Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance struck a cautiously optimistic tone at the daily coronavirus press conference yesterday. He pointed out that hospital admissions were increasing at a stable rate, and praised the ‘distancing’ efforts of Britons. Unfortunately, this positivity does not reflect the feelings of many NHS workers right now. One in four doctors are off sick, either self-isolating due to a member of their household or ill themselves, the Royal College of Physicians has estimated. Thousands of ambulance workers are also self-isolating with symptoms, the GMB says, with many having no access to personal protective equipment while being sent to suspected Covid-19 patients.
It transpired yesterday that ministers had claimed we had reached the government target of 10,000 tests a day – as Matt Hancock tweeted, and Michael Gove told the Sunday shows – but that was not accurate. They are now saying this referred to testing capacity, which went up to 10,949, whereas tests actually carried out was just over 9,000 and the number of individuals tested was 7,000. However, we now know that the level of daily testing then fell to fewer than 5,000 people in the 24 hours before 9am on Saturday. Only 900 frontline staff were tested over the weekend in a ‘trial run’, according to Downing Street.
The simple fact is that the UK, as articulated by Professor Antony Costello and others, has been too slow. The government has failed to contact UK clothes makers who are willing and able to produce PPE. While wasting time is a key ongoing failure, there is also a serious lack of transparency. There is no real clarity about why the testing capacity isn’t being used, as Labour’s Jon Ashworth has highlighted. NHS doctors have also told The Independent that they have been gagged from speaking out about shortages, with their social media posts being monitored and careers threatened.
The handling of coronavirus has been described as a “national scandal” by prestigious medical journal The Lancet, by trade unions, by NHS staff. And yet there is apparently overwhelming public approval of the government response to the crisis. Boris Johnson’s satisfaction ratings have increased to 72%, recent polling found. Some like to hold up such numbers to imply that criticism should therefore be toned down – especially from Labour representatives, who could be accused of point-scoring at a time of national crisis. But as all of the above shows, there are urgent failings that must be brought to attention.
If you’re looking for some escapism while staying home, LabourList may be able to help. I have personally used the lockdown to start watching Big Brother UK from its very first episode in 2000, but readers are probably looking for more intellectual material. Luke Akehurst has put together a Labour-themed reading list with excellent recommendations that range from New Labour classics to Marxist critiques of Corbynism. And on that note, Sabrina Huck has adopted the theme of reflecting on the Jeremy Corbyn era of leadership in her latest column, which looks at whether the parliamentary road to socialism is viable or actually a hindrance to the aim of liberation. As they often say, Labour is a broad church. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.