The fight against Omicron harbors an opportunity for change – we have to seize it
WITH the spread of Omicron infections, it will be a difficult Christmas and a tough end to an unstable year for many. In 2022 we must ensure that the society we are rebuilding is fairer and greener than it is now.
Omicron is more transmissible than previous strains, which makes it even more important that we all get vaccinated, tested regularly, and follow all other rules and guidelines that apply to our protection.
These rules may have changed between my writing and your reading. Please visit the Scottish Government’s Coronavirus website for the most up-to-date information.
READ MORE: UK government inaction will make the Omicron crisis much worse, says Nicola Sturgeon
One area where I have concerns but the current guidance does not go far enough is in schools. We know Omicron is far more portable, but the guidelines for identifying close contacts in classrooms haven’t changed. This harbors the risk that positive cases will be overlooked and more students and staff will have to take school leave than would otherwise be necessary.
However, there is only so much that decentralized administrations can do while the UK government is not providing the necessary financial support. Downing Street’s response to the initial lockdown was one of delay and indecision, with other countries responding much more quickly, with much fewer hospital admissions and ultimately much fewer deaths as a result.
The financial uncertainty that people and companies are currently facing is immense. That is why the Scottish Greens have asked Boris Johnson to urgently reintroduce the holiday regulation and to increase statutory sick pay so that we can take protective measures against the Omicron variant and at the same time protect jobs.
Although Omicron is now taking over the country, Westminster cannot resist a chance to undermine the Scottish government. When the First Minister appeared in parliament on Tuesday to deliver an update on the pandemic, the Treasury Department issued a statement confirming that it would provide financial support to decentralized governments.
Within a few hours it turned out that it wasn’t new money, but an advance on the money that was already due. Then on Wednesday we found out that it was actually much worse. Instead of the Â£ 268 million due in January, only Â£ 220 million will arrive. That is Â£ 48 million that has already been budgeted and cut from our budget.
Furthermore, the perfect storm of a regressive increase in national insurance, Brexit and the cruel cut in universal credit will plunge thousands more families into poverty. The Prime Minister knows this, but continues anyway.
Last week’s SNP / Green Scottish budget showed some of the steps we are taking to do things differently.
READ MORE: Boris Johnson “went to Downing Street Party while Britain was in covid lockdown”
Young people and families have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, which is why we, with the Greens in government, are putting them at the center of our recovery.
We are doubling the Scottish Child Payment which is an added value of Â£ 500 per year for each child and will help families in need across the country.
From January, everyone under the age of 21 will have free bus rides in Scotland. This opens up our country while helping household budgets and the environment.
Even before Covid, Scotland’s teachers had some of the highest workloads and longest overtime in Europe, but for the past two years they have done everything to support our young people.
Increasing the number of permanent full-time teachers is essential to regain control of this workload and make teaching an attractive and rewarding profession.
That’s why we’re giving an additional Â£ 145.5 million to hire teachers and class assistants. That is enough to offer open-ended contracts to all councils temporarily recruited during the pandemic and to add another 1,000 open-ended apprenticeships.
This is the first tranche of a commitment to hire at least 3,500 teachers and 500 assistants by 2026.
Last week’s budget takes into account the difficulties so many have had and are having with their mental health. We are investing a record Â£ 1.2 billion in mental health services, including Â£ 120 million in a mental health recovery plan.
These steps are critical to ensuring that recreation benefits people and the planet, rather than just taking us back to where we were before. But the inaction on Westminster and the restrictions on Holyrood are an obstacle to our progress and an obstacle to our recovery.
With independence, we could do more to invest in people and build a more compassionate society instead of constantly battling the Tory government’s worst excesses.
Omicron is not only emphasizing here the need to do things differently.
He underlines the need for global solutions. In a global pandemic, nobody is safe until we are all safe, and it is vital that rich nations with an abundance of vaccines support poorer countries that don’t. It would be a far better and more positive step than building barricades and increasingly controlling people fleeing war, conflict and oppression.
The coming weeks will be crucial in keeping the virus under control and there is an urgent need for the UK government to learn from the mistakes of the past and do things differently this time, including by waiving the patents on Covid vaccines assists to ensure that countries all over the South South are able to produce their own.
None of us wanted to go into the year 2022 like this, but in the struggle there is a chance for a transformation. In the interests of people and the planet is exactly what we need.