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THE coronavirus crisis always was a global crisis and remains so. It is comforting to believe that we are immune or at least shielded from these global trends — but that would be both dangerous and foolish.
The pandemic has spread globally and there is no reason to assume that we will escape further risks because we currently seem to be over the worst.
The global trend is clear. According to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) report there were well over 5,500 deaths in a single day and well over 200,000 new cases. These are new highs and there are a now a series of regional epicentres of the pandemic. These include the mid-Western, Southern and West Coast US, a large number of countries in Latin America as well as a continuous rise in cases in a number of South Asian countries.
As the WHO says, the global situation is getting worse and we have doubled the total number of cases to 12 million in just six weeks.
It is true that many European countries are well below their peak level in cases, including this country, although we are now well behind many of them. But the Tory government is adopting a completely reckless approach, once again. This time round it is treating this decline in cases and deaths as the goal and is removing lockdown measures which properly belong to risk levels much lower than where we currently are.
But the risk-level categories themselves have gone the way of the tracing app, a 24-hour turnaround time for tests, the protective ring around the care homes and ‘doing whatever it takes’ to support the economy.
In the rush to get ordinary people back to work all of these have been abandoned, along with Sage meetings, daily press conferences and fundamental government accountability.
This is the politics of “learning to live” with the virus, even though daily new cases remain in the hundreds and the death toll remains only on a very gradual decline. As the situation in Leicester shows, there is too the risk of localised upsurges in the virus.
The Leicester case clearly has some specific factors, including around the sweatshop conditions in the terrible exploitation of largely Asian women. But that is not unique to Leicester, unfortunately.
And Public Health England data shows sharp rises in the infection rate in a large number of areas in recent days, from Bury, to Southampton to Cumbria. Hackney is also now on this very worrying list.
Against this background the government’s Plan for Jobs is nothing of the kind. It is absolutely true that many businesses are in danger of going bankrupt without state support. But the government acts and thinks as if this is somehow disconnected to the pandemic itself.
The truth is that most people remain wary of resuming normal life, worried about their own safety and that of their loved ones. The opinion polls show that most people do not want easing until the virus is properly suppressed. More importantly, this is how they are acting too.
Most children have not gone back to school, passenger numbers on public transport are way down, the shops report that ‘footfall’, the measure of how many people are back in the shops, is also massively below normal.
And, despite all the fanfare and the scenes in Soho, the same is true of the pubs and bars. People would like to return to normal, but they do not feel safe.
As a result, the government’s measures to support consumer businesses are bound to fail. You cannot force people to go out and have a good time when they are worried about their safety, as well as being worried about their job and their financial security.
Defeating the virus is the key to a return to anything like normality. In this regard, the scientists of the Independent Sage group are completely correct. The government’s strategy should not be based on containment but on elimination.
Ministers talk as if this cannot be done. This is completely untrue. A number of countries in the Asian Pacific, using a strict combination of lockdown and/or tracing, testing and isolation regimes have effectively managed to eliminate the virus. A number of countries have registered no new deaths for weeks.
Strikingly, these same countries are now in the best positions to revive their economies and return to something close to normality.
It is those countries that refused to learn from others and that have mismanaged the public-health crisis that will also face the worst consequences. Countries such as the US and Brazil and, sorry to say, this country too under the Tories.
But there are reasons to be more hopeful about the future. This is because the politicians who have presided over such mayhem have met resistance to the terrible consequences of their policies. The global Black Lives Matter movement continues to inspire and continues to make headway with majority popular support.
Unions such as the teachers here, who have resisted government plans for premature easing, have done us all a great service, and others’ insistence on proper health-and-safety measures at work is a wider public-health good.
Most especially, the general public who refused to be cowed into being simple cannon fodder at work, or in their social lives, have done themselves, their loved ones and all of us a great service.
So, this crisis is very far from over. Globally, it has not even approached the peak. Despite what some would like to believe we cannot be immune from this global trend. And we continue to suffer from the depredations of this government.
But there is a fightback. And, as the old trade-union slogan goes: we can win if we fight, we can never win if we don’t fight.
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