|Volume 51 Number 2, January 23, 2021||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
On January 12, Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign (SLHC) held a public zoom meeting entitled Covid 2021: lockdown, communities and schools. It was chaired by Tony O'Sullivan, leading activist in the SLHC and co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public (KONP). All the speakers fiercely attacked the government's criminal mishandling of the pandemic with so many lives lost as a result. The topics covered were: Lockdown: why it's needed; Infection rates and community transmission; government guidance and u-turns; Have schools been "Covid secure" or safe enough?; Moving out of lockdown, what's necessary?; Vaccinations.
The first speaker, Louise Irvine, a GP in South East London and chair of SLHC, spoke on how Covid-19 has personally affected her on three levels, her family with the loss of her father to Covid, her work as a GP and as a health campaigner. With the latter she has fought against the "horrible" privatisation of the NHS and the "disgusting and incompetent" handling of the Covid crisis by the government - for instance their farming out test and trace to private companies with disastrous results. She described the overall news as "'very, very grim" with a 5-6 hour ambulance wait for Covid patients; however, she spoke of the vaccination programme as being "the light at the end of the tunnel". She ended by saying very pertinently that the government "blames everyone except themselves" and that when the community "pulls together" as it did to save Lewisham Hospital, it "shows what can be done!"
Dr Sonia Adesara spoke of her front line experience in a Covid ward saying the situation was "quite frightening" and the numbers of people admitted were "off the scale" and she "had never seen so much death". She attacked the government's handling of the crisis for not getting the "basics right" and highlighted the "interconnectedness of people in the streets".
Duncan Morrison, Lewisham Branch secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), spoke of the very stressful situation in schools with 20-30 children closely packed together with no masks. In this situation he said the government "needed a plan" to ensure there are comprehensive online learning facilities so that schools could be closed; he said the government ignored the reality of what was going on, saying "it's safe to continue!" and refused to listen to teachers and parents. He pointed out that of course teachers and parents want schools to be open but that they had to be safe. He explained that children do spread the virus and teachers' actions after January 5 did lead to schools being closed and that the government's policy on school closures was contradictory and confusing. He finished by stating the need to organise and said their school membership of the union had grown massively.
Vicky Penner, a local parent and leading activist in the SLHC, spoke of the "catalogue of government failures" and their recklessness in putting lives at risk and how teachers and parents have done their utmost to "protect themselves". She pointed out the lack of online equipment including Wi-Fi pointing out the government have had 10 months to sort out and instanced the government's numerous u-turns and lack of basic planning. She said she was "not happy" about the prospect of her children going back to school under the present conditions. She called on the government to listen to teachers and parents. Her teenage daughter Emily in year 9 spoke of how unnerving it was to go back to school and being in such close proximity after lockdown and that several pupils became ill. She said how the government was claiming that "schools are safe". She pointed out that on line learning "can be great" with the right equipment which the government has failed to provide. She said that alt hough people of her age don't get ill they can pass the virus onto older people.
Hera Lorandos from the Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network spoke of the desperate situation of migrants living in temporary accommodation who are facing migrant charges for health care and being pursued by debt collectors which is turning them away from getting care and dying from Covid. Migrants fear that if they go to a vaccine centre their data will be sent to the Home Office. She said they will push to make sure that everyone is vaccinated.
Professor Susan Michie, Professor of Health Psychology & Director of Centre for Behaviour Change, UCL, member of Independent SAGE and SAGE, spoke of the NHS being "on the brink of collapse" and severely criticised the government's continual delays in lockdowns. She spoke of "distraught" people being forced back to work with the lack of government support. She said the government rhetoric was "blame the population", for example, Priti Patel's "blame and punishment" strategy. She said people were not being given proper information about vaccination - that they are not protected until two weeks after being vaccinated and should still keep social distance, and that this was not being explained to people and there were no leaflets about it; she spoke of this as being "a potential disaster". She said that only 30% of people who have symptoms were self-isolating, pointing out that in other countries people are paid to stay at home and are visited every day to check how they are , something that does not happen here. Other countries are offering free accommodation, Wi-Fi, etc. She said that the biggest failure here has been Test and Trace, instancing how other countries such as Australia and Vietnam have had low deaths because of their successful test and trace. She blamed the government's failure here on farming out test and trace to private companies, with "£12 billion down the drain". She ended by saying that it is "people like you and me who have made the changes" and will continue to do so.
Tony O'Sullivan in conclusion spoke of the government's "arrogance and hubris" as being "a killer" and that it has "made the same mistakes over and over again". He said that the SLHC will be holding follow-on meetings in the near future.
A video of the meeting can be found on the SLHC website: https://youtu.be/wdUzLc4rAns