Keir Starmer’s Labour is complicit in the UK’s coronavirus (Covid-19) catastrophe, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 people. This staggering failure is a result of incompetence, appalling political judgement, and a lack of basic humanity. Perhaps the most damaging of Starmer’s decisions has been his persistence in calling for the reopening of UK schools. Various sources, from Independent Sage scientist professor Anthony Costello to the Long Covid Kids campaign group, are now coming forward to inform the public of the threat posed to children’s health by coronavirus. But Starmer isn’t listening.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 5 weeks after testing positive for coronavirus, 15% of secondary school children and 13% of under 12s are still struggling with symptoms. Long Covid Kids also reported that between the autumn half term and December 2020, 700 children were admitted to hospital as a result of coronavirus. The virus is now known to be capable of damaging a range of organs, causing permanent disability, even in those whose symptoms had initially been mild. And because schools have been open since September, fuelling the spread of the disease, it seems likely that the long term health implications of coronavirus are likely to be worse for children than we currently know.
Return to school?
According to the Skwawkbox, concerns about Labour’s post-Corbyn approach to the pandemic were raised internally by a member of the party’s policy team as early as April 2020. They advised that “returning children to school, and adults to the workplace, before test, track & trace had been properly established, posed a serious risk to public health”.
Trade unions like Unite and the NEU also shared their concerns about an early reopening of schools, as did then shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey. Heeding none of this sound advice, Starmer tried to make a virtue of his having supported the government on their 1 June 2020 deadline for reopening schools, when raising the issue at PMQs on 3 June.
Although the teaching unions prevailed and schools did not fully reopen until September, they then became breeding grounds for the virus. This culminated in both Starmer and Johnson insisting children return to the classroom on the 4 January, with the opposition changing its stance only after the government had signalled a last-minute U-turn. The disastrous result was children returning to school for just one day and teachers having no time to prepare for the online learning that would now have to take place, while all of them were unnecessarily exposed to coronavirus. For this, the Conservative government and Labour front bench share responsibility.
And still they persist
Even now, Starmer and Johnson remain fixated on ensuring that schools open more widely at the earliest possible time. Their current focus on the success of the vaccination programme as the precondition for returning children to classrooms is especially dangerous.
Both parties’ positions fail to take into account the dangers posed by coronavirus to children’s health. Labour differs from the government only in calling for teachers to be vaccinated as if children and parents are somehow immune from catching and spreading the virus. But it’s the reinfection rate, not the vaccine rollout, that should be governing the easing of lockdown. With nobody suggesting that children or parents will be vaccinated before 8 March and serious concerns about the effectiveness of vaccines that are not reinforced by a timely second dose, talk of a return to schools before the summer is wildly premature.
A dangerous narrative
Worse still, the focus on vaccine rollout by both main parties has limited the scope of public debate. The mainstream media presents policy discussion as a battle between the two poles of government and opposition. Had there been responsible opposition – as there was up until 4 April last year – the scope for public debate would be wider and calls to prevent a reckless early return to the classroom would be heard more loudly. And it’s unforgivable that the threat to the health and wellbeing of our children posed by the premature wider reopening of schools is not being highlighted by the person whose main job is to hold the government to account.
Unfit for office
It should go without saying that an individual who wilfully disregards clear evidence that a policy will result in the death or permanent injury to thousands of people is unfit for public office, but it isn’t being said by nearly enough people. Starmer and his opposition front bench, and Johnson and the members of his cabinet, are co-authors of the present disaster. Not one of these people should be anywhere near power.
The COSMOS is investigating the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on communities across the UK. Working alongside Hamara Assra, we are listening to and asking questions of the minority Black, Asian and ethnic communities about the vaccines. We’d like to hear from all sides of the debate. If you are concerned about the coronavirus vaccine, or if you have no worries about it, please talk to us by filling out our survey.
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