Derek Maylor, NW BT Unions H&S Co-ord member and Health & Safety Officer (Telecom section) of the CWU's Grter Mersey Amal Branch; reports on this Covid-19 strategy event which he attended via video conference last week:
Prof Gabriel Scally, who led the production of Independent SAGE's Zero Covid report opened the meeting, at the start of the pandemic we already had serious problems without the crisis, cuts to NHS and local health support has fallen continually whilst demand had increased, for the first time ever life expectancy for woman had fallen. When the government moved everything was too slow and too late and if you do not get ahead of this virus it gets ahead of you.
Complete reform of the testing regime is required, as is the need to put back some of the restrictions, better ventilation in schools and workplaces, enforcement of 2m distancing for example. We can have green zones where the virus is low and invest more in time and resources in the areas where we have the most problems. The UK is a few islands and it should be easier for us to control the virus than for many other countries.
Janet Newsham from the Hazards Campaign – the pandemic was foreseeable but we did not prepare for it, the government ignored warnings from other countries that were ahead of us in the spread rate of the virus. Hundreds of workers dead because of poor testing, poor PPE and many of those were preventable. The fate of long-covid will leave many workers with life affecting problems that are yet not foreseen. All workplaces must be covid safe, offices, schools etc. must be either be safe or closed.
Larissa Kennedy, President of the National Union of Students, spoke about students who as a group have been treated deplorably, lied to and were set up to fail. Students should be supported not vilified and we applaud the NUS and the occupying students in Manchester. They have been milked of their cash (loans) by marketised education, demonised and blamed at the same time.
Clare Rayner from the Long Covid campaign is patient rep with NHS England; anyone who has had infection symptoms longer than four weeks is affected. Some of the very large groups of people were denied care as the general idea was it was over in a few weeks. Lung damage, heart damage, brain damage – organ damage can occur everywhere the blood goes in the body. Long tail Covid is highly depressing as people expected to get better but keep regressing. We need to help the thousands suffering Long Covid, and we are campaign for it to be made an occupational disease and compensated and supported appropriately
Louise Regan (National Education Union) - people talk about mental health trauma when schools are closed but as a teacher I have seen first-hand the impact of being in school for students who have loved ones who are vulnerable. There has been a significant increase in cases,case are doubling every two weeks in secondary schools We need to introduce blended learning, some time in school and some time at home. There are 4.2m children are living in poverty households, this is a disgrace that so many children are suffering and this will get worse as people are laid off, told to isolate with no support and so on. All teaching unions are fighting a tremendous fight to keep their members, children and young people safe and the community safe.
Elane Heffernan, Chair of the University and College Union's Disabled Members Committee spoke about the impact on disabled people, thirty times more likely to die after contacting covid. DNR notices were given to whole swathes of patients, disabled people with Down or with a cancer. Disabled people who are in employment are largely concentrated in the retail sector which has been hardest hit with lots of jobs lost – one in four disabled people faced redundancy in the first wave.
Dalbir Dhillon (RMT) – a lot of key workers were treated appallingly, by misunderstanding at best or willfully ignored at worst, safety concerns not taken in to account and told to carry on dealing with the public irrelevant of local rates in infection. Minimal support from government is a complete failure; the lowest paid cannot miss a day off work and are coerced in to work continuing spreading the virus, agency workers are treated even worse. We’d ask for support of the Reinstate Richie Venton campaign, a union rep who was sacked by IKEA for fighting for sick pay rights for staff with the virus or self-isolating.
Dr. Emma Runswick (BMA) - there needs to be a public awareness program on how the virus spreads and why mitigation measures are important. This way the public will understand why they are being asked to wear masks indoors, why good ventilation is required to reduce aerosol transmission. Many of the public are still stuck in March, contaminated surfaces and droplets. People see the absurdity of being in work with several people but not being able to visit a family member in another house. Without working together we will not achieve control of the virus and the BMA support elimination of the virus, we must prioritise workers lives.
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