The Socialist

The Socialist 25 March 2020

Coronavirus crisis: Tests, full pay and funding - for all now

The Socialist issue 1079

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Covid-19, photo NIH/CC

Covid-19, photo NIH/CC   (Click to enlarge)

We need tests for all now!

Nationalise production and research

Chris Thomas

"You cannot fight a fire blindfolded... test, test, test." The advice of the director-general of the World Health Organisation for combatting coronavirus could not be clearer.

It's a total scandal, therefore, that the government has basically ignored it, potentially putting thousands of lives at risk.

Last week an average of just 3,746 patients a day were tested, almost all patients who were already in hospital.

That compares with around 15,000 a day in South Korea, with results available within hours via text. Germany is carrying out 160,000 a week.

Here, desperately needed frontline health and care workers are self-isolating for days - possibly needlessly - because they can't get access to a test to find out whether they have coronavirus or just a cold or normal flu. Some are not even ill, but have household members who are, and can't get a test.

Consultant cardiologist Mark Gallagher, stuck at home with a temperature of 38C, called this a "policy of surrender". "They are abandoning the basic principles for dealing with an epidemic... test whenever possible, trace contacts and contain."

It doesn't take a genius to work out why this is happening. It has nothing to do with medical advice or strategy for fighting the virus.

Medical staff have confirmed that cuts, privatisation and total lack of preparation have led to a lack of testing kits and lab capacity in the NHS.

Not a problem if you have the money to pay for a private test, though. We're hearing all the time about politicians, and the rich and famous, who have tested positive, while the nurse working in intensive care has no idea if they have Covid-19 or not.

The private Harley Street Clinic is selling home testing kits for 375 a shot - much in demand, the clinic says, by "lords, ladies and knights." 2.5 million raked in - in just one week.

Boris Johnson says the government is "ramping up" testing to 25,000 a day. But it could take four weeks to reach this level.

That's far too late! The supply of tests must be massively expanded now to guarantee a mass testing and tracing policy to save lives.

All private testing and processing facilities, as well as all other private healthcare resources, should also be immediately requisitioned and incorporated into the NHS.

We need a fully publicly funded, integrated and democratically run health service that puts the health and needs of the many before the profits of a few.

Jon Dale, secretary, Unite union Nottinghamshire NHS branch (personal capacity), writes:

Testing large numbers is critical to bringing outbreaks under control. All patients' contacts, and health and care workers, need to know they have not become infected themselves and are passing the virus on.

A new virus - like Sars-CoV-2, the coronavirus which causes the disease Covid-19 - needs new tests. They can't be taken off the shelf.

Small biotech companies employing 20-30 scientists are rapidly developing faster, more accurate tests. One now takes just 30 minutes and does not need large lab equipment, compared to two hours for existing tests.

But by the time these new tests have been trialled to ensure they work, it may be too late for this pandemic.

Private investment in these biotech companies between 2015 and 2019 was six times less than in companies researching treatments, where higher profits are hoped for.

Tara O'Toole, executive vice-president of the CIA's non-profit venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, said it was a "market failure" that diagnostics were less valued than treatments. "We're in a diagnostic renaissance from a technological point of view, and yet we find ourselves without adequate diagnostics yet again in a big outbreak."

Large companies making diagnostic tests - like Thermo Fisher, worth about $110 billion - don't invest in tests that may never be needed. They want guaranteed sales.

A socialist plan of production would combine laboratory research with modern purpose-built factories, prepared for new infectious disease outbreaks whenever they arose.

Public ownership and investment, not short-term profit-hunting, would save many lives.

Covid-19 hospital worker: when will they test staff?

An NHS health professional

When are they going to test frontline staff? This has been the question across the hospital all weekend - and is it any wonder? We feel we are being put in danger. Yes, we have personal protective equipment (PPE), but it's being rationed.

In A&E, 'query Covid-19' patients walk down to X-ray wearing a thin surgical mask. A member of staff performs a chest X-ray with a yellow apron, mask and gloves.

When staff go up to the intensive care unit with the confirmed cases, we get the full gear - full sleeves, proper masks, hat and visor - with separate entrances in and out to decontaminate.

Colleagues from elsewhere in Europe say back home, PPE is worn with every patient, as the virus is in the community - but not here!

We are currently emptying out patients to the local Spire private hospital, and wards now stand empty ready for the influx - but do we have the staff to look after them? All departments have numbers of staff having to self-isolate at home.

Many are cancelling annual leave to fill uncovered shifts. But staff who have underlying conditions are still expected to come to work, with ineffective arrangements, just not to work on the 'front line'.

And the recently retired make contact, afraid they will be forced to return despite age and underlying conditions.

We must oppose the Tories introducing draconian policing methods for hospital staff and other workers. And we demand again - when will they test staff?

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 24 March 2020 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

In this issue

What we think

Coronavirus crisis: Tests, full pay and funding - for all now

State intervention shows what is possible

Coronavirus news

Coronavirus and domestic violence: a double threat to women's lives

Coronavirus news in brief

Coronavirus workplace news

We need tests for all now! Nationalise production and research

Retail and the coronavirus outbreak - organise to defend workers interests

Transport union RMT demands action for coronavirus tube safety

Organising in the workplace in the time of coronavirus

Union independence must be maintained - a reply to the Trade Union Congress

University workers win full pay for casual staff

Bosses not workers should pay for JCB shutdown

Social care

Social care: "Not good enough by miles"

Poll Tax

30 years since the huge anti-poll tax demo... And how mass non-payment of the tax was built

Coronavirus organising

Coronavirus: What role could community support groups play?

Selling the Socialist

Like what we say, help us keep saying it - fund the Socialist

'Meeting' to discuss socialist ideas - more vital than ever during the crisis

Readers' opinion

Going viral: Socialist letters and comments on the coronavirus crisis


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25 March 2020