The Socialist 16 September 2020 |
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Covid testing chaos
Mass job losses
Our lives and livelihoods at stake
Novel coronavirus Covid-19, photo NIH/CC (Click to enlarge)
With Covid infections doubling every week, 86% of doctors expect a second peak in the next six months. But the Tories' 'world-beating' test-and-trace system is in total chaos.
All over the country people with Covid symptoms are complaining about not being able to get a test. These include many doctors who, interviewed by the Doctors' Association UK, called the system an "utter shambles". GPs, like many other people, have been spending hours on the website trying to get a slot only to be eventually told to travel to a testing centre hundreds of miles away.
Operations are being cancelled because health workers are having to self-isolate, not knowing if they have the virus or not. Children are being sent home from school because teachers have symptoms and can't get tests. There have been no tests to be had in Bolton and other Covid hotspots.
If you're lucky enough to get a test, results are often delayed. Inadequate laboratory testing has created a backlog of at least 185,000 swabs, meaning that some have had to be sent to Germany and Italy for processing. And as for tracing - as many as 30% of contacts are not being found.
The Tories have pushed for us to go back to work, for the schools to open, for us to eat out and shop, then they try and blame young people and workers for their own cock-ups.
They complain that people are not isolating when they have the virus or have been in contact with someone who has. What they don't mention is that many isolating workers are expected to survive on just £95.85 a week statutory sick pay, which is just not possible. Two million are not even entitled to that.
Any worker expected to isolate should be on full pay. As should anyone who has to be at home because children are not able to go to school or childcare is not available because of Covid.
The idea that the system is not coping because too many people who don't have symptoms are demanding tests, as Matt Hancock declared, is ridiculous. Many scientists have said that it should be possible to carry out 10 million tests a day. But the Tories' test-and-trace system has been a disaster from day one - first due to underfunding and flirting with 'herd immunity', and then made worse by a system that has prioritised giving profitable contracts to the Tories' big-business friends.
With Covid-19 cases rising, and the cold and flu season not far away, the whole system is, in the words of the chair of Independent Sage, on a "knife edge".
Emergency action is needed. In addition to ensuring that isolating workers are fully paid, the profit motive must be entirely removed from the test-and-trace system. This must be fully funded and incorporated into the existing public health infrastructure, democratically run by committees involving the workers in the sector.
As Rob Williams, chair of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN), said at the virtual lobby of the annual meeting of the Trades Union Congress: "We are fighting for our lives and our livelihoods". As well as fighting for safety at work, a co-ordinated trade union fight against job losses is needed.
700,000 jobs have been destroyed since the lockdown began. Now the Tories are scrapping the job retention scheme at the end of October, and the redundancy notices are already starting to be issued. The NSSN is calling on the TUC to organise a day of demonstrations and protests in every town and city on Saturday 24 October to demand the furlough scheme be continued and upgraded. The main mobilising demand for this should be 'Work or full pay'.
We cannot trust the Tories to protect our lives or our jobs. We can only rely on our strength as workers and young people to fight for safety, jobs, decent pay and working conditions, and a socialist future.
- 24 October protests - for updates see shopstewards.net