Let’s do what’s safe and healthy

Let’s do what’s safe and healthy. Which might not be the same as doing what the government says.

Since the prime minister announced a lockdown in the UK on Monday, you might be tempted to think that the government has got a grip of the coronavirus crisis. I don’t think so.

The UK’s testing regime is a shambles. After weeks of delay, and thanks to massive public pressure, the government is promising – without giving a timeline – tests for front-line health service workers.

Those workers are having to take time off sick, because they can’t get tested. They are

Walking in the park is good for your health

desperately short of personal protective equipment. And worried about the deluge of sufferers now arriving in hospitals.

The situation with the supply of ventilators for those who fall seriously ill is alarming. The government refused to join a European buying scheme – and then pathetically tried to cover its tracks by claiming officials did not receive an email. Brussels nailed that lie quickly.

Manufacturers of ventilators who offered the government help have been ignored. Instead, a contract was offered to Tory party supporter James Dyson, whose company has no relevant experience.

Senior ministers feel comfortable covering their tracks with deceit and diversion. Michael Gove, challenged by journalists yesterday to explain the disastrous failure on testing, tried to blame China. The editor of the Lancet, Richard Horton, has given chapter and verse on that one.

The government was forced to change its initial laissez faire policy, which appeared to prioritise allowing businesses to keep working for as long as possible. That became unsustainable. But let’s remember the timeline:

■ On 12 March (two and a half weeks ago), Boris Johnson announced a series of measures, including asking those with symptoms to self-isolate, urging elderly people with underlying conditions not to go on cruises, and advising cancellation of school trips abroad. Medical experts were shocked at the lack of rigour. They were mystified that, for example, big public events had not been banned – and the next day, most sports authorities, without waiting for the government, banned them anyway.

■ On 19 March, the government announced that schools were closing – after millions of parents had already taken their children out of school.

■ On 21-22 March, an incredibly sunny weekend for this time of year, families – now setting out on a three-month stretch with children at home – headed to the park in large numbers.

Cue newspaper headlines and speeches from ministers, criticising ordinary people for failing to observe social distancing rules. On top of newspaper headlines and speeches from ministers, criticising ordinary people who in previous weeks, alarmed by a health crisis the government was doing little to address, went “panic buying” to protect their families.

■ On 23 March, the lockdown was announced, including a directive for “non-essential” work to stop. And big financial support for businesses, plus a scheme to make up wages for some workers.

And again, the rhetoric was focused on ordinary people’s failure to observe the rules put in place, belatedly, a few days before.

The lockdown guidelines about staying at home, not visiting friends, and so on, make sense to me, and our family is sticking to them. The rules for elderly people with underlying conditions are also clear.

But the messages from the government about how and when people can leave home are confusing, and – as far as I can tell, talking to friends who work in jobs dealing with public health – illogical.

The government recommends that you go out only for shopping, to help vulnerable friends and neighbours, and once a day for exercise. Michael Gove, the man who thinks the country has “had enough of experts”, said yesterday that that exercise meant an hour’s walk, or half an hour’s run or cycle ride.

If this is a public health strategy, then I am santa claus.

■ What are Gove’s guidelines based on? Why shouldn’t people go out for three or four hours’ exercise if they feel like it, as long as they keep two metres or more away from their fellow citizens? Why shouldn’t they go out three or four times a day? Nothing is better for health – mental and physical – than plenty of exercise.

■ What about young families? Should, or could, parents take their young children – with whom they live at home in close physical contact – out to the park to kick a football about, or other types of exercise? Why isn’t the government encouraging them to do so? (I understand that playgrounds with shared equipment need to be closed – I am talking about families using open spaces.)

■ And what about people who live alone? Providing they are not in vulnerable categories who need to self-isolate completely, why can they not arrange to meet a friend for a chat, while keeping two metres apart? (People are doing this in the park where I live, but why are they not encouraged to do so by government?) In my view, such flexibility is vital for people’s health and well-being, during a lockdown that could last for months.

I reckon that any group of doctors, nurses and care workers could sit around a table and in half an hour come up with a better public health strategy than the government’s.

