Today sees the grand re-opening of the UK economy. Cynically dubbed ‘freedom day’ by Boris Johnson and the Tories, this official end of the lockdown in Britain will see virtually all remaining social distancing measures and COVID-related restrictions removed.
At the time of writing, 12% of the population has not even received a single dose. And there are still no plans to make vaccines generally available to under 18s.
The Tories are gambling that the vaccine programme will mitigate the worst effects of the virus. But as cases continue to rise, by the law of numbers, deaths and hospitalisations will inevitably increase.
Meanwhile, the potential long-term health impacts of ‘long COVID’ are unknown – especially for the youth, who will be going out into society completely unvaccinated, and without any form of social distancing for protection.
On top of these risks is the potential for the UK to become a breeding ground for a vaccine-resistant variant, with the government taking a ‘let it rip’ approach to the virus.
Added together, it is clear that a COVID catastrophe could soon hit Britain once again.
Britain is already in the midst of another coronavirus tsunami. Not only does this have the potential to cause significant damage to public health and the NHS, but it will also wreak havoc on the economy – despite the Tories’ aim of reopening rapidly precisely in order to help big business.
The bosses are already complaining of a ‘pingdemic’, with hundreds of thousands being told to quarantine after coming into contact with those who test positive, leaving businesses short-staffed. Last week alone, the NHS COVID-19 app sent over half-a-million such alerts to people in England.
As a result the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), the voice of UK big business, is calling for self-isolation rules to be overhauled; in other words, for the capitalists’ profits to once again be put ahead of ordinary people’s health and lives.
And the situation is only going to get worse in the days and weeks ahead.
Health secretary Sajid Javid has conceded that COVID cases could reach over 100,000 a day this summer, in the absence of any restrictions. Meanwhile, notable scientists – such as former SAGE member Professor Neil Ferguson – are now predicting 200,000 cases per day at the height of this new wave.
As a result, Javid and other ministers have been forced to soften their stance, and accept the possibility of further lockdowns. The Prime Minister, for example, has recently changed his tune, vacuously ‘urging caution’ as the government lifts all remaining restrictions.
Ironically, Sajid Javid himself tested positive last week, despite being double-jabbed. This, in turn, led to an explosion of anger over the weekend, as Tory ministers who had recently come into contact with the health secretary – most notably, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak – attempted to dodge isolation regulations.
Scientists have warned that the decision to lift all COVID restrictions is leading the country into “uncharted waters”. A surge of Delta-variant cases is almost inevitable, with government ministers told to expect at least two million new cases in the coming weeks.
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College, says that evidence from several countries now suggests that a significant number of people who are infected with COVID are at risk of developing longer-term illness.
“From every version of COVID we’ve ever seen on the planet,” Professor Altmann explains, “we’ve got a rule of thumb that any case of COVID – whether it’s asymptomatic, mild, severe, or hospitalised – incurs a 10 to 20% risk of developing long COVID, and we haven’t seen any exceptions to that.”
On this basis, if up to 100k daily cases are reported over the summer, then it is reasonable to expect 10-20,000 of these daily cases to develop long COVID.
And even then, there are so many other unknowns to factor in, such as: available treatments; why some groups are more at risk than others; and the duration that symptoms last for. Some people are still suffering from long-COVID over a year after originally catching the disease.
NHS staff, meanwhile, are terrified of the consequences of fully opening up at this stage. With cases rising exponentially, hospitalisations have already increased.
An anonymous intensive care doctor has shared their concerns that the NHS will face a war over the next few months due to the fourth COVID wave, which will put staff on their knees physically and emotionally.
Some of the pressures listed included: increased A&E admissions; rising COVID hospitalisations; a backlog of over five million other patients waiting for treatment; and the existing exhaustion and burnout of NHS staff, who have worked tirelessly over the course of the pandemic.
All of this is creating a perfect storm that could push the already underfunded, overstretched, and under-staffed NHS to breaking point.
