THE Johnson government’s Covid-19 crisis intensified as it ordered London and most of Essex and Hertfordshire to join Tier 3 at 00:01 GMT yesterday.
This means a further 10.8 million people will be in the top tier, with 61% of England’s population – or 34 million people – under the toughest restrictions from today. Under Tier 3, pubs and restaurants must close, except for takeaway and delivery, and indoor entertainment venues such as theatres, bowling alleys and cinemas must remain shut.
The British government is in fact bankrupt as far as the struggle against Covid-19 is concerned. It is a bankruptcy that has been displayed by all the major capitalist states – from the USA to Germany and France – which have all put the interests of the capitalists and their profits before the health of working people
While workers’ states such as China have confronted the virus and shut industry down while they chased the virus out of their countries, the capitalist states have unfailingly put the profit-making capitalist system first, while the people have paid the price with their lives and their health.
Speaking at a Downing Street briefing on Monday evening, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the virus is doubling in some areas of England roughly every seven days. It would only take a few doublings of cases for hospitals in the capital, Essex and Kent to be ‘overwhelmed’, he warned.
Hancock acknowledged the measures would be a ‘blow’ to people and businesses, but said ‘further action’ could not be ruled out. He also revealed on Monday that the virus has not been idle, like the government, and a new variant of Covid-19 had been identified.
The government is not putting safety first. However, schools in Basildon were allowed to close early last week after it recorded England’s third-highest Covid rate, and London’s mayor Sadiq Khan has called on secondary schools and colleges in the capital to follow suit. In a letter sent on Sunday, Greenwich Council Leader Danny Thorpe asked all schools in the area to move the majority of pupils to remote learning.
But Gavin Williamson, the Tory Secretary for Education, has ruled that Greenwich’s decision, and also by Islington in north London and Waltham Forest in east London, was ‘not in children’s best interests’. The government is forcing councils to keep schools open while the virus is threatening pupils’ safety.
The regional schools commissioner, who acts on behalf of the education secretary, has already written to Greenwich Council highlighting that new powers, introduced through the Coronavirus Act, allow the secretary of state to issue ‘directions’ to require schools to enable all pupils to attend school full-time.
Greenwich Council responded that changing plans already in place before yesterday would be ‘impossible’. Thorpe said the council is seeking legal advice and would respond to Williamson yesterday morning. ‘But given we received this notification just before 17:00 GMT (on Monday), it was impossible to ask schools to change any of the arrangements they have in place for Tuesday,’ (15th December).
London mayor Khan described to the Today programme how parents were pulling children out of school either because they had been part of a bubble that had to self-isolate, or because they wanted 10 days to self-isolate before seeing grandparents at Christmas.
Meanwhile, the army of the unemployed is growing rapidly. There were 819,000 fewer workers on UK company payrolls in November than at the start of the pandemic, official figures show. Hospitality was the worst hit sector, accounting for a third of the job losses, followed by retail, according to the Office for National Statistics. The unemployment rate rose to 4.9% in the three months to October, with the jobless total up to 1.7 million people.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘We are staring down the barrel of mass unemployment. There’s no time left to waste.’ She added: ‘Confusion around the future of the furlough scheme means many workers are losing their jobs unnecessarily. We need a guarantee that support will continue.’
Instead of mouthing off, the TUC leader should be taking action to defend jobs and stop councils being forced to reopen schools under conditions where Covid-19 is a real threat. In fact, the TUC trade unions must take action to aid the teaching unions, councils, parents and school children in their fight for safe schooling.
The TUC, in the face of orders being issued to force schools to remain open, and also in the face of rapidly growing unemployment, must call a general strike to bring down the Johnson government and bring in a workers’ government that will put the health and jobs of workers and their families first by nationalising the profiteering banks and major industries under workers’ control and management.