Action this day
Updated: Apr 1, 2021
Last week, the UK passed the most grim milestone so far in the pandemic: 120,000 deaths. There are many questions to be asked about how our death toll has become the worst in Europe, and how our front-line workers ended up having to beat back a second and then a third wave of COVID-19. However, these are questions for the future.
As the Prime Minister sets out his ‘routes out of lockdown’, what we need now is not vague visions of a summer of freedom, but for his Government to address issues in three pressing areas of the pandemic response - vaccine roll-out, education and healthcare sectors, and the test-track-isolate system.
The Prime Minister has lauded the UK’s vaccination program as the key to beating the pandemic. This is true — and British scientists have made it so — but only in the long term. The campaign to target vaccine hesitancy must first be stepped-up to avoid undermining potential gains. Discussion of a new vaccine passport scheme is welcome, but a first step must be reducing vaccine hesitancy to its absolute lowest possible level.
The current plans see schools expected to reopen en-masse on March 8. Other than simply providing more tests, support is needed to make schools more secure in other ways, for example investment in better ventilation. Government announcements on this front have been noticeably absent.
Likewise, the inability of hospital workers to access the PPE they need almost a year into the pandemic (and the Health Secretary’s apparent recent claim that there had never been a shortage!) are both inexcusable and scandalous. Inaction on these fronts continues to undermine the Prime Minister’s claim to be ‘doing all we can’.
Finally, the long-suffering test-trace-isolate system must be subjected to an urgent, independent review if we are to ensure that clusters can be isolated quickly once we move into a more open phase of the lockdown lifting. The WHO have been clear throughout that contact tracing is a key part of pandemic suppression, but the UK system has been continually hampered by low tracing rates. The Government must also improve the financial support available to those self-isolating - the cost of doing this would be minuscule compared to the £22bn spent on the tracing system so far. Similarly, mandatory isolation plans for those returning from abroad should be introduced immediately.
From healthcare to education, the UK has been worse hit by the pandemic than almost every other country. This did not happen by chance, it was (and is) because of a failure of political leadership. Unless the Prime Minister takes urgent action to address the issues around the vaccine roll-out, the contact tracing system, and support for key sectors, last week’s sombre milestone will be the first of many passed this year.
Churchill used to mark issues needing urgent attention with a sticker which said ‘action this day’. The Prime Minister owes it to us all - but especially to those who have lost loved ones - to take a leaf out of his longtime hero’s book and give these issues the attention they deserve.
The views expressed in blog posts are the views of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the view of Scientists for Labour (SfL) unless posted from the official SfL account.