By Paul Atkin
SAGE reported in September that an immediate two week circuit breaker lockdown was needed to stop the rapid increase in COVID infections. The government decided instead to cross its fingers and hope that half measures would do the trick. They haven’t. The government is now “guided” by “the science” and is no longer “following” it. They seem to think that “the science” is malleable and the virus will respect their other imperatives. It won’t.
Pundits are arguing that Labour’s support for SAGE’s call makes such a circuit break “politically impossible” because the government will now lose face if it calls one – implying therefore that if one doesn’t get called that’s somehow Labour’s fault. So many have said this that it is clearly a line fed to them through the lobby. Just think for a moment about what that says about the priorities of this government. Putting it about that saving Boris Johnson’s face must take precedence over saving people’s lives is a piece of gaslighting on a whole new level – even for this lot.
Instead we have the “three tier ” system which SAGE has said very clearly won’t be enough, even if all the restrictions in the third tier are followed strictly.
So, what can we do?
The R rate (18/10/20) is currently at 1.2 – 1.5 for the whole of the UK. SAGE has said that closing down the hospitality sector would cut this by 0.2 – getting it down to 1 – 1.3. Closing schools would cut it further by 0.5, getting it down further to 0.5-0.8. The National Education Union is therefore completely right to call for schools to be included – because without schools being shut the circuit won’t be broken, but with their closure the R rate would be below 1 even for the highest estimates.
So, it is clear from this that closing schools is essential to get the R rate down below 1. The question that flows from this is how far down can the R rate be forced and over what period and whether a circuit break – albeit a minimum necessary measure – is adequate to eliminate the virus in the way that China did in just six weeks (and without which no sustainable recovery is possible)?
The other step forward that could be taken is to scrap SERCOs contract for test and trace and reconfigure the whole system so that it is properly run through the Health Service and local authorities. The figures on this are stark.
Sticking with SERCO shows that the government is less interested in getting a grip on the virus than using a health emergency as a pretext for further outsourcing. The jury is not out on this any more: privatisation fails.
Image: The number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the UK, on a daily basis, by date reported. Source: UK Government. Author: Crep171166, licensed under the United Kingdom Open Government Licence v3.0 (OGL v.3).