A Lockdown Sceptics reader who works in a Covid test centre has sent us a report with the lowdown of what it looks like from the other side. Like some of his colleagues, he’s appalled by the expense and pointlessness of it all.
Despite being a dyed-in-the-wool rabid lockdown sceptic and rebel I have a job in a Covid test centre. I don’t trust the government statistics or media propaganda, I want to live a normal life, I don’t really agree with the mass testing of healthy people, but I find myself in this position so I thought I would try to explain why I have taken this job and what it is like.
I will have to be pretty vague as to my details, those of my fellow workers and the site on which I work as I have no wish to be sacked or prosecuted. I used to run a small business operating as a sole trader, and was badly hit by the lockdown restrictions, so needed to find a new job. As you can imagine opportunities are few and far between right now, so when I saw jobs advertised at a test site in my local town I applied, partly for the cash, and partly because I was interested in getting a worm’s eye view of a small part of this covid debacle.
I am employed by a large multinational corporation that is primarily concerned with catering but has managed to secure what seem to be extremely lucrative government contracts to run test sites. I earn £9.50 an hour along with 16 fellow workers, four security guards on a similar wage, a supervisor on £13.50, and a manager on considerably more. We work 13 hour shifts, three long and tedious days on and three days off. My fellow workers are a mixed bunch, mostly drawn from the lower reaches of the social spectrum. There’s a couple of students who have abandoned university and moved home because they could not cope with the isolation and boredom imposed on them, a few shop workers, pub and cafe workers, some women in their 50’s who were cleaners, some youngsters who left college this year and cant find any other work, and an eastern European with limited English. The supervisor is an intelligent man who has had a variety of interesting occupations and is clearly exasperated by the bureaucracy, waste and inefficiency of this large company. The manager is on furlough from a well paying job in a similar multinational company and has slotted easily into the role, burnishing her CV and earning a tidy bit at the same time. None of us, apart from the manager, want to do this dreary and monotonous work, swathed in PPE and expected to sanitise our hands ridiculously often with harsh alcohol gels. We would all much rather have our old jobs and our old lives back. Although we come into close contact with suspected Covid cases throughout the day, none of us are paranoid. A few have had Covid, a few have recently had the vaccine, all of us are of the opinion that for young healthy people it’s not that serious.
The site is divided into a red (danger) zone, a green (safe) zone and an amber transition zone. In the red zone where the testing takes place we wear disposable masks, gloves and aprons. These are donned/doffed in the amber zone and everything disinfected before entering the green zone where we have the site office, welfare hut to sit and drink tea, toilets, storage containers etc. Every area is doused liberally with a nasty disinfectant every 30 minutes, and I dread to think what happens when this leaches into the environment.
The manager sits in the office sending emails and documents to the innumerable layers of management above him, dozens and dozens of documents, daily cleaning schedules of every area, twice daily health and safety briefs, thrice daily fridge temperature checks (not fridges to store tests in, these are room temperature, but merely the fridges in which the cheap sandwiches provided for staff lunches are kept), daily stock updates, fire extinguisher checks etc etc. All forms diligently filled in, boxes ticked, scanned and filed in a complicated IT system.
The expense of our site, replicated across the country, must be staggering. Rows of converted shipping containers, portacabins, generators, sewage plants, lighting rigs, all hired from subcontractors on a weekly basis, huge amounts of single use plastic gloves, aprons and masks, chemicals, test kits, IT systems, staff wages. When something goes wrong with the equipment, as it frequently does, workmen are despatched from across the country to fix tiny faults. The other day we had an electrician drive for five hours to get to our site, and he fixed the problem in 30 minutes.
I have small children and I am frightened to think that they are paying for this, but meanwhile I get on with my job. When no one is looking I take my mask off, even in the red zone. On my days off I see my family, my parents, some of my friends. If you go to get tested and see us swathed in PPE, looking like dehumanised zombies, please be aware that behind the masks some of us are allies, we know it’s madness, and we hope one day that the truth will be told.