Momentum Policy Primary: Labour must put forward an alternative on Covid

By Joan Twelves

The Covid pandemic has dominated all our lives for the past two years. And yet there has been little discussion within the Labour Party on how it should have been dealt with, on the continuing threat from Covid and on planning for the likelihood of future pandemics.

The Opposition’s reticence to criticise the government at the beginning was understandable but regrettable. The government’s dominance of the airwaves with their daily press conferences made it hard for other voices to be heard. But it led to Labour’s position becoming seen as one of just challenging their myriad failures and incompetence – the delays, the questionable contracts, the lack of PPE, the scandal of care home deaths, the unequal treatment of different socio-economic groups and areas of the country, the breaches of the rules – rather than exposing the ideological underpinning of the Tories’ approach.

The Tory approach has resulted in a massive 71% of England’s population having been infected and over 190,000 deaths, the seventh highest in the world and the highest in Europe. It will be only a few weeks before we hit 200,000 fatalities. The ideology behind it has been based on a mixture of eugenics, economic liberalism, an aversion to the public sector, and a chauvinistic belief in British exceptionalism.

It faltered when faced with the probability of millions of deaths and the collapse of the economy, but not for long – the increasing right wing dominance within the governing party has led to the current situation of all protections being removed and the virus left to spread unchecked through the population.  

That more have not died is despite, not because of, this government which prioritised channelling taxpayers’ money to their chums, or partied while they watched the “bodies pile high”.

Mutual aid and local councils helped many. The TUC and trade unions successfully fought for furlough. The public sector, whether it was the NHS or the BBC, public health professionals, teachers or refuse collectors, kept on working for us, as did key workers from delivery drivers to warehouse workers. Our academics and scientists not only developed life-saving vaccines but taught us all to be virologists.

The government’s thanks? More cuts, attacks and privatisation.

And now we are being told the pandemic is over and everything is back to normal.

But what is normal about 1,340 deaths per week – nearly 200 per day – 3.8 million people having Covid, and 1.7 million facing long-term disability, chronic illness and loss of opportunity because of Long Covid?

The timing of the Momentum Primary meant writing a motion on Covid nearly six months in advance. But we all know that Covid is unpredictable. We do not know whether we will be back to lockdowns if a more virulent variant makes doing nothing unfeasible or whether we really will be back to normal and no longer need to keep repeating calls for mitigations and protections to be reinstated. So Zero Covid’s motion has concentrated on what we do know will be needed regardless of who is in government, who is prime minister, or whether the current pandemic is over or not.

Johnson dragged his feet in agreeing to an Independent Inquiry and, although a Chair has been appointed and the public consulted on its terms of reference, it is still up to the PM to determine the final terms of reference and when the Inquiry will get started. Our motion calls for its interim conclusions to be published within the year so at the very least we can see where it is heading and not let the government keep on with its delaying tactics.

Good ventilation is an essential protection against any airborne virus. The government has known this from near the start of the pandemic yet has failed to invest in necessary improvements to our schools, workplaces and public indoor spaces. Mandatory air quality criteria, as well as funding for research into Long Covid and vaccine development, will be essential.

The pandemic has exposed the poor state of our public services, starved of funding and investment for over a decade, and the need for an innovative and forward-thinking public health system. Labour has to take the lead in prioritising the health of the population and building a more equal and resilient society so we can be prepared for the future threats we know are coming whether through climate change or more pandemics – or both.

It would be a tragedy if Labour’s Conference failed to discuss the Covid pandemic. We have lived with it for two years and it is not going away. We know we can do things differently. All the other policies we want to support and develop will come to nothing if the pandemic takes over our lives once more.

Please support the Covid Pandemic motion (No. 18) in the Momentum Policy Primary ballot and move it in your CLP or affiliated organisation to get it discussed at Conference.

Covid Pandemic

SARS-CoV2 has touched us all – through bereavement; chronic illness; loss of income/opportunities; increased mental/physical health problems; increasing inequalities.

Conference condemns the Tory government’s neo-liberal dogmatism, incompetence, corruption, repeated failure to take timely decisions, reliance on vaccines and herd immunity, which have led to one of the highest per-capita death tolls in the world.

It has failed to follow the most basic infection control procedures – test, isolate, contact trace, vaccinate, mitigate against further infections; and by recklessly removing all protections has caused much unnecessary death, illness and suffering.

SARS-CoV2 remains a threat to humanity, and the climate crisis means that more pandemics are inevitable as ecosystems are destroyed, and more zoonotic diseases jump species. Conference condemns the Tory government for backing the interests and profits of Big Pharma rather than supporting waiving vaccine patents and sharing knowledge.

Conference calls for a change of strategy to prioritise the health of the population, and for Labour to demand that the government:

Publish the interim conclusions of the Independent Covid Inquiry within the year to inform the UK’s ongoing and future pandemic response and planning.

Invest in improved ventilation and other mitigations in private and public buildings; and establish mandatory criteria for air quality of indoor spaces.

Fund ongoing research into Long Covid and next-generation vaccine development.

Launch a new deal for an innovative, forward-thinking public health infrastructure; strengthen public services, reduce inequalities and build a society more resilient to the extreme effects of pandemics now and in the future.

Submitted by Zero Covid

Joan Twelves is a member of the Zero Covid UK Steering Committee

Image: Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/photos/flag-coronavirus-covid-19-uk-5201916/

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