Key workers are fighting coronavirus on the front lines. They must be protected | Coronavirus

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The news that NHS staff have administered 1.2m inoculations is a really positive moment in an otherwise devastating week for our country. There is immense pride among health workers able to protect the most vulnerable and witnessing at first hand the enormous gratitude and relief of patients. This light is so important amid the darkness.

But in the past week over 230,000 cases have been recorded, including more than 60,000 in a single day, a new dismal high; 30,000 have been admitted to hospital. Almost 3,000 are fighting for their lives in ICU ventilation. Per capita, the UK has more new cases than any other major country in the world. Our health service has been under-resourced and understaffed for years under the Tories. Now it is pushed to the limit.

Oxygen supplies are under pressure, important operations have been cancelled, ambulances are backed up, and hospitals warn they could be soon overwhelmed. Questions about emergency rationing are starting to be tentatively raised. The NHS is in its hour of greatest need, and it cannot dial 999.

No one should be surprised we are in another lockdown, the real question is: why did the government not take action sooner, saving lives and limiting the growth of the next wave?

Matt Hancock reported a new strain had been identified on 14 December, the prime minister learned of its infectiousness on 18 December. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) raised the prospect of lockdown on 22 December. Where was the urgency and focus from the prime minister?

Yet again the government was slow to act, outpaced by the exponential growth of this deadly virus. How come the prime minister, with all the scientific expertise at his disposal, all the power to make a difference, keeps on getting it wrong? The government hasn’t been short of data, it has been short of judgment. It is as though the prime minister has been allowing the virus to make all the big decisions.

With almost 80,000 dead, we can’t have more tragic delay. Breaking chains of transmission, squashing infections and rapid vaccination rollout are all now fiercely urgent.

First, on transmission, there are 10 million key workers across the UK, the vast majority of whom aren’t able to work from home on laptops. Our key workers are the backbone of our country, yet the Tories take their efforts and their health for granted.

Many are low paid, use public transport to get to work and, by the nature of their jobs, experience social mixing. By going to work to keep society functioning they are exposing themselves and their families to greater risk. They deserve so much better.

Making every workplace Covid-secure must be a national priority. The TUC is urging workplace safety guidance to be updated to include greater use of mask wearing, social distancing and, crucially, the introduction of safety standards for ventilation.

This crisis has brought society’s fractures into sharper focus. Covid exploits inequalities, with those from poorer backgrounds being disproportionately impacted by it.

Is it really any wonder that fewer than 20% of those who need to isolate do so fully? Many of the lowest paid have been placed in an impossible situation. Too often they feel they have no option but to continue working while infected with Covid, because inadequate sick pay and isolation support would otherwise mean unpaid bills or going into debt. These holes in our defences must be fixed so that transmission is reduced.

Chronic staff shortages across the NHS are now exacerbated by this rampant virus that has sent 30,000 NHS off sick. NHS staff left undefended without adequate PPE in the first wave now feel unprotected while waiting for the vaccine in the face of a raging second wave.

While the government intends to vaccinate all frontline staff, given the current situation, this is not urgent enough. We’re demanding that ministers offer vaccinations to all frontline staff over the next 14 days. It is the very least they deserve. The NHS will start publishing daily vaccination figures from Monday. I urge ministers to publish daily figures of numbers of NHS staff vaccinated as well.

Over the coming weeks we will see progress towards the government’s target of 14 million people being offered a jab by mid-February. But 2m injections a week shouldn’t be the limit of our ambitions – if we could vaccinate 29.6 million people, deaths and hospitalisation will be reduced by 99% – we should be aiming for that now. That means vaccinations being rolled out at pace.

We have already seen two worrying variants emerge, with the UK B117 strain and the South African strain. Put simply, the more virus there is circulating, the more opportunities it has to mutate further – mutations that could give it an advantage in evading the immune response.

We are therefore in a race against evolution. For all our sakes, we need to make this lockdown work and go further and faster, both at home and across the globe, to roll out vaccination now. There isn’t a moment to lose when so many lives are on the line.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Key workers are fighting coronavirus on the front lines. They must be protected | Coronavirus

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