After one u-turn, is Johnson preparing another?

17 June 2020

It was Johnson’s turn to take the Government’s Covid-19 “Daily Show” on Tuesday. And clearly the job at hand was “bury the bad news” - this time, April’s employment and GDP figures from the Office for National Statistics.

So suddenly Johnson was agreeing with footballer Marcus Rashford. And he could hardly wait to announce how “British scientists, backed by UK Government funding” had led “the first robust clinical trial anywhere in the world to find a coronavirus treatment proven to reduce the risk of death”. And it’s incredibly “cheap”!

This story was repeated by all and sundry without question. Sure, it was admitted that the treatment, dexamethasone, is already used routinely in intensive care, when patients are very sick... They didn’t explain that similar corticosteroid drugs had already been shown to reduce deaths of Covid-19 patients on ventilators - and even by as much as 62%! But those studies were conducted... in China! So they are discounted, of course!

Anyway, this “discovery” has certainly allowed Johnson to “celebrate a great, British achievement”. And the hand-picked scientists who made this announcement alongside Johnson, were willing accomplices in this questionable “exaggeration”.

So what about the bad news which Johnson was hiding? ONS figures showed the economy had shrunk by 20.4% in April alone. And it registered the “sharpest fall in hours worked on record”!

In fact by now, 2 months later, with job cuts announced daily, and many more on the cards when the furlough scheme ends, unemployment and poverty are highly likely to hit levels not seen since the 1930s (even before Brexit is “done”!).

Egged on by calls from Tory “Lord” Hague and an array of backbench Tory MPs, bosses want an end to 2m distancing, quarantine and the lockdown! Never mind the over 4,000 new C-19 infections still occurring every day, in the absence of effective treatment(!), vaccine, or testing and the current mass gatherings in shopping malls, on public transport, and in workplaces, which threaten a 2nd spike...

Johnson claims he will not end distancing measures before 4 July. But already, de facto, many measures are disregarded. And no doubt he will find a way to appease those for whom money-making trumps “saving lives”.

“Coming together” to protect ourselves from a lethal system

Footballer Marcus Rashford was right when he wrote to MPs on 15 June that “the system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked.” He asked the government to continue to provide its £15/week food vouchers for the poorest children during the summer. As Rashford pointed out, 200,000 children have missed meals due to poverty, during the lockdown.

But he was also right that almost a third of all children were living in poverty even before the pandemic. This virus did not cause, but merely exposed and exacerbated, the social and racial inequalities in a system which is designed to work against the interests of the working class majority.

After the government’s U-turn, Rashford tweeted: “Just look at what we can do when we come together”. True enough!

But as always, it will have to be the working class itself which comes together, if those who are most vulnerable to the virus, are to be protected.

Indeed, Public Health England has now published a second report on the effect of coronavirus on black and minority ethnic (BAME) people this week. It showed that black men had a mortality rate from Covid-19 almost 4 times higher than white men; in women, rate of death is three times higher if you’re black.

During the pandemic, it has been the lowest-paid, “essential” workers, who have had to go into work every day. BAME people make up 11% of the workforce, but account for 18% of supermarket checkout staff and postal and delivery workers; 20% of nurses, care workers and bus drivers and 32% of security guards.

The report made recommendations to protect those BAME workers most exposed to the virus. One of these was to have more detailed "risk assessments" for BAME front line workers. It is these workers who are, and have been, keeping society running, at the sharp end of capitalist exploitation.

The logical outcome would be to pay them in full to stay at home, safely away from these risky jobs! Neither the government nor the bosses are going to make any such recommendation, of course. No, as Rashford's tweet went, the working class will have to “come together” in order to ensure it!