irresponsible” could be the government’s watchword. What Labour rightly describes as “dangerous chaos” is enveloping official policy on international travel.

Questions already abound about the opaque process by which the government decides which countries are designated red, amber or green list in its traffic-light system regulating supposedly safe international travel, particularly its delays in placing India on the red list after it became clear the country was engulfed in a new coronavirus surge.

With minister George Eustice announcing this morning that people can travel to amber-listed countries to visit family or friends, only for the Prime Minister to contradict him later the same day, we are back in the “does a Scotch egg count as a substantial meal?” school of public-health messaging.

Complicated rules, a high degree of ambiguity that allows individuals to interpret them in widely different ways (what is a “compelling” reason to travel abroad?) and everyone up to and including the Cabinet doing so.

The government relaxed international travel too quickly. The decision is more blameworthy given its extreme tardiness in establishing travel restrictions and quarantine arrangements last year, a significant factor in Britain’s unusually severe experience of Covid, with what remains to date one of the world’s highest death tolls.

The very successful vaccine rollout — a tribute to the efficiency of that same NHS the Tories’ 1 per cent pay offer insults — has given many people the ability and the confidence to socialise and see loved ones after long periods of isolation. Many feel that as we emerge from lockdown we are emerging from the pandemic itself: that the nightmare is over.

Yet the international picture is very varied. Infection rates in continental Europe remain far higher than here while, as we know, developing countries including Brazil and India are grappling with horrific levels of transmission and death.

As the new spread of the Indian variant — which ministers admitted today is poised to become the dominant variant in Britain before the week is out — demonstrates, while Covid is allowed to rage worldwide it, will continue to mutate, and the import of new variants that may be resistant to the vaccines we use becomes an inevitability if international travel is effectively unlimited.

Basking in the glow of the English local elections, Johnson may conclude that since he has not been blamed for the catastrophe his government caused last year, he will get away with any fallout from this too — even as his one-time strategist Dominic Cummings threatens to reveal a “crucial” document that will shed light on presumably despicable behaviour by the PM at the start of the crisis.

The Tories will not act for the public good unless forced. That is why the pressure must come from below for a change in policy, at least as regards international travel.

At the same time, the campaign for a global waiver on vaccine patents and massively increased assistance to developing countries to inoculate their populations is both a moral and practical necessity.


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