Last week marked United Nations World Health Day, with a call for governments across the world to act to eliminate covid-19 health inequalities.
Yet in the same week, the Conservative government announced proposals that once again failed to tackle the deepening inequality caused by the pandemic crisis.
The speech on the next stage of the “roadmap” from Prime Minister Boris Johnson was more notable for what it left out than what it included.
As mainland Europe experiences new lockdowns, the Prime Minister spoke of a “traffic light system” for travel, dismissing concerns from scientists about variants and their impact on our ability to tackle the crisis.
Worse still, after announcing plans for twice-weekly “asymptomatic” covid-19 testing, there was no new plan to help those who test positive to self-isolate.
The asymptomatic tests (lateral flow devices – or LFDs) provide just a snapshot in time and don’t remove the need for all of us to continue to follow the “hands, mask and social distancing” guidance.
I’m clear that testing forms a vital part of our response to covid-19 but it won’t be effective on its own.
A British Medical Journal study revealed that only half of people with covid-19 symptoms completed the full 10 days of self-isolation needed to stop the virus.
The study found that those in financial hardship with children or in insecure work were most likely to struggle.
Too many people simply cannot afford to be off work with covid-19. Average sick pay among comparable countries is 70 per cent of an employee’s wage while in Britain, it’s a miserly 25 per cent.
Soaring unemployment and the rise of insecure, zero-hours contracts has only compounded the concerns for those who have no choice to refuse work while strict government criteria has prevented many from accessing self-isolation payments.
In the face of this, the council’s services are working hard to provide financial support and offer grants to hard-hit sectors.
But despite our assistance to those in need, it’s plain that the government is still ignoring the basics. We can’t hope to suppress covid-19 without putting in place better sick pay and support to help people stay at home.
To truly tackle this pandemic, testing needs to be backed up with a functioning, effective “trace, isolate and support” system – but a year on from the start of the pandemic, we still don’t have one.
The notionally “world beating” test and trace contract given to private profit-making companies like Serco has been a disaster.
And despite the contract costing all of us an eye-watering £37 billion, it has been found by the Public Accounts Committee to have made “no measurable difference”.
It’s worse. It’s failed. When schools reopened last September, with a surge in demand – it failed. Reaching contacts of covid-19 cases, bypassing council public health teams – it failed. Preventing lockdown – it failed then failed again.
We repeat our calls for local test and trace to be transferred to adequately resourced council public health teams which know and are trusted by our communities.
With the reopening of businesses under way, we are scrutinising the local covid-19 data but also looking at what more the council can do to help.
The council’s community hub continues to help people with bills, mental health support and food, and we are working to adapt the hub to support more who need to self-isolate.
I would urge anyone who would benefit from support to contact the council’s community hub at bit.ly/communityhubBHCC or on 01273 293117.
We’re also continuing to reach out to our diverse communities about the crucial importance of vaccination.
As we learn of the continued devastating impact of long covid, including links to brain disease, it’s vital that people get their vaccination, even if they don’t think they are at risk.
To prevent the spread of variants, I’m clear that vaccination, testing, social distancing and mask wearing go hand in hand.
By continuing our efforts, we can respond to the challenges that reopening safely will bring. To the relief of many employed in our much-missed hospitality and retail sectors, reopening begins today (Monday 12 April).
Over the past few days, we’ve started 12 days of deep cleaning of the high footfall areas in our city, including jet washing and graffiti removal.
Preparations for the Easter weekend mean that we already have 400 bins on the seafront, extra collections, improved signage and more funding for temporary toilets at key locations.
And I want to thank everyone who helped us by disposing of litter responsibly last weekend.
We’re staying focused on recovery for all. Just last week, Arts Council England recognised the importance of culture in our city by awarding grants to many of our top local arts organisations.
Despite the missing support from government, we will keep planning for the success of our city and doing all we can to support those affected by covid-19.
Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty is the Green leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.
LIKE WHAT WE DO? HELP US TO DO MORE OF IT BY DONATING HERE.