For most of the pandemic we have been lulled into acceptance; what would have been unthinkable in the past has now transformed into expected repeated public health strategy.
Lockdowns, when introduced, were intended as a time-saving measure to “buy the Government time” to prepare hospitals and health infrastructure. Two years later we have had no significant improvement in investment, nor are there plans for any real expansion.
As has been noted in Socialist Voice and in many other publications, the Government are little more than bookkeepers for the ruling class. While the first lockdown might have had a wider remit and kept most businesses closed or working from home, subsequent lockdowns were essentially only for service industries and for tourism, restaurants, and pubs. While it may seem to the middle classes that we have all been working from home for two years, many large businesses (including factories and meat-packing plants) stayed open, while delivery drivers, hauliers, teachers and health workers continued to go to work, thereby allowing the economy to function while giving the gloss to the urban elite that the Government were applying measures to stop the spread of the virus.
What should be abundantly clear now, as we experience our fourth wave, is that lockdowns (especially those that apply only to offices and to hotels, restaurants, and pubs) do little if anything to ultimately mitigate the spread of covid.
However, these semi-lockdowns do have more troubling effects. Apart from instilling a generalised fear of socialising among the population, they inevitably come down hardest on the most marginalised groups in our society. Mountjoy Square, one of the only public places in one of the poorest parts of Dublin, was patrolled endlessly and aggressively by gardaí during the first lockdown, even being threatened with closure if people didn’t meet arbitrary public health guidelines that had little or nothing to do with stopping the spread of covid. This was not the case in the leafier suburbs. These aggressive public measures inevitably only exacerbate existing class divisions.
When covid vaccination passes were introduced as an “emergency” measure at the end of the summer of 2021 we were assured that it would be only temporary; indeed the Government had to agree to a human rights assessment to determine whether the invasive measure was merited. So far they have done no such thing and have only renewed it twice, the only plan regarding these passes being to make them no longer valid for someone after nine months without a booster.
Again it should be apparent that this measure has had no effect on the spread of covid, yet it seems, as with rolling lockdowns, a measure that is here to stay. Once again it is a measure that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable in our society. The lowest vaccine uptake was in sections of our society that, for a variety of valid reasons, are sceptical about those in power. Travellers, immigrants, the urban poor—these are all groups that have been shown statistically to be resistant to taking the vaccine and are therefore the most disproportionately affected by the passes.
Even more extreme measures are being introduced throughout the European Union, with well-publicised vaccine mandates due to come into effect in Germany and Austria in the spring of 2022. The characterisation by the mainstream media of those who would oppose such measures is generally that of the far right. While it is true that many on the right use criticisms of such measures to further their cause, there nevertheless remains a principled left-wing and materialist critique of them. Fundamentally, that is to always ask ourselves, “Cui bono?” (To whom is it a benefit?).
However, the silence from the left has been deafening. Indeed many on the left seem hesitant to criticise any of the above measures for fear of being seen as right-wing, a “conspiracy theorist,” a crank, etc. The Trotskyist left go even further, with TDs from People Before Profit routinely calling for stricter lockdown measures and stricter applications of the covid passes.
Why has the left not challenged any of these measures? They have been abundantly beneficial for the ruling classes, allowing those already powerful and wealthy to increase profits and shore up power. They have also failed to do the very thing they were apparently introduced to do: to stop the spread of the virus.
We are two years into this pandemic and we have not seen any real benefit to working people. Vaccine mandates, passes and lockdowns do more harm to the most vulnerable in society and serve only to enrich our powerful elite. Things that would really, significantly improve the lives of working people while also curbing the spread of the virus have routinely been dismissed, namely increased ventilation infrastructure, proper, full statutory sickness pay, free antigen tests, and massive capital outlay on what was already an underfinanced and overstretched health service. We should not let the far right co-opt criticisms of pandemic mitigation that quite nakedly benefit the ruling class at working people’s expense.
- Businesses that employ 250 or more people, which account for only 0.2 per cent of active businesses yet accounted for 63 per cent of total gross value added (GVA) in 2018.
- The state plans to introduce three days of up to 70 per cent of pay as the statutory minimum in 2022, a measure so laughably ineffective when it comes to the amount of self-isolation etc. that is now required for this pandemic that it barely merits a mention.