The independent London newspaper

Without a plan, we’ll go from one virus crisis to another

07 January, 2021

‘It is important to vaccinate the vulnerable. But it is only a short-term solution’

UNABLE to anticipate the emergency measures required for a pandemic like the Covid disease, the UK has floundered – introducing lockdowns either too slowly or too fragmented.

Now the government is keeping the public temper down by hoping the much-needed vaccination programme will save the day.

There is little doubt a lockdown is required. Equally, it is important to vaccinate the vulnerable. But it is only a short-term solution – immunity from the vaccine is short-lived, probably less than a year. What then?

Critics of national lockdown, such as the eminent jurist Lord Sumpter, argue the vulnerable should be vaccinated, leaving the rest of the population to carry on as usual.

Few, if any, are prepared to draw up a programme of what would be a rebirth of the economy and thus enable the necessary steps to be taken.

We will require the nationalisation of the care sector with better qualified and higher paid staff.

For what is likely to be annual vaccination drives, involving 14 or so million people, we will need more doctors, more nurses, and a plan to open more medical schools, not rely on importing “cheaper” doctors from abroad – a short-term policy going back to the Thatcher years.

To keep schools safe they need to have an effective testing regime which, in turn, means more staff and more space for classrooms.

It is a “pipe dream” otherwise to talk about the reopening of schools within a month or two – as explicitly said by the former Tory education secretary Kenneth Baker in a stinging letter in yesterday’s Times (Wednesday).

There is little point in tinkering with the problem.

The disease can be controlled, if not obliterated, but only by abandoning the government’s austerity approach to the economy – and the creation of new drivers: a properly funded NHS and care sector, the creation of a people’s bank for investment, especially in new green developments, all of which requires planning, a new kind of society, a new kind of capitalism, with much more state intervention, all along the lines of the works of the far-thinking economist Professor Mariana Mazzucato of London University, who spelled out her programme in the Financial Times at the end of December.

Prof Mazzucato has been appointed to a Commission set up by Camden Labour leader Georgia Gould to look into rising inequality in the borough.

So far, it does not appear to have published its views. But her views can be echoed by many economists and campaigners.

She has been placed in an eminent position in the very constituency of Sir Keir Starmer’s, Holborn and St Pancras.

He is right to criticise Boris Johnson but he appears to be lacking a long-term programme able to tackle the crisis. He needs one – otherwise we will simply go from one crisis to another.

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