As the Covid-19 virus spreads, the lack of urgency in dealing with the pandemic by Boris Johnson – and Donald Trump – screams out. Countries in Asia such as Taiwan and South Korea have gained control over the virus by widespread testing, and social distancing. Countries in Europe are closing down restaurants and cinemas and all non-essential shops, as well as educational establishments. France, Italy and Spain have gone further by “locking down”. In Spain, the government has announced sweeping measures allowing it to take over private healthcare providers and requisition materials such as face-masks and Covid-19 tests.
In Britain, Johnson’s refusal to follow World Health Organisation guidelines and instead adopting a strategy of allowing the virus to spread to build “herd immunity” is alarming. Many are calling on the government to publish the science which it is using to make its decisions so that scientists can verify the evidence and test the assumptions. Strong measures of “social distancing” including by stopping mass gatherings are necessary, which the government has failed to adopt. The locking down and social distancing has been carried out independently by sporting and cultural organisations. It may be that by the end of the week, Johnson will have been forced yet again to catch up with what is necessary, and ban mass gatherings. But more measures are necessary. The NHS needs to be rebuilt to treat the enormous numbers of people likely to become sick, private health care requisitioned, and big pharma brought into public ownership. Mass testing for the virus, as called for by the WHO, is essential to find out how and where the virus is spreading, and contain it.
Jeremy Corbyn has issued a series of demands in a letter to the Prime Minister about the Covid-19 pandemic, including the introduction of rent deferrals and an increase in statutory sick pay. However, Labour should also be vigorously challenging the core of the government’s strategy of “herd immunisation” and lack of mass testing of all individuals with symptoms of the virus.
The government’s response to this health crisis is political. It wants to allow the economy to function as much as possible by not locking down so as to avoid a massive recession that would hit profits, let alone “getting Brexit done”. Johnson is slowly realising that the “herd immunisation” could lead to many more deaths than tackling the virus with the measures advised by the WHO. But at his press conference on Monday, he was still stepping back from adopting and implementing vigorously such measures and instead leaving it up to individuals and organisations to implement them.
The scale of the health crisis is such that nothing less than decisive state action, internationally coordinated, is necessary. But yet again we see the system putting profits before people. Labour and the left should not be afraid of accusations of “playing politics”. We should condemn the government’s inadequate plans to tackle the virus, and back wholeheartedly organisations that are taking the right steps independently and support community organisations and individuals that are taking matters in their own hands to develop local networks of support and solidarity. Already hundreds of mutual aid groups have been established around the country. These are providing vital support to people in self-isolation, re-establishing collective organisation and could develop into a powerful movement to challenge the government.
PROTECT THE PEOPLE
Call for maximum action to stop the coronavirus.
Sign the petition and join the campaign
If we do not change their minds quickly, Boris Johnson and the UK government will be responsible for a frightening number of unnecessary deaths.We need a massive campaign now to make them change course.
Please sign here https://www.protectthepeople.co.uk/#sign.
UNISON: Coronavirus: your rights at work
NATIONAL EDUCATION UNION: advice for schools, colleges and other education workplaces; and read its letter to the Prime Minister asking “Why aren’t schools closing if mass gatherings are to be suspended?”
TUC brochure with guidance for unions and reps.
COVID-19 Mutual Aid groups
THE PEOPLE V. THE GOVERNMENT
Statement from The People’s Assembly
The people are ahead of the government in making serious moves to combat the spread of the coronavirus. It is clear the government were pushed by organisations already taking action to close down large events, a move we very much welcome. Where government refuses to act civil society institutions, trade unions, and ordinary citizens are taking matters into their own hands. We reject the ‘herd immunity’ theory that coronavirus can simply be left to rip through society until enough people develop immunity. Not only is there no proof this will happen with this virus, it is the most deadly and careless approach the government could take. The government should be acting on World Health Organisation guidance and learning from those countries it commends for swift and decisive action. Older and vulnerable people matter as much as everyone else. We insist the government alter course immediately and implement the following measures:
1. Close all schools, universities and colleges. Government and Local Authorities to work with schools to develop plans to get food to children who would have been entitled to free school meals.
2. Mass testing and tracing, which World Health Organisation experts have suggested is more effective in the early stages.
3. Workers should be allowed to work from home where possible. Introduce a mortgage and rent freeze for the duration of the crisis for those workers denied their full pay.
4. Extend statutory sick pay to all workers. Following successful pressure on the government to give sick pay from day one for those affected by the virus. Statutory sick pay should be uplifted to a living wage.
5. Pensioners on low-incomes, low income workers and disabled people to be eligible for one-off grants to cover food, fuel and travel costs.
6. Scrap the assessment period for Universal Credit and make payments immediately. Sanctions for benefit claimants who don’t attend appointments should be scrapped. Universal Credit payments should be topped up to account for extra costs of preparing for virus and moving to shut down.
7. Price controls to be introduced on essential medical equipment and drugs. There must be no hiking of prices on masks, ventilators, isolation units, beds, basic supplies like soap and hand towels, as well as drugs to combat bacterial complications etc.
8. Private hospitals to be put under the management of the NHS. Essential equipment owned by private companies should be pooled as part of the overall effort; private hospital beds should be treated as public.
9. Cleaners are a vital frontline, as are NHS staff. They should both be given an immediate pay boost to attract more cleaners, nurses, hospital porters and administrators. All workers should have the protective clothing necessary in line with TUC guidelines.
10. No scapegoating of Chinese people, Italians, immigrants or anyone else. An emergency programme of aid and refugee resettlement should be initiated across Europe.
11. The outbreak must not be used as a pretext for clamping down on civil liberties. Frontline public sector workers, especially health workers, should be brought in at the highest level of decision making. The trade unions should be part of the conversation with civil servants and senior NHS staff.
More information at The People’s Assembly
TAKING INDUSTRIAL ACTION OVER COVID-19
At workplace level one question that keeps coming up, particularly since workers in Hong Kong and Italy went on strike for action over coronavirus, is whether British workers can lawfully strike over the issue. The answer is yes, as long as your demands relate to your employer they are likely to be a lawful ‘trade dispute’. However, in most cases, you shouldn’t need to strike, but can take action under Health and Safety law without a ballot or giving your employer the right to dock your pay.
Section 7 of the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 (HSAWA 1974) places a duty on every employee while at work:
a) to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work
Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996) protects the employee (with no qualifying service period) from any ‘detriment’:
d) in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which he could not reasonably have been expected to avert, he left (or proposed to leave) or (while the danger persisted) refused to return to his place of work or any dangerous part of his place of work, or
e) in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent, he took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect himself or other persons from the danger.
The Labour Research Department explains:
“As long as the employee forms a genuine view of a risk that they reasonably regard as serious and imminent, the fact that the employer disagrees with the seriousness of the risk or the appropriateness of the steps taken is irrelevant.”