By opting to not vaccinate under 18s, the Tories are effectively using young people as guinea pigs in a vast social experiment.
Whilst children are less likely to die or become seriously ill from COVID-19, they certainly can catch it and contribute towards increased transmission of the virus. Meanwhile, long-COVID could potentially have a lifelong impact on young people.
Potential symptoms of long-COVID include: organ damage; persistent lung function deficits; and cardiovascular, renal, and neurological problems. Other symptoms can include fatigue, breathlessness, poor concentration, shooting pains, and a generally impaired quality of life. An estimated two million people have already suffered from long-COVID in the UK.
There are increasing instances of people suffering prolonged symptoms after recovery from the acute phase of infection. A number of smaller long-term studies in children indicate that in more than half of these cases, those infected have at least one persisting symptom four months on. Children (those in the 6-18 age group) are more frequently affected.
SAGE expert Professor Calum Semple has stated that nearly all the current hospitalisations are unvaccinated young people. These otherwise-healthy young people are suffering acute COVID injuries, such as lung and kidney damage.
This is nothing short of a crime being committed by the Tory government against the youth – one that could potentially cause untold amounts of physical and mental damage to future generations as a result.
The Tories have also given no thought to the possibility that their reckless actions could be responsible for breeding a vaccine-resistant variant of COVID.
Several new variants of the original virus have already emerged over the past year. One of these variants was the so-called Alpha variant, originating in Kent, which had a significantly greater R-rate of transmission than the original Wuhan strain.
Professor Richard Tedder of Imperial College London points out that more infections increases the risk of even more dangerous variants evolving. On top of the increased number of infections, a greater and greater amount of these are happening to partially- or fully-vaccinated people.
In the UK, COVID cases amongst vaccinated people are currently set to outstrip unvaccinated people. Recently, the number of infections among fully- or partially-vaccinated people has jumped 40 per cent, to just over 15,500 per day.
Scientific studies have already established that the Delta variant – which is now responsible for the vast majority of new COVID cases in the UK – is not significantly slowed down by a single dose of any available vaccine. Even full vaccination does not provide 100% protection, meaning there are many new cases in fully vaccinated people.
With the virus spreading like wildfire, it is entirely possible that a mutation to its spike protein could take place, thus leading to a new vaccine-resistant – and potentially more deadly – variant.
The perfect environment is therefore being created for the virus to out-evolve existing vaccines – putting us back to square one, after 15 months of anguish and pain.
Indeed, the current range of vaccines are already lagging behind. These are all based on the original strain of COVID-19, and have been shown to have reduced efficacy in relation to the latest variants.
The capitalists are not gravely concerned by this prospect, however. After all, Big Pharma bosses are looking forward to this new business model – making huge profits from selling booster shots to combat the latest variants that arise.
Once again we see the madness of capitalism on full display. For the profiteers, it is not in their interests to fully eradicate the virus.
From the start of the pandemic, the main priority for the Tory government has been to preserve the UK economy – and, in particular, the bosses’ profits – at all costs.
This is what led the government to delay bringing in a national lockdown when the first wave of the pandemic hit Britain’s shores, opting instead for a disastrous ‘herd immunity’ strategy; and then to make blunder after blunder ever since, leading to several more waves of the virus – and, ultimately, to over 140,000 entirely preventable deaths.
This same logic – of putting profit ahead of lives – is now driving the Tories to re-open the economy prematurely, against the recommendations of leading scientific experts, and whatever the cost to society and public health.
The capitalist system and its political representatives have once again proven themselves to be completely incapable of fighting the pandemic. Instead, it will be ordinary working-class people who pay the price.
Whilst the lockdown might have ended (for now), there will be no return to normality, with the pandemic continuing to rage across the world, and capitalism plunging deeper into crisis.
Only with clear socialist policies, on the basis of a rationally-planned economy, can society’s resources be fully utilised in order to combat COVID-19 and end the pandemic once-and-for-all.