The people are ahead of the government in making serious moves to combat the spread of the coronavirus. It is clear the government were pushed by organisations already taking action to close down large events, a move we very much welcome. Where government refuses to act civil society institutions, trade unions, and ordinary citizens are taking matters into their own hands. We reject the ‘herd immunity’ theory that coronavirus can simply be left to rip through society until enough people develop immunity. Not only is there no proof this will happen with this virus, it is the most deadly and careless approach the government could take. The government should be acting on World Health Organisation guidance and learning from those countries it commends for swift and decisive action. Older and vulnerable people matter as much as everyone else. We insist the government alter course immediately and implement the following measures:
1. Close all schools, universities and colleges. Government and Local Authorities to work with schools to develop plans to get food to children who would have been entitled to free school meals.
2. Mass testing and tracing, which World Health Organisation experts have suggested is more effective in the early stages.
3. Workers should be allowed to work from home where possible. Introduce a mortgage and rent freeze for the duration of the crisis for those workers denied their full pay.
4. Extend statutory sick pay to all workers. Following successful pressure on the government to give sick pay from day one for those affected by the virus. Statutory sick pay should be uplifted to a living wage.
5. Pensioners on low-incomes, low income workers and disabled people to be eligible for one-off grants to cover food, fuel and travel costs.
6. Scrap the assessment period for Universal Credit and make payments immediately. Sanctions for benefit claimants who don’t attend appointments should be scrapped. Universal Credit payments should be topped up to account for extra costs of preparing for virus and moving to shut down.
7. Price controls to be introduced on essential medical equipment and drugs. There must be no hiking of prices on masks, ventilators, isolation units, beds, basic supplies like soap and hand towels, as well as drugs to combat bacterial complications etc.
8. Private hospitals to be put under the management of the NHS. Essential equipment owned by private companies should be pooled as part of the overall effort; private hospital beds should be treated as public.
9. Cleaners are a vital frontline, as are NHS staff. They should both be given an immediate pay boost to attract more cleaners, nurses, hospital porters and administrators. All workers should have the protective clothing necessary in line with TUC guidelines.
10. No scapegoating of Chinese people, Italians, immigrants or anyone else. An emergency programme of aid and refugee resettlement should be initiated across Europe.
11. The outbreak must not be used as a pretext for clamping down on civil liberties. Frontline public sector workers, especially health workers, should be brought in at the highest level of decision making. The trade unions should be part of the conversation with civil servants and senior NHS staff.