Like me, you were probably eager for 2020 to finish. And, like me, you might have hoped for a bright new start to 2021. But as the new year approached, I realised that I had been extremely naive to think that things would get better. Both Essex and Buckinghamshire authorities declared major incidents in their counties as virus rates surged. At the same time, news came out that hospitals in Kent had run out of intensive care beds, so patients were being transported to other parts of the country. And on 4 January, it was announced that patients would also be moved from London hospitals, as the capital struggled to cope with patient numbers.
There are currently over 86 million confirmed cases of coronavirus (Covid-19) in the world. Of course, this figure is a gross underestimate, because access to testing varies across the world, and in the UK, many of us who had the virus in the first half of 2020 had no way of being tested. Almost 2 million people have died so far. In the UK, we haven’t yet reached our next peak. Rates are still rising rapidly. Your county could very soon find itself struggling to cope, just like London, Kent, Buckinghamshire and Essex.
No, coronavirus is not a hoax
Despite the blatant evidence that we’re now completely overwhelmed by the virus, coronavirus conspiracy theorists continue to insist that it’s all a hoax. In the UK, conspiracy stickers have appeared in towns, and protesters have even started demonstrating outside hospitals where people are dying of Covid:
Worked the late A&E SHO shift on NYE and came out to this. Hundreds of maskless, drunk people in huge groups shouting "Covid is a hoax", literally outside the building where hundreds are sick and dying. Why do people still not realise the seriousness of this pandemic? pic.twitter.com/KTkCtNf62A
— Matthew Lee (@mbklee_) January 1, 2021
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Others have been photographing allegedly empty hospital corridors to try to prove that we’re being lied to, and that hospitals aren’t actually overwhelmed by the pandemic. This is an insult to every NHS worker who risks their life on a daily basis, and it can surely only worsen the pain for those who have lost people they love to the virus.
Meanwhile, major cities around the world, from London to Toronto, have seen anti-lockdown protests. Of course, being anti-lockdown doesn’t necessarily mean that you think that Covid is a hoax. But while protesting, demonstrators have disregarded measures, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, that would help prevent the spread of the virus.
At every step, the government has acted terribly
Pretty much all of us on the left would agree that the government has acted criminally throughout the pandemic, from inadequate PPE leading to the deaths of health workers, to denying that schools needed to be closed. Its course of action – or rather inaction – has been to keep the capitalist status-quo intact. It doesn’t want to provide state funds to us working class millions, and if it had its way, it would continue its years-long policy of draining the NHS of all funding. Coronavirus has been a massive inconvenience for the Tories.
The government was too slow to call for a lockdown back in March 2020, while its November semi-lockdown and subsequent tier system were half-hearted attempts to look like it was at least doing something. The new announcement, that we’re all going into proper lockdown this time, only came after intense pressure from the National Education Union and collective action from teachers, refusing to go into schools.
Yes, the government is taking advantage of the pandemic
Of course, that doesn’t mean to say that the government hasn’t used the pandemic to its advantage. The NHS has suddenly been labelled affectionately by the Tories as “our NHS”. And of course, the government has also seized the opportunity to provide private companies with massive contracts worth millions, from Serco and its dire Test and Trace system, to Ayanda Capital, which was awarded £252.5m to supply face masks. And we know that companies like Pfizer are set to make billions in profits from Covid vaccines.
On top of this, while we have been preoccupied, the Tories have been busy granting themselves sweeping new powers. We all need to fight draconian laws coming into force, such as the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill and the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill, and we need to stand up to increasing mass surveillance.
But it’s okay to be anti-state and obey a lockdown
Many of us who support social distancing measures are anti-state, or are at least critical of it. And do you know what? It’s okay to be critical of the state and yet still obey a temporary lockdown.
You see, it’s about caring for our communities, especially for those who are most susceptible to getting seriously ill, or even dying from Covid. Imagine for a second that we lived in a society that was more radically democratic, where we weren’t ruled by the government, and where people made decisions at the grassroots level. Wouldn’t we come to a similar conclusion? That we would do all that we could to stop the spread of the virus and act for the collective good?
At the same time, we need to be vigilant during this lockdown, scrutinising the state at every step. And we need to look out for racialised policing, holding the police to account when they will inevitably target and fine BAME communities once again.
And it also means putting pressure on the state to ensure that people can survive a lockdown. This means ensuring statutory sick pay is raised to the real living wage, banning evictions, housing homeless people and ensuring all children have access to the technology they need to learn.
Being anti-lockdown is massively ableist
If you’re not willing to temporarily lockdown for a few weeks, or you’re against mask-wearing, then you’re being ableist. As you attend your anti-lockdown demonstrations (without a mask on, of course), you’re not thinking about those with chronic illnesses who are terrified for their lives. You’re not thinking about those who can’t leave their houses because if they catch Covid they will die. You’re not thinking about the elderly, stuck in care homes or isolated in their own homes, because they’re the most vulnerable. You’re not thinking about those with learning disabilities, who were found to be six times more likely to die during the first wave. You’re also not thinking about those whose urgent cancer treatment has to be put on hold because hospitals are too overwhelmed.
The Canary spoke to Ed Jones, who has a chronic illness and has been shielding since March. He said:
A quarter of people in the UK have pre-existing [health] conditions. There has been a lot of research showing that people with a wide range of conditions are more at risk of serious impacts, or even dying, from Covid. Denying the effects of Covid is deeply ableist, as it denies the lived experiences of disabled people in the UK. So many disabled people have struggled through this pandemic without support, while others have become even more disabled or died due to the virus.
We need to support each other
We do know by now that a lockdown comes at a massive cost. People’s mental health undeniably suffers, as more and more of us feel lonely, anxious and isolated.
So it’s up to all of us to think proactively about what we can do in our communities to help. All of us – anarchists, socialists and Covid-deniers alike – can agree on one thing: that the government has failed us. We can’t rely on it to look out for the most vulnerable people, so we need to continue to build the mutual aid networks that we formed during the first lockdown. We need to continue using our neighbourhood WhatsApp groups – or set them up – and check in with our neighbours. A sense of community will give people strength.
We shouldn’t call people out for not sticking to lockdown rules (aside from rich second home-owners, perhaps!) We need to trust that everyone will do what they can, to the best of their ability and that everyone’s emotional and physical needs are different. Lockdown may be the only option we have right now to deal with the pandemic but shaming people will only make individuals feel more isolated and alone.
I hope we will look back on this period as a time when we began to reconnect again, where we got to know our communities and stopped thinking only about ourselves. It’s not natural to live so individualistically. It is natural to care for our communities. This pandemic is, finally, waking us up to that.
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