Monday 19 July 2021

Freedom for Some Day

Warning more people will get sick and more people will die. This was how Boris Johnson chose to mark his government's grossly irresponsible experiment in Covid governance. At least the occasion of Freedom Day was spared the pantomime Churchillisms. Indeed, watching the press conference the message hammered by the medical advisors were at cross purposes with their support for the government's opening up plan. Sir Patrick Vallance told the assembled that 60% of current hospitalisations are among the double-jabbed, but thankfully later corrected himself - he meant to say 60% were unvaccinated. Unfortunately, there wasn't any hiding from the 40,000 new infections over the last 24 hour period, and increase of 5,000 on this time last week. Nor the graph showing their strong, upward trajectory.

As with all Johnson pressers, the issue is deliberately contrived to ward off or at least channel questions (and opposition) in easily managed directions. And today saw the deploying of two such stratagems. The first is well rehearsed: if we don't open up now and throw precaution to the wind, when can we open up? This lets Johnson and the government bang on about the dangers of lifting restrictions later when Covid can look forward to easy transmissibility as we head indoors over the autumn months. It is designed to police the horizon of response, and put on the spot anyone questioning it. The right answer is to contest the terms of the argument. There is no "need" for the relaxation of pandemic precautions, save that generated by the government itself. It claims businesses can't hold out for much longer, and people's mental health is suffering. Perhaps if the Tories were as generous as they claimed to be and made sure hospitality, for example, was properly supported clubs wouldn't have to open as super spreader events-in-waiting. Likewise, Sajid Javid recently fielded the mental health question, something that never troubled him as the severely ill and incapacitated were found fit for work by the DWP, nor for that matter the £20/week the government are determined to take off the country's lowest paid. Naturally there are issues, but if they wished the Tories could tackle the mental health crisis by ensuring people on furlough or forced into unemployment had enough to live on. It's bad faith framing all the way down.

The second argument is closely related to the first. Opening now gives the country more time to get more jabs done so the virus runs up against a "wall of immunity" later in the year. The latter phrase is a typical Johnsonism, an image of towering strength that reinforces dangerous assumptions. A double vaccination doesn't grant immunity: it protects against serious illness, and therefore dampens the chances of hospital admissions and deaths. It prevents some transmission. Vaccines are a mitigation, not a cure-all. Unfortunately, millions will read it as immunity and go about their business as if there isn't a pandemic. Some will catch it and it does nothing. Some are going to be hit hard by it, and some will spread it to the clinically vulnerable. The Tories' rhetoric is about to rob tens of thousands of their health and cause some people to die, entirely unnecessarily. Which brings us to the first part of this argument - how does the almost complete abolition of legally-enforced measures aid the take up of jabs? It doesn't. In fact, quite the opposite. More illness now means exhausted health workers come the autumn, and an increased chance of vaccine resistant variants. Their position actively undermines over a year's worth of effort and sacrifice.

If further proof was needed of their criminal negligence, consider the new nightclub plan. As of midnight last night, anyone can go to a club without masks, distancing, and the rest. The BBC have helpfully provided plenty of footage of folks enjoying their first night out in almost 18 months, which recalls last summer's Tory press strategy of amplifying every illegal party and rave as spreader events to blame young people for infections. Something that conveniently forgot the disproportionate numbers of the young in hospitality, which Rishi Sunak had opened up with the absurd Eat Out to Help Out scheme. I digress. The government will be requiring clubbers to provide proof of vaccinations come September. Let's work this through. According to the government's projections, infections are expected to peak and magically decline from some point in late August. Until then, clubs are open to all-comers, whether vaccinated or not. And then when the danger has supposedly passed the restriction comes in. A complete mess. Utter incoherence.

We've been here before so many times. The Tories have proven experts in managing the politics of the pandemic, but disastrous with the practicalities of public health. This is because they've been pulled in several directions at once by the interests they articulate and serve. The preservation of the health of the workforce has to be set against that of employer/employee relations. Keeping people away from workplaces is measured against the passing trade that keeps the small shopkeeper, and much larger retail chains afloat - and their landlords happy. It even goes down to the absurdities of Tory MPs not wanting to wear masks. Johnson's make or break date of the 19th was fixed by political, not scientific exigencies. Simply put, so cracked are Tory MPs that he might have to rely on Labour votes to get further pandemic measures through the Commons, despite his healthy majority. We can't have that, and so once more the party interest is put first.

While still enjoying enormous advantages, this remains a risky moment for the Tories. Public opinion is cautious and concerned, and it could be a disaster too far for Johnson. Especially if we head back into another set of restrictions, and they're unable to scapegoat young people out for a drink. Danger means the possibility of Labour reversing its fortunes too if the moment is seized. But this is for the immediate future. Now, today, Johnson and the Tories have destroyed the pandemic's precautionary principle in the most cavalier way. Freedom Day can only be Freedom for Some Day. As every conspiracy theorist, anti-vaxxer, and anti-masker are given free reign to endanger others, more people will be curbing their interaction and outdoor time. We're chancing a social catastrophe and a renewed public health disaster, and it's the responsibility of the carefree psychopathy of the Prime Minister, his lackeys, and his party.

Image Credit


BCFG said...

