By Ken Livingstone
Now is the winter of our discontent — and the Tory government is entirely to blame.
More than nine months into Britain’s Covid-19 crisis, Boris Johnson and his ministers have failed utterly to protect public health and to drive down infections.
This is not just incompetence — although that has been in evidence — it is fundamentally a failure of policy.
Britain’s 60,000 virus deaths represent 877 out of every million people in the population.
In New Zealand the equivalent figure is five, in China it is three and in Vietnam it is less than one half.
With thousands, even tens of thousands, testing positive every day, it is simply not possible to “track and trace” their contacts.
Only where the necessary steps have reduced the virus to very low levels is the public, effectively free from Covid-19, free to return to something resembling normal life, with fully operating and effective “track and trace” systems in operation.
Whereas early October saw millions of Chinese people travelling safely around their country to enjoy the Golden Week holiday, two months later, millions here face tough choices and Christmas without their families.
This is an abdication of responsibility by a government that is unwilling to face the consequences of its own bad decisions.
New year promises to bring some new hope and the prospect of the start of a vaccination programme.
But even before that happens, we are set to see huge numbers of additional unnecessary deaths.
While the most recent lockdown was successful and infection rates began to fall, on December 2 alone — the day that Britain officially moved to the confusing and poorly funded “tiers” system — 648 lost lives were recorded along with 16,170 new cases.
While people are right to be angry and frustrated, ending lockdown in these circumstances — especially with seemingly no action taken to even start to fix issues around track and trace — is callous and irresponsible.
Failure to bring the virus under control has taken its toll on the economy too, as repeated lockdowns and protracted restrictions have been necessary to stave off even greater catastrophe.
While those on the front line — health and care workers, often the low paid, women and BAME employees — are disproportionately exposed, many who have the option have understandably avoided returning to work or socialising.
According to figures produced by the Office for Budget Responsibility, Britain now faces the worst economic slump for more than 300 years and one of the sharpest declines experienced by any major economy.
Contrary to the government’s false claim that there is “a balance to be struck” between saving lives and protecting the economy, the opposite is true.
The only way to save livelihoods is to save lives and defeat the virus.
What is needed is a zero-Covid policy as the aforementioned countries have pursued — a strategy that promises Covid-19 freedom, both in the sense of being free from the daily toll of deaths and infections and of being free to fully enjoy our lives again.
Both things go hand in hand. Vaccines — even if they only provide protection for a short period — can be a huge part of this urgently needed approach.
So too are the financial measures necessary to support those who have to self-isolate or lock down, prevent evictions and job losses and to keep businesses and other employers afloat.
Working people must not be made to pay for this crisis and this means ratcheting up the pressure on key campaign points in the next period, including on fixing furlough so everyone is paid at least the minimum wage, increasing statutory sick pay and making sure everyone who needs it can get it and not going ahead with the planned cut to universal credit which will throw millions of people further into poverty.
In terms of the structural changes our economy needs, the Labour Assembly Against Austerity’s People’s Plan provides a framework we can unite behind in terms of the need to protect jobs and livelihoods and for investment in the future.
There are proven steps that can defeat this virus, protect lives and clear the path to economic recovery and the imminent arrival of vaccines will make that even easier to achieve.
For our public health, economy and society it is long past time for the zero-Covid policy we need and know works — it is time we were Covid-19-free.
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This article was originally published by the Morning Star.