The Conservative Party have rejected calls from healthcare officials, including the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, to introduce Plan B COVID-19 regulations. The government declared they have “absolutely no plan” to introduce new measures, at a time when cases continue to rise, with 43,324 new cases recorded on October 19th. The measures would see the return of a mask mandate in some settings, and of home working for many, alongside the introduction of vaccine passports. However, even if such measures were taken, it may not go far enough to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, argued “It is time for the Government to enact Plan B of its strategy without delay because without pre-emptive action, we risk stumbling into a winter crisis… The Government should not wait for Covid infections to rocket and for NHS pressures to be sky high before the panic alarm is sounded.” The NHS is already suffering a 5 million patient backlog, so for the government to be dragging their heels on even basic regulations, like masks in crowded settings, only proves their unwillingness to take on the Coronavirus spread.
If these Plan B measures were to be implemented, it could take off some of the pressure facing the NHS and allow them to work through their backlog. By instead allowing daily infections to grow, the Tories are making it even more challenging to eventually bring rates down, for if the spread is tackled earlier it will require less drastic measures. “We are right on the edge,” says Taylor, “and it is the middle of October. It would require an incredible amount of luck for us not to find ourselves in the midst of a profound crisis over the next three months“.
Tory Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng argues “the conversation about restrictions on travel, restrictions on more lockdowns is completely unhelpful. We don’t want to go back into lockdown and further restrictions… The infection rate was always likely to go up as we opened up the economy, because as people get back to normal life, the infection rate was likely to go up”. Mr. Kwarteng is right on one thing, no one wants to go back to lockdown or further restrictions, however neither do we want infections and deaths to continue in their rise, or the NHS to become further overwhelmed. The fact we don’t enjoy COVID-19 restrictions, does not change their beneficial role in controlling the spread and thus limiting hospitalisations.
Matthew Taylor continues: “The government ought to not just announce that we’re moving to Plan B, but it should be Plan B plus. We should do what’s in Plan B in terms of masks… working from home, but also we should try to achieve the kind of national mobilisation that we achieved in the first and second waves, where the public went out of their way to support and help the health service.”
It is clear that the government is uninterested in prioritising public health, fearing the economic impact of any serious restrictions. Yet again the Conservatives allow workers to suffer in the name of ‘the economy‘. Except it is the workforce that actually drives the economy, and in refusing to reintroduce any restrictions, the government leaves many workers facing long-term side effects and even death. So we see once more that what is good for ‘the economy’ is undoubtedly harmful to the people. For it is not the good of the economy that concerns the Conservatives, but only the interests of the corporations and financiers, who seek the economy to remain open as it is.
Philip English, is a member of the YCL’s Birmingham branch