Johnson appeared in the last of the current series of his “Daily Show” this Tuesday. Flanked by his well-behaved scientific advisors, he announced that "the long national hibernation was coming to an end"! Yes, it was now going to be safe to re-open pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, camp sites, hotels... And, what's more, it would be possible to reduce the 2m distancing to "one metre plus"! All this, because one could trust "the great British public's common sense" to understand and "mitigate" the risks involved.
Even Johnson’s advisors showed some unease. After all, the risk of infection is known to be 2-10 times greater at 1m. But Chief Medical Officer Whitty decided that “on balance, it’s reasonable”, as long as there is "mitigation, like screens, ventilation and cleaning..."
Yet again, he failed to advise the compulsory wearing of masks or face coverings in all settings, despite the evidence. This goes against the British Medical Association's latest statement and documented experience on the ground, in Austria, Hong Kong, Taiwan and elsewhere, where effective virus control has been achieved thanks to mask-wearing.
What is more, it seems that contact tracing, which has turned into a bit of a fiasco (depending on which "damn" statistics you believe) is now to be done by pub owners and restaurateurs, who are to take the details of whoever buys a pint or a plate of chips!
Of course, it would only have been safe to relax lock down measures if there was reliable "test, track and trace" in place, with a phone app to identify contacts unknown to someone with Covid-19. This was what the government itself said. But last week, it announced that it was going to ditch its £12m contract-tracing app. Suddenly, from being a key part of the “track and trace strategy”, it became merely “the icing on the cake”. But the cake itself has barely been baked. According to data collected by the Office of National Statistics, the government's 25,000 contact tracers could be failing to find (and isolate) from a third to three-quarters of those infected.
Obviously, it's not "science" nor "balance" behind this downgrading of risk. The government's models weigh up how many will die, literally, against the number of pounds businesses will go on losing. And while it's true that this killer-coronavirus initially shocked politicians into putting their capitalist system on ice, now they're defrosting at speed. It's unbalanced risk, in favour of their money-makers and against the working class. To tip the balance back in our favour - and save lives, let alone jobs - we have no option but to fight them.
Our collective common sense says fight them now!
Just as responsibility for controlling the coronavirus at large, is now being left to the "common sense" of the public, safety in workplaces has been handed over to the "common sense" of the bosses. Never mind that the only "sense" they can demonstrate is their sense of smell: a nose for profit.
There is no "test and trace" in place for bosses who claim their workplaces are "Covid Secure". When asked what workers should do if they feel they are being exposed to risk, Johnson said "just phone the Health and Safety Executive", which he claims is doing C-19-security “spot checks”.
In fact it was a bit of a surprise when the HSE popped up at government C-19 briefings. It had all but disappeared, having had such severe cuts to its government funding, that today it has fewer than 1,000 factory inspectors to cover over 5m workplaces - and acts as little more than an advisory service. Which by the way, is almost impossible to reach on the phone.
But it was needed to provide cover for the "safe return to work" at the end of May. So its boss was brought in to stand at the podium and the grand sum(!) of £14m was handed over, to make up for years of under-funding.
If any spot checks were carried out, they have certainly not prevented C-19 outbreaks in high risk meat factories: so far, 200 workers were infected in 2 Sisters processing plant in Anglesey, 70 in Rowan Foods, Wrexham and 150 in Kober, West Yorkshire, just in the last weeks. A case was also found at BMW Oxford, where only 2 workers were deemed to have been “exposed” and the rest of the workforce was kept at work and told to keep quiet!
Of course, at every step in this pandemic, the government has avoided "instructing" the bosses or invoking the law against them. That was predictable. Workers will have to organise to protect themselves, their workmates and the wider community from the consequences of the bosses' lethal, criminal negligence. But they can do it - if they rely on their “common” collective strength.