Opinion: Concerned about the easing of lockdown, here’s my ‘take’ on how we got to this point

Janet Shapiro will fight to keep Universal Pension Benefits.

Janet Shapiro will fight to keep Universal Pension Benefits. - Credit: Archant

I am a member of Hornsey Pensioners Action Group, but write in a personal capacity as I am anxious about the easing of lockdown without scientific back-up.

This is my attempt to trace the key events of the coronavirus pandemic so far. The virus was reported from Wuhan, China, on January 30; possibly identified earlier. In the UK our first case of Covid-19 was on February 28.

The World Health Organisation, WHO, has clear guidelines for dealing with infectious disease. This is to “test, trace, isolate”, carried out efficiently but in cooperation with residents, keeping good records and follow-up.

The government is advised by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) but meetings are very secret. Members of a group called Independent SAGE are very well-informed about epidemiology (the spread and control of infectious diseases). Their statements are now being heard in the media.

The “test, trace, isolate” strategy was not adopted in the UK. Many countries did this promptly and have suffered fewer cases and deaths from Covid-19. Also, the UK did not impose strict screening of new arrivals at airports; quarantine arrangements were not in place. Unfortunately, the private firm Serco, that has a poor reputation, has recently been contracted to carry out the tracking of contacts.

Instead, the “herd immunity” policy was adopted - to build up resistance by exposing the population to the virus, even though it was not known if surviving Covid-19 did give immunity. This policy was predicted to result in huge numbers of deaths, as can now be seen.

After taking advice, the government announced lockdown on March 24. We were to “stay at home”, but much delayed; Italy was in lockdown on March 11, Spain on March 14. A phased relaxation of lockdown measures was announced to take effect from June 1. The wearing of face masks is mandatory on public transport but not in all public situations. There is evidence face coverings do reduce the spread of the virus carried by airborne droplets over distance, whereas hand washing and social distancing reduces infection by contact. The May bulletin gave instructions on how to make your own face mask (hornseypag.org.uk).

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Long-term severe underfunding of public services and a low taxation policy left local government ill-resourced as the pandemic hit. The National Pensioners Convention at Blackpool, 2019, reported how, even then, vulnerable people were suffering. Local authorities are responsible for services but are cash strapped. To help mitigate the effects of the pandemic, Haringey has done its best. On June 11, Joseph Ejiofor, leader, reported that Haringey had received £15m emergency funding, but the £70m deficit needs to be reimbursed by government.

Hornsey Pensioners Action Group will keep a watching brief. Our hard-won universal pensioner benefits must be honoured. With the UK facing economic costs and a substantially-reduced GDP, we shall have a fight on our hands.

Already we lose the use of the Freedom Pass at peak times. While TfL is justified in keeping social distancing rules at peak times, we must keep that concession when the pandemic is finally over.