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Editorial: Ignore the government: Covid-19 is far from finished

OVER 20,000 people have died of and with coronavirus in care homes.

Twenty-thousand is a significant figure. Recollect that at the beginning of the pandemic we were told that this was the figure that top specialists believed might be the best we could hope for.

Total deaths are now more than twice that.

There are a lot of problems in the care sector, not least the reality that care is conceived of as a business and that its success is to be measured by profits and shareholder value.

When the drive to profit intervenes in the provision of public services, the ability of government to effect necessary changes is always conditioned by its willingness to challenge the values which underlie privatisation policies.

Prejudice for privatisation is in the political DNA of Tory politicians, Lib Dems and New Labour types alike, and it takes more than evidence or experience to divert them from their defence of the indefensible.

Disastrous as it has been, the more or less complete shift to private ownership is not of itself responsible for the high rate of deaths in care homes.

The full responsibility lies in the hands of the people who thought a systematic transfer of people from hospital to care homes without a testing regime was a sensible move.

This has been compounded by the failure of the sector to anticipate demand for personal protective equipment or of government to fully provide across the sector.

Shifting vulnerable people from a place where professional medical advice and treatment was immediately available to the care sector where none of this was universally available has proved to be a disaster.

Boris Johnson’s grotesque bid to place the responsibility for this level of deaths on care homes themselves exceeds the boundaries of bad taste already pushed to the limit by the Premier’s characteristic buffoonery.

It is not simply a transparent manoeuvre to displace responsibility for the failures of his government but is a more ambitious bid to present the next stage in the government’s campaign to open up the economy and loosen the measures which informed and expert opinion still thinks are necessary to contain the virus.

The alarming feature of this process is the complete failure to resource the means by which infection rates can be effectively monitored, and those infected, isolated and treated and their contacts tracked down and tested themselves.

Independent Sage says NHS Test and Trace is not reaching sufficient numbers of newly symptomatic people and fewer than half of contacts reached within three days of a person are being tested.

We can listen to the sunshine sentiments of the government or we can take a cold, hard look at the real picture. But we don’t know the real picture because, as the Independent Sage group of scientists and doctors says, we don’t know if reported declines in positive confirmed cases are accurate because fewer people are getting tested or fewer people are having Covid-19 or a combination of both.

We do know that the steady decline in new infections has stopped, that nowhere in Britain does contact tracing appear as a key part of the Covid-19 response, and that only Scotland encourages testing.

Faced with an alarming tendency for government to fudge the scientific and medical advice it is getting and to relax social distancing and infection control measures, the sensible reaction is to take extra personal care.

Millions of people have learnt to modify their behaviour. They are also learning to distrust the government.

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