Where is Boris Johnson’s “world-beating” test and trace system?

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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Coronavirus restrictions are being lifted from today, and yet the conditions that we were told would be in place before this happened… are not in place. There is no tracing app. Testing may have reached the 200,000 daily target for capacity but not for tests actually carried out. And then there is the number of people being tested, which we can only assume is pitiful because that figure is no longer being disclosed. They have refused to explain the omission at the press conferences. In fact, far from the “world-beating” system that the Prime Minister promised by June 1st, NHS Test and Trace is in chaos and won’t be fully operational until the end of June.

As public health officials accuse the government of “misjudging the balance of risk” by lifting “too many restrictions, too quickly”, schools are reopening for many more pupils. The Labour leadership has been accused by journalists and the party’s left of not being entirely clear in its position on schools. Frontbenchers have been careful about endorsing the refusals of some Labour councils to reopen schools, and the party did not back the National Education Union’s call for the move to be delayed until mid-June. Rebecca Long-Bailey as Shadow Education Secretary is pretty straightforward, however, saying “schools should only open when it is safe to do so”.

On LabourList today, we have a focus on our care workers. Angela Rayner, a care worker herself before entering parliament, recently hosted a Zoom call with frontline workers in the sector. Noting that half are not paid the real living wage, her piece sets out the anxieties of those workers who have risked their lives without receiving support. Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has also penned a LabourList article on this subject. He makes the case for care staff not only to be given “better pay, improved conditions and recognised trade union representation” but also a “re-evaluation of their status”. Leonard slams the SNP for joining forces with the Tories against Scottish Labour’s proposal to extend collective bargaining rights to care workers.

There is plenty of news here, with lots of evidence that the UK government is risking lives in order to get more of the economy ‘back to normal’. But our attention is being drawn to events in the US. Following the police killing of George Floyd, there have been widespread protests fuelled by righteous anger. In response, the white supremacist in the White House, who recently encouraged anti-lockdown protests, tweeted: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Trump has since claimed that Antifa, the amorphous anti-fascism movement, will be designated as a terrorist organisation.

Across more than 75 US cities, police officers have driven cars into crowds, used tear gas and batons, shot people with rubber bullets to seriously injure and blind them. They know that they have the backing of their President, after all. The response of Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab? He doesn’t want to comment on Trump’s statements. The footage is “very distressing”, he says, and “we want to see a de-escalation of all of those tensions”. Bothsidesing it, basically. We would expect nothing else. But the UK left must stand in solidarity with those scared and angry in the US, recognise that this country is home to discriminatory state violence too and – as party activist Jake Cable has written – work to ensure that Labour delivers justice for Black people and People of Colour. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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