Thursday, December 23, 2021

Living with Covid: Words they dare not utter to keep Open for Business


Written by: John G. on 18 December 2021

Are measures against the spread of Covid-19, protections or restrictions?

In the stream of Covid-19 press conferences and media reports how many times do you hear politicians, bureaucrats and journalists talk of harsh restrictions imposed or of easing restrictions. 

You don't hear them speak about protections from the disease, or removing protections against the disease. 

Strong protections or severe restrictions. The way they talk about it presses people's buttons.

Removing restrictions equals good, bringing in restrictions equals bad. On the other hand, if they spoke about removing protections bad, bringing in protections good.

The Working Class has long fought for protections from dangers

Think about guards on machinery in workplaces. Routinely the guards restrict operators from putting their hands into dangerous parts of machinery, or for hair, hands or clothing being caught up in a mechanism, removing a hazard to the operators or other people in the workplace. They protect the workers. 

In early machinery, guards were not used. One doctor gave a frightening report quoted in a British Parliamentary enquiry about the consequences in cotton and wool mills combing the fibres to remove dirt and burrs etc; "The serious accidents at the scutching mills are of the most fearful nature. In many cases a quarter of the body is torn from the trunk, and either involves death, or a future of wretched incapacity and suffering." Dr. W. White, the certifying surgeon for factories at Downpatrick, in his official report, dated the 15th December, 1865. These accidents were virtually completely avoidable and brought to an end when guards were fitted. That is what led to guards and other safety measures on such machines. 

In hospital ICUs staff wear plastic aprons, masks face shields and gloves, not to restrict themselves but to protect themselves and their patients. Hospital visitors and staff in lower risk areas now wear masks for the same reason, protection. But politicians and journalists caught up in the language of opening up for business, refer to the same measures as restrictions. They are restrictions in a sense just as guards on dangerous machines are, but from the workers point of view they are protections. 

Guards can be a bit of a nuisance, as in machines that repeatedly clog up, but they are generally necessary protections. For militant workers any attempt to have the protections removed is anathema, intolerable. Some impatient and short-sighted workers complain at times about how guards restrict their output, which can under some piece-work style pay systems reduce their pay or stop them getting away from the job early.  Those impulses are anti-worker. Militants stand for protecting the workers. "Open for business, get the job done and sweep away anything which tends to slow down production" stands against looking after the workers. 

We have seen over 5 million deaths worldwide, over 800,000 deaths in the US, 150,000 deaths in the UK let alone the many millions more left suffering from ongoing health conditions resulting from Covid-19. Protections against the disease are necessary and warranted. Disruptions to daily life should be limited to those necessary and protecting people in a way proportionate to the risks. 

Use Guards against the spread and impact of Covid-19

Vaccinations are a key protection, reducing severity and transmission of the disease. Are there risks? Yes. However, the risks from the jab are worth it compared to the risks from the disease. 

In another twist, the UK experience demonstrates vaccinations don't completely stop transmission nor it having severe consequences including death. International experience shows while the disease is rampant in any country, new variants will emerge, some posing new and greater risks. Some hold a prospect of new but lesser risks and impacts. The degrees are not yet certain in regard to Omicron, but it is causing death and serious illness in some who get it. Its very infectious nature means the rate of people getting it is high, relative to other variants. 

Vaccinations haven't removed the need for other protections. The medical experts highlight mask wearing, limiting occasions where people come into close contact with unvaccinated people, and limiting close contact with anyone in enclosed spaces, both for their protection and to restrict the transmission of disease to others.    

Prior to widespread vaccinations, restrictions on movement, on social events, on gathering at all were imposed in lockdowns. At times they were generally warranted, proportionate, to protect the people and pull up the spread of the disease. It disrupted people's social connections and networks, disrupted political activity and protests, disrupted family life for extended families, had large numbers of people locked out of work while many worked from home. 

The authorities couldn't help themselves sometimes militarising their imposition, turning to oppressive policing, failing to organise provision of necessities and paying no account to local cultural character until people reacted strongly, demanding the state back off, that community leaders be listened to, and that people's needs were met. 

 When you look at what happened in the US, Brazil and the UK compared to in Australia, lockdowns, lock outs and other actions generally worked and held up or stopped the spread of disease while large swathes of the people were unvaccinated. They were resented for the disruption to family, social and work life, and the losses they caused to people and business they involved. Protecting people from the spread of the disease generally required them, forcing them on us. 

