One hundred and ten British Army medics have been deployed to Northern Ireland hospitals to assist with the Covid crisis, operating as regular NHS staff. In the aftermath of this announcement, many Unison members and branches reacted angrily to a statement issued by the leadership of their union, which they perceived to be in opposition to the use of army medical staff in the battle against the pandemic. The Unison leadership statement was written without forethought or sensitivity on an issue that has the potential, if mishandled, to create sectarian tensions and divisions amongst their membership.
The beginning of 2021 has seen a significant increase in the number of Covid-19 cases across Ireland, North and South. Both states have infection rates among the worst in the world, as the Stormont Executive and Irish government continue to fail working people with their mishandling of the pandemic.
Forty-five million people have been infected by Covid-19 globally, with over one million tragically losing their lives. The UK has now surpassed 1.37 million cases, with around 52,000 deaths. In Northern Ireland, we have reached 46,359 cases and 846 deaths. While there are promising signs that effective vaccines may be available in the near future, there is evidence that new strains of the virus are rapidly emerging. There are also serious questions about how rapidly, efficiently and equally vaccination programmes will be rolled out.
Following a dramatic surge in Covid infections and hospitalisations, the Northern Ireland Executive has introduced a raft of new restrictions. The most significant of these are the extension of the half-term break in schools to two weeks and the closure of cafes, bars and restaurants - except for takeaway and delivery - for a month. This raises the threat of further large-scale redundancies in the sector, unless there is an immediate emergency intervention.
Although not the underlying cause, Covid-19 has been the trigger for a global economic downturn. The UK economy has now officially entered the deepest recession on record. Northern Ireland’s economy has proven to be particularly vulnerable to this and young workers are disproportionately impacted. The current situation further underlines that capitalism cannot provide for ordinary people and is incapable of offering young people a decent future. The need for socialist policies and a socialist transformation of society are more urgent than ever.
Below are three comments from Socialist Alternative (ISA in England & Wales) members in Leicester on the recent announcements that they city will remain in lockdown.
Across Britian and Northern Ireland to date, over 200 health workers’ lives have been lost to Covid-19. However, Westminster and the Stormont Executive have manipulated the figures, so this will be grossly under-estimated. Grotesquely, the overwhelming majority of these deaths were preventable. The Assembly followed the Tory plan, prioritising profit before people to protect the interests of big business and capitalism. Sinn Féin and the DUP disgracefully used the pandemic as an opportunity to pursue their own sectarian agendas, throwing the Executive into paralysis. This can only be described as criminally negligent in the extreme.
"THESE ARE the times that try men’ souls. You will no doubt hear a great
number of stories respecting the situation of this country. Its present unfortunate state is entirely owing to treachery; the rich always betray the poor.”
US billionaires saw their collective wealth increase by $282 billion in the first twenty-three days of lockdown.
Johnson’s government ignored warnings and delayed action, leading to massive PPE shortages. Recent figures suggest 200 health and social care workers have died after contracting Covid-19. The Tories and previous governments have overseen decades of underfunding of the NHS and of care being privatised.