Wales is about to go into its second national lockdown known as a ‘firebreak lockdown’ which has come after local lockdowns throughout large parts of both North and South Wales.
The intention is to ensure that we stem the tide now, and ensure that Christmas is ‘saved for everyone’. Immediately the actions of the Welsh government fail at this on the first hurdle as workers who are unable to work in areas of the economy who face temporary closure will potentially only receive a percentage of their pay, perfect timing to ensure a bleak financial Christmas!
The new lockdown measures are nonsensical and ineffective by the very nature of the exemptions. Mark Drakeford, Labour First Minister of Wales announced As of Friday 23rd at 6pm the following rules will be in force until Monday until Monday 9th November.
- All non-essential shops, café’s pubs’ restaurants, gyms, community centres, libraries and places of worship along with other similar venues must close.
- Everyone must work from home if they can
- All indoor and outdoor gatherings with people you do not live with are banned
- You can only leave your house for a limited number of reasons such as for exercise, for essential shopping or to provide care or support for someone.
- You cannot enter or leave Wales during this time without a reasonable excuse
Fixed penalty fines of £60 rising to £120 will also be in force for anyone caught breaching the rules.
Covid cases on the rise
However despite these tighter restrictions, schools will reopen after the half-term break from the 2nd of November, though only those in year 8 and under, who otherwise would need child care. Universities will also remain open continuing to offer a mix of online and in-person education. A bizarre situation as these are the two areas in which the virus has been spreading the most.
Wales currently has 1,091.1 cases per 100,000 of the population with Merthyr and Rhondda Cynon Taf local authorities rising to 2,120.1 and 1,822.5, respectively. Both these local authorities combined make up much of the Cwm Taf health board. Comparing to Manchester, which has been at the height of the tensions across England with a rate of 424/100,000 shows the dire need to get a grip on the virus. Cases are on the rise, on October the 20th Wales recorded more than 1,000 new cases on a single day.
There is no clear reporting on cases within schools in Wales, which begs the question, without adequate reporting, how can you determine it is ok for schools to stay open? Some local authorities have not been willing to comment on cases within schools (Merthyr, for example, has not) but those that have beenshow a dire picture. Rhondda Cynon Taf local authority revealed that there were confirmed cases in 53 schools, but this was announced on the 5th October with no update to this since.
Outbreaks of the virus within hospitals have severely impacted the ability to function. Royal Glamorgan saw an outbreak with 127 cases recorded within the hospital itself. The firebreak lockdown is being implemented partly because the NHS can no longer cope with the strain. The ability to handle the pandemic has been exacerbated by decades of underfunding and cuts from the Labour-led Welsh government – just prior to the outbreak they had attempted to close the A&E department at the Royal Glamorgan hospital!
Lessons not learned
Lessons have not been learnt from the first national lockdown down or the localised lockdowns which followed. This will only temporarily alleviate the virus. Just like previous lockdowns, no measures have been put in place to care for the vulnerable suffering from isolation either due to mental or physical health. Workers will suffer further through loss of pay. The instruction of “work from home if you can”, is not a decision that workers can make for themselves, but a decision left with employers without any oversight, and there are already cases of workers forced to work in unsafe conditions. Even though the majority of parents will want their children in school, of course with the proper safety measures in place, it’s significant that it is only children in Year 8 and below who will remain in school. This is done with the economy in mind – so that parents of younger children can go to work – instead of what is most safe. Meanwhile, those who are facing GCSE exams next year will suffer by not being in school.
What is the answer?
Despite all the announcements by Mark Drakeford, the one thing that was noticeable by its absence was any reference to track and trace. This temporary lockdown should be used as an opportunity to bring track and trace up to scratch to avoid further cycles of lockdowns by effectively tracking the spread of the virus so that outbreaks can be isolated.
The labour movement must develop a programme which will genuinely find a route out of the current pandemic as it is clear that politicians, whose main aim is to keep the economy open as much as possible, are incapable of doing so. This must include democratic workers’ control over what measures are taken, including at a local level. This must include demands for real and meaningful track and trace, not farmed off to private companies more interested in making a profit, but dealt with directly by the NHS, given all the resources needed to develop this as quickly and as extensively as necessary. Unions within schools should have oversight on the safety measures in place to ensure that schools are organised in a safe way without putting students and staff at risk.
It should be workers themselves who decide what work is essential and what work is not, who can work from home and who cannot, rather than employers without any democratic accountability. Where it is deemed that a section of workers are not essential, they should be guaranteed their full wages and should not be forced to pay the cost of the mishandling of the pandemic by politicians.
The pandemic, it is clear, may be with us for some time. It is equally clear that it can be handled very differently, in the interests of ordinary people and not the interests of the bank balances of the rich. The above steps, not only would ensure that we deal with the ongoing pandemic in a more effective way, but also pose the question of how society could actually be run in the future, who actually keeps the world running, the employers or the essential workers, and do we actually need the employers at the top or could ordinary people run society in our own interest and the interest of the planet?