Well, here we are, three weeks into lockdown 2.0 with the new tier system to take over from 2 December, there is still no clear end in sight (at least not for the foreseeable future – there is a vaccine on the horizon, but we may not see that for some time). The customary lockdown puns have been made; the novelty of being a homebody has worn off, and all we’re left with is a lot of free time and a government completely unable to take any tangible measures to stop the spread of the virus.
Walking down the street to one of the few places you can go to is an odd sight. Ecclesall Road, which is usually vibrant and filled with students on the weekend, now seems to exist on a permanent Sunday night: you’ll see a couple of people walking hastily, hands in pockets, to buy a pint of milk or some emergency teabags, or someone buying a takeaway if you’re lucky. There’s no denying that England exists in some kind of weird stasis in which every day blends into the next.
But here’s the thing: there’s no denying that it needs to be this way, at least for the time being. We could argue until the cows come home about whether certain businesses should be open – there are plenty of people who would say nobody has contracted Covid-19 in a cinema, for instance – but how do we actually know that’s true when the country doesn’t have the proper infrastructure to say for sure ?
This is all something for which the government can be blamed. But their biggest failure was, in the first place, not realising that devising a euphemistically-named Eat Out to Help Out scheme was going to create a narrative that it was safe to act as if Covid-19 was no longer out there.
I say ‘sort of,’ because before that, there was Boris Johnson’s herd immunity gaffe on Good Morning Britain, Matt Hancock’s early assertion that there was no evidence that masks work, and most famously, Dominic Cumming’s summertime ’eye test’ which involved taking a drive to Barnard Castle, an obvious breach of his own lockdown measures. Pair this with a completely dysfunctional test and trace system, and out comes a disaster; one that is pretty much the same as what put the world on hold in March. Really, this was always going to happen.
I may sound a little swivel-eyed here, but isn’t this all a very predictable move for the Tories? Their furlough scheme was a self-proclaimed ‘historic and unprecedented measure,’ which in conservative-speak means something they really didn’t want to do. Because now, the cat’s out of the bag. We know the oft-referenced Magic Money Tree exists, and we know it can be harvested at the drop of a hat. The tree here is, of course, taxpayer money – money that belongs to everyone who lives in the UK, with a government appointed to spend it in the way the majority of us want it to be spent.
That’s no good for the Tories who, if you were being generous, you’d describe as the ‘fiscally responsible’ party. If you were me, however, you’d describe them as a party that wants to maintain financial inequality because the only way to support a national benefits system like the furlough scheme long-term is to implement a proportional tax system in which people like Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, who devised the furlough scheme, pay a lot more money into the system than most of us.
This desire of the rich to cling onto their wealth has dogged the country ever since Covid-19 first hit. Serco has a link to the Tory party: Rupert Soames, the company’s CEO, is the brother of former Tory MP Nicholas Soames. According to the Guardian, Serco runs a quarter of Covid-19 testing sites in the UK, and they’ve done very well out of the pandemic. According to The Guardian, Serco have been paid £108 million to manage Test and Trace, but were only reaching 62.6% of people who tested positive back in October, an amount which is evidently insufficient.
And that is the crux of the issue: we do need a lockdown. One lockdown, in which all of the Test and Trace issues are smoothed out. We know this would work because it has in other places. New Zealand has pretty much eradicated Covid-19, and a lot of East Asian countries aren’t doing too badly, either. Korea suffered from around 27,000 cases overall, and only 427 deaths, most of those occurring earlier in the year. In China, the daily infection rate is consistently under fifty per day.
China had some very stringent restrictions for a while at the beginning of the pandemic. Wuhan entered a lockdown for 76 days, and shortly after, those measures were implemented in Hubei province, where the outbreak occurred. Ventures outside were kept to a minimum, and the government tested 9 million people for the disease in a matter of weeks. China has a significantly larger population than the UK, but much fewer deaths.
Unfortunately, even though the UK could learn something from those measures, two things are getting in the way: the Tories’ warped idea of fiscal responsibility and their desire to reward people for party loyalty. Given that, there are only two ways out of this situation: the Government changing its ways or a vaccine. And I think we all know which one of those outcomes is the most likely.
Image Credit: Forge Press