The two subjects dominating most of the debate at the moment are testing and the impact of lockdown on the economy. Lockdown slows and lowers the rate of infection and this buys time during which the NHS can prepare extra capacity to deal with the volume of patients that will require treatment in the weeks ahead. If lockdown didn’t exist or were to be relaxed too soon then the infection rate would rise again and the NHS would be overwhelmed.
The 4,000 bed NHS Nightingale hospital in London’s ExCel Centre in Docklands will be ready soon. Two more are being prepared in Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre and Manchester’s Central Complex. Yesterday it was announced that another two would be prepared in Bristol (1,000 beds) and Harrogate (500 beds).
However, there are concerns that inexperienced staff in unfamiliar surroundings, problems with supply, and the ratio of staff to patients could all combine to be a contributory factor in a higher mortality rate.
The dismal daily death toll announced each day is fast becoming normalised to those of use who have no connection to anyone who has died. the UK’s total now stands at 2,921 after another 500+ yesterday. Worldwide, the number of infections has passed the 1 million mark. As bad as it is here it’s still a fraction of what Spain and Italy have gone through, and the prospects for the USA are very gloomy.
The target is to achieve 100,000 tests per day in the UK by the end of April. This is an ambitious target since as of the end of March only 8,000 people are being tested each day. Obviously those chosen for tests are prioritised according to their role, with front line NHS staff being top of the list, but they need to measure the spread of infection within the population, hence the need for widespread testing.
The two test types are; one to determine whether or not you’re a carrier (antigen), and one to see if you’ve had the virus and have recovered (antibody), whether you sailed through with no symptoms or reached the threshold of death’s door before returning to full health.
The novelty of the situation and the immediate impact of last week has long gone and the concern among business owners and employees is now turning to frustration and anger. Furloughed workers have been promised 80% of their salary up to a limit of £2,500 per month and in principle their employee rights remain unchanged, but they may have to wait to be paid while HMRC process all the thousands of applications from business owners.
Many self employed people will fall through the safety net and no amount of small business grants, rate relief, or deferred VAT payments will save a lot of the bricks and mortar businesses who do not trade online.
Meanwhile, the premier league football club Tottenham Hotspur (among others) furloughed hundreds of its low paid, non-playing staff but said its main players would continue to be paid their massive weekly pay. These instances of those at the top of the pyramid continuing to draw large salaries and dividends while those at the bottom are furloughed or made redundant are sowing the seeds that may become a bitter harvest in the years to come.