Tuesday 7 July 2020

Super Saturday outside the Town Hall

Super Saturday in England, the day when lockdown was eased, shops, pubs and restaurants opened, initiated by a government that is much more concerned about restarting the economy, rather than the lives and health of its citizens. Is a second wave of the virus inevitable? I hope not, but I fear that it might.

Rather than go shopping, we decided to spend the day in a different way.

We joined a celebration of the NHS' 72nd birthday outside Leamington Town Hall. Social distancing  was observed.

Health care, free at the point of delivery, was established by Aneurin Bevan, Labour Minister of Health of the post-war Attlee government in 1948. It is Britain's greatest achievement.

Consecutive Conservative governments in the last years have been selling off the NHS slice by slice to private companies. Any future trade deal with the USA brings the nightmare of privatisation closer to reality. Simple operations that are still free here cost thousands of dollars in the USA for people without insurance. For example, for patients not covered by health insurance, an appendectomy in a US hospital typically costs about $10,000-$35,000 or more, depending o the provider, whether the operation is open of laparoscopic, and whether there are complications.

This has been the service's most challenging year, in which it has treated over 100,000 Covic-19 patients and lost more than 300 members of staff to the virus.

Historically, England's system of communicable disease control has relied on close cooperation between local health services and authorities. GPs, NHS and public health laboratories and local public health officers  play key roles, backed by legal notification requirements. The local system has gradually been eroded over several decades. Instead of prioritising and rebuilding this system at the start of this epidemic, the government has created a separate system which steers patients away from GPs, avoids local authorities, and relies on commercial companies and laboratories to track, test, and contact trace.

In the midst of this crisis, rather than using all this existing expertise to contact and trace,  private companies like Serco and Deloitte have been drafted in to help the government raise its capacity for coronavirus testing. The Department of Health and Social Care commissioned them to help establish up to 50 testing facilities across the UK. The firms have been criticised for administrative errors that caused some results to be sent to the wrong people.  Private companies' call handlers have complained of lack of training, and criticised the entire system. It is a shambles. The government has now stopped issuing figures for the number of people who have been tested each day - the only explanation for this is that they never hit their 100,00 people a day target and they are too embarrassed to admit it. It is becoming clear that ministers are losing control over the testing regime and are failing not only to keep track of the tests but to return the results are returned swiftly.

We need to fight any privatisation of the NHS.

We then went for a walk in the park. At 12:30 were back outside the Town Hall, this time, to protest against the annexation by Israel of the West Bank, in solidarity with the Palestinian people - a cause that is very close to my heart.

For 53 years Palestinians have endured the insecurity, systematic human rights abuses and pervasive violation of international humanitarian law that have characterised Israel's military occupation. The occupation persists against the backdrop of the ongoing 71-year displacement of Palestinian refugees from their homes. Countless homes have been demolished, livelihoods destroyed, resources plundered and lives lost. Though the 4th Geneva Convention expressly prohibits an occupying power from transferring its own population into occupied territory and establishes it as a war crime, Palestinian land has been swallowed up by the ceaseless encroachment of Israel's illegal settlements.

Settlements expand without consequences. UN Security Council resolutions are defied with impunity. Global inaction means the Oslo-era vision of a Palestinian state has all but disappeared. Where Palestinians were promised a sovereign state of their own, they are now left with a fragmented archipelago and minimal autonomy, under overarching and pervasive Israeli control.

Now, amid the global crisis caused by the Covic-19 pandemic and bolstered by the US Trump administration's 'peace plan' the government of Israel is set to consolidate its power. The terms of the coalition deal which formed Israel's new government in April permit it to begin the annexation of parts of the West Bank from 1 July 2020. Annexation - the acquisition of territory by force - is an inadmissible act of aggression, forbidden by the UN Charter.

In the West Bank, annexation is set to accelerate the dispossession and impoverishment of Palestinians, and increases the likelihood of forcible transfer of vulnerable communities which would constitute a war crime.

This must be stopped. Palestinians have suffered enough.

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