New lockdown measures started in Caerphilly County at 6pm on 9 September. The reasons for it, and the nature of the new lockdown measures reveal quite starkly the priorities of the Senedd (Welsh Government).
The background to these new measures is a rise in cases with 133 confirmed cases in the last week alone, equivalent to 55.4 cases per 100,000 people (one of the highest in Wales). Wales currently has the highest density of confirmed cases of any nation in the UK (6,000 per million compared to England at 5,272 and Scotland at 4,041).
Vaughan Gething, the Labour health minister for Wales, has attributed this to people (particularly young people) meeting indoors and not following social distancing guidelines, and to overseas summer holidays. He ignores the fact that pubs are open, public transport is crowded and schools have been open, often in a far-from safe manner, with whole-class bubbles of 30 or more. At the time of writing several schools throughout Wales have already been forced to close due to recent outbreaks, including several schools within Caerphilly County itself. Non-essential businesses have reopened. With the furlough scheme coming to an end, many small businesses face a bleak choice of bankruptcy or unsafe working. Recent pictures on social media have shown social distancing not being enforced, perhaps partly because businesses are desperate to get more customers in to attempt to recover from lost earnings of previous months.
Meeting indoors with a lack of social distancing can contribute to outbreaks. But the messages from both the UK government at Westminster and from Cardiff Bay have been very confusing at best, which has contributed to this. Travel abroad may increase the risk. But overseas travel at the moment falls mainly into two general categories – those who travel to visit family members they have not been able to visit for some time due to lockdown measures, and those who have pre-booked holidays who have no option to cancel with a full refund.
The new lockdown measures in Caerphilly Country include facemasks being mandatory for everyone over eleven inside shops (this had not previously been mandatory in Wales) and all gatherings in the home being forbidden. You are also not allowed to leave the county without good reason, such as to attend work or to care for others, but as Caerphilly has transformed increasingly into a commuter town for Cardiff this is largely an ineffective measure and is more for show. Indeed, the very fact that areas of Caerphilly County have become commuter towns is likely a large part of the reason for a spike in cases as many people will be crammed together on buses and trains during rush hour.
Questioned on why pubs would remain open, the health minister stated with certainty that the virus is not being transmitted in pubs but only in gatherings within the home. You now have the farcical situation that you cannot visit a family member (unless you care for them) or simply cycle for exercise from Caerphilly to Cardiff (12 miles) but you can go from Ystryd Mynach to Caerphilly town to go to the pub (also 12 miles). You can’t go to a friend’s house, but depending on your age, you can sit next to them in class or go to the pub with them. The only measures brought in are designed to have zero impact on any economic activity.
The coronavirus pandemic has made 2020 a difficult year for everyone, having to find new ways of communicating, working and socialising. Lockdown measures have been necessary to attempt to stem the spread of the virus. But these new measures are a lockdown for people, not for the economy. The social isolation, which has affected mental health and led to a crisis in domestic violence, will continue. The most vulnerable will be hit hardest through a lack of planning for those who need any type of support with day-to-day activities.
We cannot return to normal and risk overwhelming our already overworked health workers, plus a big rise in the death toll. But neither can we stay in a perpetual state of lockdown which is taking its toll of the wellbeing of everyone. We need a strategy which puts ordinary working-class people and their needs at the heart of solving this crisis.
This will cost money, but they money does exist in society. Jeff Bezos, who runs Amazon, is set to become the worlds first trillionaire, profiting greatly from the pandemic. But Amazon famously uses various loopholes to avoid paying the correct rate of tax. Estimates suggest the shortfall is in the £100’s of millions. The cost of replacing trident nuclear weapons is estimated to be £205 billion! But capitalism is based on the pursuit of profit and not the needs of working-class people like us, and therefore cannot deal with a crisis of this magnitude.
The labour movement must develop a programme is developed which will genuinely find a route out of the current pandemic. This must include democratic workers control over what measures are taken, including at a local level. Is it safe for schools to open, what measures need to be put in place and what resources are needed for this to happen? If it is not possible to open safely then funds must be made available to ensure parents have all the necessary learning tools available at home, if wanted. No one must suffer any loss of income through time taken off work. These decisions should be made by democratically elected representatives of teachers, parents and the community. Is it safe for non-essential businesses to open? If not, there must be funds to ensure full pay to any workers affected by a closure of their workplace, including those who are self employed. We need a huge increase in funding for services for victims of domestic violence, and a dramatic expansion of social care services.
We must fight for the necessary measures to tackle to pandemic. But doing so also presents an opportunity to start a discussion about the type of society we need – one not based on the needs of the economy but based on the needs of ordinary people. The Covid-19 pandemic affects us all, but we are not all in this together. Working class people have lost jobs; become teachers to their children, whilst working or taking huge cuts in pay; been forced to continue in unsafe working environments. Meanwhile the billionaires have increased their wealth even further by taking advantage of the pandemic. We need to fight back against the Covid-19 virus and the virus of capitalism, which can only serve to worsen the pandemic.