Resisting the Return, C19 and Inter Generational Failure
Despite the bluster and bluff from Boris Johnson that we are ‘past the peak’ and talk of plans for a “phased release” being announced next week, I’m not so sure. The ‘radical uncertainty’ that we are all experiencing is laced with potential but many politicians and leaders are acting as if it’s simply not there, that what we are witnessing will simply ‘go away’ and we will return to school, to work, to football, to theatres, to restaurants and pubs with a joyous cavalcade. There is a myth of control that permeates out from those with their own deep-seated inadequacies. But there are so many questions about the virus that we simply don’t know.
There’s some progress on testing. The University of Oxford coronavirus vaccine trial aims to have 500 people in testing by mid-May. That’s great but we have no way of knowing its outcome. We have finally grasped testing and contact tracing, but we don’t yet have it in place and we have the obstacle of widespread suspicion about interacting with the tech giants, whose utopian promises have been tarnished by the surveillance state that they propagate. We don’t really know about the risks and impact of secondary morbidity, and we don’t really know about the risks of releasing the lockdown, particularly to the most vulnerable groups. Apart from the medicine we have no idea what unintended consequences this mass social experiment is having on our mental health, our social structures and our family lives. We don’t know (though we can take some guesses) about what industries and entire sectors will just never recover. We know, or we think we know, that the R value – the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to – needs to stay under one to avoid Covid-19 taking off again. Crucially we don’t even have any real consensus on how many people have actually died from the disease.
That’s quite a lot we don’t know.
Plus of course we have no idea about how and when there will be a second pandemic.
But rather than face this with humility and openness we’re getting the usual mix of hubris, jingoism and pomp. The arrival of a baby boy was heralded as “a wonderful distraction” and the Oxford vaccine trial was turned into an excuse for British nationalism. We don’t need to be distracted and the crisis of British exceptionalism has led us into much of this catastrophe.
More than 26,000 people have died with coronavirus in the UK, making it the second worst-hit country in Europe. The UK’s coronavirus death total means it is the third worst-hit country in the world, behind Italy with 26,872 deaths and the US with more than 59,000 fatalities. The Prime Minister claims this as enviable success.
Boris Johnson has promised to deliver a “comprehensive plan” next week on how the lockdown may be eased after declaring the UK is “past the peak” of the coronavirus outbreak. Johnson said on Thursday he would be producing a “road map, a menu of options” explaining how to “get the economy moving again” and children back to school while still suppressing the disease’s spread.
This isn’t really credible.
The response to the crisis is just to get everything back as it was as quickly as possible. The solution to the pandemic is ramp up mindless economic activity. The solution, so we’re told is to return asap to the “make stuff – buy stuff” we are all used to. The assumption that we will all pack the kids off back to school isn’t challenged. I won’t. And many many people don’t have jobs to return to.
With the death toll having exceeded 26,700 and under pressure to detail a blueprint for easing the lockdown, Johnson said: “We are past the peak and on the downward slope. I will be setting out a comprehensive plan next week to explain how we can get our economy moving, our children back to school and into childcare, and thirdly how we can travel to work and make life in the workplace safer.”
“In short, how we can continue to suppress the disease and at the same time restart the economy.”
These things are incompatible.
It’s a default position they just can’t resist. It wasn’t working before and it sure as hell won’t work now. The intention shouldn’t be to “life the lockdown” it should be to protect our society and rebuild the resilience that’s been systematically stripped out of it.
We should immediately be creating routine testing for all frontline workers; implementing coordinated support for parents and families living and working together including advice on home-schooling; instigating a six month freeze on all private rents.
The economy will be in ruins and we need a long term recovery plan not duped into short-term solutions to save the PM’s career and soothe the national stress levels. Mass unemployment looms and the people worst effected will be the young people tumbling out of schools, colleges and universities into the post-covid broken economy.
This generation, already betrayed by climate breakdown inertia and negligence, the NO vote of 2014 and the Brexit fiasco, now have unemployment to add to the glory.
As Polly Toynbee has written: “Here’s a shocking fact hidden by the steep fall in unemployment figures in recent years: there were always at least 800,000 unemployed under-25s adrift – not in education, employment or training (Neets). Many have physical disabilities, illnesses and mental health problems that have been ignored. Many are part of that long tail of lost youth from addicted or violent families; they are care leavers, people with no qualifications pulled into gangs and drugs, and failed by schools and underfunded social services that are unable to pick them up in time. As one employment expert said, “These were the ones we didn’t fix when the sun shone.”
Its crucial that we respond to this with some future-focused creativity not denial and more bullshit. Any process towards what’s being called a “just recovery” must include a plan that focuses on this lost generation. The need for inter-generational repair has never been more obvious than in this crisis.
This phenomenon we are living through is called by Paul Engler a historic ‘trigger event’: “During a trigger event, things that were previously unimaginable quickly become reality, as the social and political map is remade.”
Engler writes: “Trigger events can create confusion and unease. But they also present tremendous opportunities for people who have a plan and know how to use the moment to push forward their agendas. These agendas can be reactionary, as when conservatives and fascists pass harsh austerity measures and spread xenophobia — the type of activity documented in Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine.” Yet, this type of response need not prevail. With a counter-agenda rooted in a commitment to democracy and a deep sense of collective empathy, communities can flourish, even amid a crisis.”
So while we are demanding long-term plans and actions from our government (s) we should also be looking to ourselves. The flourishing of solidarity networks and the new resilience emerging out of the pandemic is a sign of the future. The action we need from governments is to facilitate these new networks and allow them to flourish. Leadership from below and Act for Yourselves must be an essential part of the post-covid world. The lockdown must lead to a breakthrough. The pandemic has revealed a precarious world brought to you by elite rule over decades. The task isn’t just to overcome the virus, its to overthrow this form of misrule.