The patricians and aristocrats in ministerial jobs can only imagine strategies that instruct, command and control. A public health strategy that treats the population like thinking adults is completely alien to their way of thinking.

And here’s a question for friends in the Labour Party. What are all these Labour councils doing? Some of them have spoken up – as Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, did, to protest about non-essential workplaces staying open. But some of them are invisible.

What is Tower Hamlets council doing, closing Victoria Park in east London? The huge local population, many of whom live in flats without gardens, now have even fewer places to go out and exercise.

Is it really beyond the council’s wits to open the park, and re-deploy staff from non-urgent jobs to act as wardens, reminding people of the “social distancing” policy and talking to them about how to make it work?

Could they not put up some signs, like Hackney council has done in some parks – signs that (since, surprise surprise, the population is actually made up of thinking adults) are largely being respected?

We are just at the start of this in the UK. The coronavirus crisis will not wish away class politics and class conflict. It will reproduce it in new ways. Communities are working out collective responses to the virus independently of government. Let’s keep doing that. GL, 30 March 2020.

Coronavirus support group for workers

Clap for Our Carers – every Thursday at 8.0pm, as long as this goes on

2 Responses to Let’s do what’s safe and healthy

  1. Nick Williams says:

    I absolutely agree with this.
    The Tories were so totally arrogant (and possibly worse, given their thinly veiled advocacy of ‘herd immunity’) that they failed to consider any evidence from other countries of what actually worked (Korea in particular is an exemplar) making even the odious Jeremy Hunt sounds rational.
    And, I am deeply disappointed that there is not more focus on our country’s ICU capacity. The director of public health himself, admitted the ICU capacity is regularly overstretched during the winter periods. What clearer evidence could there be of the government’s 10 year failure to invest sufficiently in the NHS? Our politicians and the media should be absolutely ripping in to the Tories about this, rather than criticising the understandably confused public.

  2. Neil Rothnie says:

    “The UK’s testing regime is a shambles. After weeks of delay, and thanks to massive public pressure, the government is promising – without giving a timeline – tests for front-line health service workers. Those workers are having to take time off sick because they can’t get tested.”
    Meanwhile, BP and other oil & gas employers on the North Sea are already testing workers before sending them offshore. According to an offshore workers online forum, and partly backed up by reports in Energy Voice the industry trade paper, the useless fucks (BP) then proceeded to send workers offshore before the results were in, only to discover that one of them had tested positive to C19. They then quarantined the other 12 passengers in their cabins for 12 hours before sending them out to work. 12 hours? (Two guys did refuse to fly offshore – more power to them.) In response to workers’ concerns, the Offshore Installation Manager allayed fears by telling them that they would be OK as long as they hadn’t been kissing and cuddling on the chopper. Get the macho bullying?
    What really makes all this shocking is not the utter incompetence when it comes to safety for offshore workers. That’s common. Safety is part of PR for these bastards. What really gets my goat is that this testing should be happening at all without a debate in which we, who are all in it together, have a say about who are “key” workers and who should be getting tested. Who designated oil & gas workers as key workers? There’s a glut of cheap oil and a shutdown of 10% of global production taking place right now just in order to push up oil prices. What reason for not shutting down all but essential work offshore UK – or at the very least a national debate about it? Instead, they’ve been cramming workers into choppers and confining them in quarters with recycled air, sometimes sleeping two to a cabin.
    So why the media silence? Why should the fact that naval ratings, rotating between home and their Royal Navy ship, have been newsworthy enough for national news bulletins, while the oil industry is granted stealth bomber status and slip under all radar? If the media are only half as useless in their reporting of other areas of life in the UK as they are in reporting on the North Sea then I guess we really have no fucking idea what’s going on out there.
    It’s very hard to be blindly following this mob of proven liars. My daughters were way ahead of Boris Johnson as they made and implemented their plans for safeguarding their families (including me thank goodness). Their message to me was clear and unequivocal and as practical as was possible under the circumstances. Mind you they aren’t having to keep their options open so that they can herd us all back to “business as usual” if this ever is all over. Show me the neo-liberal, market led, solution to this mess.

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