Given our PM is a monster, who is happy to see people die, rather than let people not shop for shit they don't need (aided and abetted by the feral and obnoxious sociopathic youth, sorry the glorious generation of woke minded socialists who will bring forth a bright new dawn of human solidarity, peace and progress), here is my fantasy cabinet:

Prime Minister – Harold Shipman
Minister for Children and Families – Ian Huntley
Minister for Women and Equalities – Peter Sutcliffe
Home Secretary – Sir Thomas Hamilton
Housing Minister – Dame Rose West
Health Minister – Sajid Javid
Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – Sir Jimmy Saville
Foreign Minister – Lady Katie Hopkins
Chancellor of the Exchequer – Sir Fred Goodwin

Playwright said...

Aristotle said that an evil man is one who cannot distinguish between what he wants and the common good.
And here he is, getting what he wants and to hell with anyone else. No wonder Trump loves him.
Thanks for this article, keep em coming please!

Blissex said...

«Sir Patrick Vallance told the assembled that 60% of current hospitalisations are among the double-jabbed, but thankfully later corrected himself - he meant to say 60% were unvaccinated.»

The framing of this is the usual nasty thatcherite one:

* That "only" 40% (instead of 60%) of the hospitalised have been vaccinated should not be a cause of great celebration.

* There will always be a percentage of vaccine ineffectiveness, so the percentage of hospitalised that are vaccinated is not very interesting.

* What matters is the absolute number of hospitalised, vaccinated or not.

* The best way to reduce at least in the short-medium term the number of hospitalised is test-trace-isolate instead of lock-downs or not.

* Focusing on the end of lock-down and the percentage of vaccinated among the hospitalised is yet another skilful "distraction operation" from the much bigger and more important issue of the 10-100 times difference in outcomes between test-trace-isolate strategy and the lock-down strategy, and the related complicity between Johnson and Starmer (and Davey and Sturgeon).

Kamo said...

The problem here is that you're offering opposition, not an alternative proposal that might win popular support. You may believe the cost benefits of unlocking now are too high, but there is unlikely to be a good time, so eventually we are going to have to learn to live with Covid-19.

Blissex said...

«Freedom Day can only be Freedom for Some Day»

But but but... more civilized countries with non-thatcherite governments have had freedom for the past year, with full freedom of travel, of social interaction, shops, nightclubs, restaurants open, and 10-100 times lower sickness and death rates:
While the number of UK deaths has entered the hundreds of thousands, New Zealand has recorded only 25 deaths from Covid-19 so far. Taiwan has recorded seven, Australia 909, Finland 655, Norway 550 and Singapore 29.
These countries have largely returned to normal daily life.
Mark George @MarkDGeorge Taiwan beat the coronavirus but the threat from its overbearing big brother might make another #MilkTeaAlliance country a better choice. Greetings from Thailand, population 70 million, not an island,
<4,000 cases, 60 deaths, no local transmissions in months.
Then again, they haven't had a case in 200 days. And everyone has been living their lives freely since February. A note on contact tracing: I'm no expert, and historically a proponent of privacy, but if you have a credit card, or downloaded any number of apps, it seems "they" already have your info. So in a gosh-darn pandemic: sign up for contact tracing! Again, not an expert.
But again: EVERYONE IN TAIWAN HAS BEEN LIVING THEIR LIVES FREELY SINCE FEBRUARY! I mean yes, people voluntarily wear masks in public places, but otherwise, restaurants, subways, etc are packed.
China, which clamped down on Covid with compulsory mask wearing isolation of the sick, and effective contact tracing. Chinese are blithely eating in restaurants, sitting in theaters, attending school, and going back to work.
On Jan. 18 the government reported GDP grew 2.3% in 2020, which makes China the only major economy to to avoid a contraction for the year. Exports helped: they rose 18% in December from a year earlier despite slow demand growth abroad because Chinese exporters grabbed market share from foreign rivals.

Dipper said...

"The Tories have proven experts in managing the politics of the pandemic, but disastrous with the practicalities of public health"

this is completely the wrong way round.

There are serious scientists out there who say masks don't work, and that lockdowns have no effect. They may be right, they may be wrong, but science isn't like the Humanities. In science, there is a truth out there, and finding what that truth is turns out to be very hard. Cherry picking doesn't impress.

Blissex said...

«but science isn't like the Humanities. In science, there is a truth out there, and finding what that truth is»

That is simplistic "scientism", because then according to Rutherford himself there is only one: "Science is Physics; everything else is stamp collecting.”

Things like public health, medicine, pharmacology, political economy, sociology, ... all based on various types of "stamp collecting", should be more properly called "disciplines" that is systematic approaches to "stamp collecting" and interpretation of the collections.

«There are serious scientists out there who say masks don't work, and that lockdowns have no effect.»

That is the usual malevolent thatcherite framing that ignores the test-trace-isolate approaches of other countries. I can imagine that "Dipper" has skipped over my posts about that, but just in case, these are the death rates per 100,000 residents so far in various selected countries, in 3 groups:

211.70 Italy
197.74 Poland
192.25 United Kingdom
184.48 United States
166.01 France
142.25 Sweden
127.05 Switzerland
109.95 Germany

17.63 Finland
14.85 Norway
11.92 Cuba
11.72 Japan
8.03 Iceland

3.20 Thailand
2.89 China-Taiwan
0.63 Singapore
0.53 New Zealand
0.35 China-mainland
0.09 Vietnam

Hos does a Conservative/New Labour/SNP/LibDem death rate 10 times higher than Japan or Finland, and 100 times higher than New Zealand or China-mainland (and still around twice that of Germany) represent something other than “disastrous with the practicalities of public health”?