Social Distancing may soon become unavoidable, even if a consensus is yet to emerge. But in this critical time we mustn't be divided. We need to be ready. Mutual aid lays the foundation for Social Distancing, and gives us the power to ensure our own safety and get through this with the minimum human cost. We can't let the essentials of life fall apart, or be provided only by those who stand to profit from disaster.
Coronavirus has arrived. In the UK we may see an 80% infection rate with a low estimate of a 1% death rate¹ - half a million deaths in a matter of months. In practice, other countries like Italy that have been equally slow to react have experienced a death rate nearer 5%.² The government has been reluctant to act and drastically underestimates the problem - preferring to focus on capital and financial costs rather than the lives of its people.
The death rate is heavily skewed by age group, with 1 in 7 infected people older than 80 dying, whereas only 1 in 500 infected people younger than 40 will die.
Likewise the already-sick are many times more likely to die.³ Herd immunity relies on people becoming sick and then recovering. It is no coincidence that the government’s strategy accepts the loss of unproductive members of the economy in order to avoid disruption to national production.
The NHS is struggling to access the resources to prevent coronavirus or treat it adequately for those who need intensive care. As much as 5% of cases may require ICU treatment and 2.5% will require ventilation or more intensive aid.⁴
The UK has a startlingly low number of Intensive Care Unit beds compared to other countries in Europe⁵ and the West, which will be needed to deal with the predicted number of severe cases: half as many per capita as Italy, which is currently in a state of total catastrophe.⁶ It is a public health crisis and the only way to slow the terrible effects in order that the health system can deal with the load is Social Distancing.
The Government has moved from ‘Contain’ to ‘Delay’ which means they expect the virus to spread across the majority of the population. A vaccine is a distant and uncertain prospect, and may not be an effective counter for a fast-evolving virus.
The notion of 'herd immunity' relies on the assumption that enough people will become sick and recover, gaining a resistance to infection that prevents the disease from spreading faster than it dies out.
This is only possible if the growth rate of infection is reduced to the extent that our under-funded health service can treat them successfully. An overwhelmed health system will not process new people infected with the virus effectively; resources will be swamped and people will die from otherwise preventable causes, not just the coronavirus.
The best tool we currently have to slow the spread of infection is Social Distancing. Social Distancing means at different stages shutting down non-essential services, preventing large gatherings of people and closing public institutions like school and universities. Total self-isolation is the last and most extreme form, currently only recommended for those at high risk.
However, the government have not briefed organisations or taken the necessary steps to create any Social Distancing in our society. The UK government stands alone among western European nations in its commitment to virus brinkmanship. We are expected to believe that there is something different about British citizens compared to the Irish, the French or Italians.
We are told that we can’t be trusted to maintain social distancing for any length of time, so the best thing is to wait until the last possible moment. The strategy goes in the face of World Health Organization advice to ‘do it all’ - not just testing, tracing quarantine or distancing alone, but a comprehensive approach.⁷ Due to the lack of response we want to take the first step ourselves and try to ensure we can provide food support to those who are in self-isolation or short on food or wages.
Without a framework of Social Distancing, Johnson’s ‘take it on the chin’ approach will lead to the deaths of many elderly and infirm people across our society. We need to show that this is the only way we can try to responsibly manage this crisis and prevent some of the worst outcomes for our population. A delay of one day in full Social Distancing is likely to increase the total number of cases by 40%, and the body count by significantly more due to the strain on healthcare.⁸
We have five demands:
- When we stop the world stops with us (shut schools, universities, gatherings and shops in the name of Social Distancing)
- Corona Basic Income (immediate funds for all, to enable working class and precariously employed people to survive away from work),
- Support for small businesses instead of banks and corporations (to limit the economic hardship without increasing inequality)
- Proper measures for overcrowded vulnerable institutions (fund care homes, home stays for prisoners where appropriate, release asylum seekers from detention centres)
- Rent relief (tenants and renting businesses need rent relief to survive)
How will it work?
We propose to begin a Solidarity Kitchen - a food support service which will take food directly to people. This will make more people able to self-isolate without the worry of lack of food or provision.
We see our plan as a framework where self-organised groups, cafes and food businesses could create simple meals to be delivered for those who are self-isolating or planning to self-isolate. This would encourage and enable people to do the right thing and self-isolate if they are vulnerable, showing symptoms or have any other concerns.
This is our initial idea and we have a plan in motion to try and realise it. However, it is contingent on a few factors so we want to be clear that although we want to go forward with this particular idea ourselves it may be that we have to explore other uses for the money and other forms of solidarity and mutual aid relief.
Why a Solidarity Kitchen and who for?
Access to food in the U.K is grossly unequal: through Trussell Trust food banks, the largest provider, people can only access food with a voucher. Vouchers are given out only via 'care professionals' such as health visitors, school counsellors, social workers etc.
The vouchers ensure that only those deemed deserving by the state are able to access food. This can often exclude homeless people, asylum seekers, and many others who might not check the tick box but will need food.
We also recognise that without adequate sick pay and with precarious employment there will be many who will struggle to access food or may not be able to self-isolate as they wish to without risking food poverty.
The Solidarity Kitchen will be open access. We will provide food, if we can manage it, no questions asked, no obligation to pay. Food should be for everyone. To support this ambitious and vital step, we are reliant on donations.
Who should donate?
We will need donations to pay for the food, preparation and delivery costs. We are budgeting £10 for a hearty meal including delivery and we are asking for donations from:
- Those with stable incomes or paid sick leave (working for a large institution, the council, the government or those with secure jobs)
- Unions and charities
- Any other organisations who want to support the community
The government is not responding adequately to this public health crisis. We need to work to put pressure on them to meet our demands. And we will prove that there is a will of the people to take this seriously and to support one another. If you are concerned about what is happening and agree with our demands and want to help please consider donating what you're able!
A note on self-isolation
Social Distancing reduces interpersonal contact in public spaces that have been proven to be vectors for contagion. But self-isolation takes this practice to its furthest extent. In Italy, which is potentially only a few days further into the crisis than the UK, the self-isolation slogan is #iorestoacasa (I’m Staying Home).
Should you self-isolate?
Yes if you:
Have a fever (>38°C)
Have a new, continuous cough
Are immunocompromised, suffer from diabetes, cardiovascular or respiratory problems.
If you meet any of these conditions, start today and use your time to promote our demands. If you can’t afford to self-isolate, contact your MP; tweet about it; shout as much as you can for a corona basic income.
At this stage every day that Social Distancing doesn’t happen is another day of strain added to our healthcare system and will lead to a smaller survival chance particularly for elderly and infirm people across the country.
We also want to encourage businesses and groups who regularly put on events or gatherings to prepare to cease doing so in the name of social isolation which is important for everyone, regardless of other criteria, to practice. As an individual even if you cannot practice self-isolation you should practice and encourage social distancing.
1. Prof. Chris Whitty, UK Chief Medical Officer, Downing Street press conference 3rd March
2. https://miro.medium.com/max/2924/1*CmkEvo5Al8zeH-DYo7Oy9w.png. - Italy death rate projections. NB - the blue line shows ‘closed’ cases (an overestimate because people take longer to become fully well and have their case ‘closed’ than to die), yellow line shows ‘open’ cases (an underestimate because some people who are currently sick will later die. Far more cases are ‘open’ than closed’ so the total death rate will converge around 4-5%. In contrast China converged at below 1%: https://miro.medium.com/max/3266/1*pDV9FhbWw7eZbxT_4LIfRg.png
You can find a list of COVID-19 Mutual Aid groups in other parts of the UK in this Freedom News article.