The experiences of Queensland, SA, Northern Territory and WA stopped the spread fairly completely. Internally their family, social, work and political life resumed quite unimpeded by restricted movement after relatively short lockdowns. In contrast, NSW leaders tended to remove protections as soon as they discerned some limitation of the disease's hold, freeing up a renewed spread of the disease. Victorians found themselves victims of NSW lack of protections, and lack of enforcement of protections in some areas, particularly in residential aged care and nursing homes. 

Pace of removing protections needs caution, not let Covid rip

Now high levels of adult vaccinations have been achieved, restricting but not ending the disease's ability to spread. With highly infectious variants about, young kids unvaccinated, and infection of and transmission by the vaccinated allowing spread of the disease, discussion needs to be about what level of protections is proportionate to the risks still stalking the community.   

Instead, when talking about keeping or removing protections, politicians, bureaucrats, journalists and others speak of taking away restrictions, adopting the reactionary right's slogan of "winning back freedoms", freedoms for the virus to wreak its havoc. They abandon the medical approach of defences, protections against spreading illness through disease transmission, the mechanism driving the pandemic. The only freedom they are really opening up is the freedom for Covid to spread. 

Leave talk of "restrictions"’ to the reactionaries. Uphold protection of the people. 

Restrictions are restriction of transmission of Covid-19. Like machine guards, they protect the people around them. 

The difference in language is really quite powerful. The words themselves press a case, evoke particular responses.

Struggle between "freedom" and necessity

Where Covid-19 is being transmitted, populated parts of NSW, across Victoria, both now affecting South Australia and Queensland sporadically, and in a persistent outbreak in the Northern Territory, keeping protections from its rapid spread are a medical necessity. 

This was apparent when the NSW Chief Medical Officer Kerry Chant repeatedly urged people to wear masks when indoors and whenever they were not going to be able to maintain social distancing of one and a half metres. It became a mantra chanted by the Health Minister and Ms Chant. The Health Minister warned that the gathering rate of infections posed the prospect of NSW having 25,000 cases a day by the end of January if people didn't adopt protective measures including wearing masks and keeping social distance. While allowing for a level of overstatement his warning reflected concern about the indifference to growing illness and death in the ranks of the NSW government. 

In a dystopian twist, this warning came at a press conference where the NSW Premier Dominic Perottet proudly announced the removal of the mask protection mandates from retail, restaurant and other indoor areas, mask protections in NSW only being required on public transport, at bus stops and stations, in airports and by unvaccinated workers in hospitality venues. The government dropped covid-safe check-ins for retail premises but kept them for personal service businesses, gyms and pubs and clubs. 

The removal of most remaining protections acted on Federal and NSW government leaders' determination to completely open up for business, completely removing protections. Within days NSW cases reached the highest level ever seen in in any Australian state. NSW hospitals were put on red alert anticipating a surge of hospitalisations on the way.  

Standing behind the Health Minister and Ms Chant, Perottet stood with his face screwed up in a twisted frown as they spoke about the urgent and pressing need for community protection. His commitment to being open for business stood in sharp contrast to caring about protecting people. 

A few days later the Queensland Premier announced new mask mandates to increase the protection of Queenslanders. She also flagged that the mandates might be expanded to include workplaces if the announced measures don’t pull up the spread of the virus. The Victorian government kept the protection of mask mandates until after Christmas. The WA Premier spoke about some leaders who "don't get it" about protecting the community. 

Unfortunately, they do get it. But for NSW and Federal leaders proportionate protections don't extend to any measures that might cause baulking about getting back to business, or consolidate awareness of the reality of rapid spread of Covid in the community. 

Protect the people, hold back the spread

There is a divergence between the Open for Business let-Covid-rip advocates and those responding to the medical cautions with maintaining protections like mask wearing indoors and keeping unvaccinated people away from the disease and from vulnerable people. 

Is it protection or is it restriction? 

The working class fought for protections against being ripped limb from limb by machinery. In the pandemic, it is necessary to stand for the protection of the people from this deadly disease.

Stand up for protection. Don’t tolerate the language of "opening up" and "freedom". This is the language of big business. It stands for opening up to Covid-19, for freedom for Covid to spread while business is unrestricted.   

Stand for the language of protecting the people, of removing protections cautiously, of restricting the spread of Covid.

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