HERE we go again. Happy New Lockdown. Those of us fortunate enough to be able to work at home will no doubt sit this out, as we did last time, watching Netflix while bickering and complaining on Twitter. Meanwhile a whole army of anonymous folk will rush around servicing us, the petty potentates who do our bit by doing nowt.

There are two Covid nations. The other half are the cleaners and stackers; the lorry and bus drivers, refuse collectors, care workers, food processors, farmers, even down to the Deliveroo riders on their bikes. The families stuck in high-rise flats also serve. They are low-paid, and – in England at least – often come from “ethnic” backgrounds. And they will be the new front line, exposed to the greatest risk.

Unlike civil servants and teachers, they don't have powerful unions to lobby the Government and the media. This is because these workers tend to be in the private sector which, though it employs three-quarters of all workers, is now almost entirely non-unionised. Only 13 per cent of private sector workers are in unions.

You may think that the workers worst hit by the coronavirus were nurses in hospitals. Not so. When the Office for National Statistics looked at the mortality rate during the first lockdown, the ones most likely to die turned out to be male security guards followed by warehouse and food workers and care workers. This time, the balance is likely to be even more skewed since front-line health workers will (hopefully) have better protection and will be properly tested.

Ah yes – test and trace. Whatever happened to that? No one seems to be talking about it any more, possibly because politicians would rather draw a veil over our “world-beating NHS Test and Trace”. It sank without trace, if you'll excuse the pun, following problems with phone apps and the legions of volunteers who said they were never used. Test and Protect, the Scottish version, suffered from “coding errors” that let to thousands of Covid carriers not being traced at all.

Better testing this time should mean that one of the most vulnerable groups is protected better this time: hospital patients. During the first lockdown the disease spread rapidly in hospitals among patients who were there with other ailments. It's estimated that up to 20% of coronavirus hospital cases in the first wave were “nosocomial” as it is called. NB: This is definitely not a reason to join the many thousands of folk who have died because they didn't approach their GPs to get treatment for heart or cancer ailments. Those numbers of “excess deaths” have yet to be counted – but it is many thousands.

At the height of the first wave, half of all Scottish Covid deaths were in care homes. One of the least forgivable failures – which applied equally to non-lockdown countries like Sweden – was our failure to protect the very people we knew were most likely to die from this disease: the old. Deaths are extremely rare for the under-fifties, and the vast majority of casualties are over 70 and with pre-existing conditions. (And according to the science journal Nature, men are twice as likely to die from Covid as women).

The NHS in Scotland may have broken the law by evacuating large numbers of people from hospital wards, often without testing them, and into care homes which weren't in a fit condition to protect them. This decanting of the old was ostensibly to make space in hospitals for Covid patients and to relieve pressure on the NHS. There is a perennial problem of so-called “bed blocking” in hospital wards because there aren't enough social care spaces in the community for elderly ex-patients.

But this doesn't really stack up. After all, the NHS built a whole series of what are now being called “Potemkin” hospitals – Nightingale and Louisa Jordan – which it knew it could never use for Covid patients. We know this now because they say they never had the staff to run them (though why no one thought of that before they were built is another of the mysteries of the first wave). Could some of those old people not have gone there?

I don't actually blame the politicians for this. There have been repeated attempts to dump the UK's death toll on Boris Johnson or Nicola Sturgeon personally. But they were mostly relying on the advice they got from their clinical advisers and the NHS. Though it certainly seems as if Mr Johnson has responded to advice somewhat less promptly than Ms Sturgeon. The First Minister has succeeded in being one step ahead of the UK since the pandemic lockdown happened in earnest in March.

What the UK Government can do, and has done rather well, has been to make the economics of the pandemic more manageable for the millions of people who effectively lost their jobs during the lockdown. Rishi Sunak, one of the few political stars, must now repeat his great £300 billion giveaway. There really is no alternative. With the vaccine hopefully racing to the rescue, he simply has to throw the kitchen sink at the economy to keep it going for these vital months. VAT deferrals, grants loans, furlough – the lot. Forget the cost. But remembering the three million mainly freelance workers who failed to get any support at all last time.

People have tried to make the pandemic fit into a gender or racial mould. The lockdown death rate among BAME workers has been higher. But there is nothing genetic about it. According to the Office of National Statistics “the risk of Covid-19 mortality between ethnic groups can be explained by demographic, geographical and socioeconomic factors, such as where you live or the occupation you’re in”.

In other words, it has largely to do with class not race, and men just die earlier of all causes, including Covid. They are in those low-pay/high-exposure jobs that statisticians rather condescendingly call “elementary occupations”. Elementary they may be, but they are actually what's keeping us going as we turn to the next interminable box set.

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