At PMQs Johnson and Starmer whitewashed the looming coronavirus catastrophe
The UK is in the midst of yet more coronavirus (Covid-19) chaos. A potential catastrophe is looming, not least in the education system. Yet at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday 9 September, you’d think that coronavirus testing was the only problem – thanks to Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson.
The Labour leader’s questions centred around the test and trace system. It’s dogged by growing chaos, with stories of capacity running out and people being sent hundreds of miles for a test.
So, PMQs was the usual tennis match of questions from him, non-answers from the PM, and insults from the latter. Perhaps most pertinently, Johnson stated that:
I take responsibility, as I have done throughout… the entire handling of the coronavirus crisis
But away from parliament, the situation in schools is already looking precarious.
The Twitter account Tory Fibs has been researching and documenting the number of coronavirus outbreaks in schools. And it shows the rates are rocketing.
On the morning of Monday 7 September, Tory Fibs claimed that 158 schools across the UK had coronavirus outbreaks:
158 UK Schools now CV19+
• 84 Scotland
• 46 England
• 21 N. Ireland
• 7 Wales
Source: A collection of NHS Websites, School Websites & Newspaper reports.
— Tory Fibs (@ToryFibs) September 7, 2020
By 10:30am on 9 September, this had gone up by more than 100% to 357:
357 UK Schools with Coronavirus infections among their School Populations:
• 205 England
• 99 Scotland
• 28 N. Ireland
• 25 Wales
Source: My compilation of local news reports, NHS Trust updates & School Websites.
— Tory Fibs (@ToryFibs) September 9, 2020
Note that on Monday, Scotland had more school outbreaks than England. Now, that has reversed. But another Twitter user had also been documenting the relationship between schools reopening and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases per million people. Gordon Love found that the rate of infections is increasing the longer schools have been open – schools in Scotland open earlier than those in England:
New graphs – comparing
England & Scotland, relative to re-opening of schools
(The only difference is the start date of the graph) pic.twitter.com/9LBNziOLGw
— Gordon Love (Covid grapher, data hunter-gatherer) (@gordonrlove1) September 8, 2020
But most worryingly, Love projected that if this trajectory continues, in three weeks time we’d see infection rates back to levels last seen during lockdown:
But, as we can see, that projection – using the Scottish rate of increase – substantially under-predicts what has happened so far
So we need to factor in the greater rate of increase in England
Which suggests 5,300 New Cases/day in 3 wks' time
3.3 times higher than Quarantine pic.twitter.com/zIvzYg4n1m
— Gordon Love (Covid grapher, data hunter-gatherer) (@gordonrlove1) September 9, 2020
Of course, none of this factors in universities reopening. An editorial in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has warned this is high-risk without adequate protection measures against a surge in community transmission.
Show me the money
From Monday 14 September, coronavirus rules will change. Gatherings of more than six people will become illegal to try and stop the spread of the virus. But as Hannah pointed out on Twitter, this seems contradictory when schools and universities will still be open:
BREAKING: All house parties & large family gatherings to be held in schools from Monday. https://t.co/HCdWHFvBgT
— Hannah 🙋🏻♀️ (@missradders) September 8, 2020
But it’s less contradictory to Tory policy when you consider that, for example, universities generated £95bn for the UK economy in 2014/15; nearly as much as the entire NHS budget for the same year. What’s more staggering, perhaps, is that the UK hospitality industry was worth around £130bn a year in 2018; not that much different from universities. It’s therefore of little wonder that the Tories are hell-bent on the education system getting back to normal, regardless of the consequences.
At PMQs, Starmer had the chance to expose this looming disaster. Instead, by concentrating on testing, he merely gave the government more room to manoeuvre further down this catastrophic path.
So, winter is coming. And it could be worse than the coronavirus spring.
Featured image via the Telegraph – YouTube
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