By Dr. Ranjeet Brar
As I sit down to write this article, in the last week of April 2020, there is already enough information – and disinformation – about the corona virus pandemic (novel Corona Virus Disease 2019, SARS-Cov-2 or COVID-19) to fill an encyclopaedia. It is an all-encompassing topic around which have coalesced not only problems of medical science, and systems of medical care, but questions of world economics and politics.
Events surrounding the pandemic have brought the normal functioning of our society to an abrupt, if temporary halt. Crucially, they have also held up a mirror to our society in which can be discerned the true and ugly features of our brave new world order, just as they are, freed from the orthodox mainstream media gloss and Downing Street spin. And I’m not just talking about an increasingly discombobulated President Trump advising US citizens to drink bleach.
That mirror is revealing a stark and dystopian vision of our planet under the sway of monopoly capitalism, that has been visible to social campaigners for some time, and felt keenly by workers throughout the world, but increasingly even in the heartlands of the richest nations on earth. Within the daily press briefings, escalating case numbers and growing death toll can be seen the gross and burgeoning inequalities that underpin our society. Opposing class and national interests in our world are being starkly laid bare, and are colliding furiously before our eyes.
The public health response of Britain and America, in view of the wealth of those nations, has been particularly poor, in keeping with the 40-year trajectory of impoverishing their workers and decreasing the social wage, set in train by the decline of the organised socialist movement and socialist nations. Britain and America are on course to have the worst numbers of fatalities from Covid-19.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and European people’s democracies, in fact, we have seen the systematic running-down of Britain’s social housing and medical provision. The uneven distribution of national and global wealth has never been more glaring.
The plight of workers under threat of the coronavirus pandemic has been compounded by the triggering of a long anticipated economic crisis, which within the space of one week wiped out a third of the value of global stock markets.1 The all or nothing (first nothing, then lockdown) response to the coronavirus, has shown the incompetence and incapacity of our governmental and health administrations, but also revealed the seamy underlying philosophy that conditioned that response.
Both British and US governments moved at a snail’s pace to protect the public. Despite months of warning, their paralysis was total. But when the stock-markets collapsed, and the economy went into freefall, they moved swiftly in an attempt to bail out the richest on earth, at the expense, of course, of the working class. The very economic system of capitalism is systemically stricken and on trial before the public opinion of the workers of the world.
Stock Market Crash: Black Monday, Black Thursday and the Great Depression of 2020
On the week of 24-28 February 2020, stock markets worldwide reported their largest one-week declines since the 2008 financial crisis, signalling the beginning of a profound collapse of the global capitalist economy. Despite marked volatility, the downward trend continued.2
On Monday 9th March, global markets went into freefall. “Almost £125bn was wiped off the value of the FTSE 100 in the fifth-worst day in history for the index of leading UK company shares, as it plummeted by 7.7% to finish the day below 6,000 points, its lowest level since straight after the Brexit vote in 2016.
“On that day Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, extended the red zone restrictions in the north to the whole country, banning all public gatherings and preventing movement other than for work and emergencies.” Britain had recorded just 5 deaths attributed to coronavirus at that time, and had made no attempt to curb its spread.3
“Trading on Wall Street was frozen within minutes of the market opening as the system to buy and sell shares failed to keep pace with events. The Dow Jones closed down by more than 2,000 points for the first time ever, a decline of 7.8%.”4
This haemorrhaging of company values became known as Black Monday, and was the worst drop since the Great Recession in 2008.5 But it did not keep its record for long.
“The rout wiped about £150 billion off the worth of [Britain’s] largest companies. About 15 of the top 100 companies lost more than 10 per cent of their value within the opening 30 minutes of trading, and at one point one of the few companies with a rising share price was funeral arranger Dignity…
“The slump was led by huge falls in the share prices of leading oil companies… At one point BP was down almost 20 per cent, while Royal Dutch Shell shares fell even more steeply with a fall of about 22 per cent.
“It followed the biggest one-day collapse in the oil prices since the first Gulf War in 1991 after the Saudis said they would ramp up production and cut prices.” 6
The proximate cause of the crash has been attributed to the evolving coronavirus pandemic on the one hand, and the oil price dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia, on the other. The manipulation of the global oil price, flooding the market and undercutting the price to keep it artificially low, has been part of the US strategy for weakening key states it considers opponents, and maintaining global economic advantage since the shale boom – for over a decade.7
In this instance the Saudi desperation at its falling oil revenues is also conditioned by the rising discontent of its people, and the ongoing criminal war it is waging on behalf of imperialism against the people of Yemen, as well as the tail end of its illegal campaign in Syria.
Falling demand for oil with the global spread of the Covid pandemic and likely ensuing lockdown indicated that oversupply would become a strong global factor. Indeed by early April, 3 billion of the world’s population were under some form of lockdown restrictions, and US oil was trading at negative prices – that is: if you have the means to transport and store it, they’ll pay you to take it off their hands!8,9
Just three days after Black Monday, markets resumed their precipitous descent, in what was rapidly christened Black Thursday. Stocks across Europe and North America again fell – this time more than 9%. Wall Street experienced its largest single-day percentage drop since Black Monday in 1987, and the Borsa Italiana fell nearly 17%, becoming the worst-hit market during Black Thursday.
The Federal Reserve announced it would inject $1.5 trillion into Wall Street to curb the “highly unusual disruptions.” The drooping flowers pine for water, but the heartless brook babbles on. US capital yearns for calm, but the storm thunders on.
After a brief rally on Friday 13 March, all three Wall Street indices again fell more than 12% when markets re-opened on Monday 16 March. At least one benchmark stock market index in all G7 countries and 14 of the G20 countries has been declared to be in bear markets – a price decline of 20% or more over at least a two-month period.
As of March 2020, global stocks have seen a downturn of at least 25% during the crash, and 30% in most G20 nations. On March 20, Goldman Sachs warned that the US GDP would shrink 29% by the end of the 2nd quarter of 2020, and that unemployment could skyrocket to at least 9%.10
“With tens of thousands of jobs on the line, [Australian Prime minister] Morrison told his compatriots they faced an economic crisis ‘the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression’, referring to the global financial meltdown in the late 1920s and 1930s.”11
Bailing out the wealthy – at the expense of the poor
On 17 March – three days before schools closed for the ‘lockdown’ in Britain – Rishi Sunak announced a package of some £330 billion to bail out businesses hit by the world economic crisis.12 The Conservative government, announcing a raft of spending measures, apparently in order to address the corona pandemic, that made Corbyn’s allegedly uneconomic election pledges look like child’s play, said they would cover 80% of the wage bill (up to £2,500 per employee), by means of a government ‘furlough’ scheme to protect jobs. Funds would be allocated according to business value, thus the larger the company, the more funds they will be eligible to receive. Banks, we were told, would offer household and landlord mortgagees a three month holiday (but please read the small-print of your mortgage agreement), landlords will be covered also, via an increase in housing benefit.13
This will be financed by Treasury (state) borrowing at the tax-payers’ expense and inevitably will impel another tightening of austerity measures in the near future, once the pandemic has passed. On the subject of tax, the perennial billionaire tax-dodgers immediately found a new cause on which to pin their avoidance.
Tax avoidance by the billionaire elite
Technology firms including Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon have pleaded that they should not have to pay a newly-imposed UK digital services tax. Trade body TechUK, which represents hundreds of technology companies in Britain including the four giants, said the Government should ‘look again’ at the new levy. It has asked for ‘a bit more breathing space’ by liabilities being delayed for a year, with the tax expected to generate £440million for the Treasury.
“Google’s UK staff earned an average of £234,000 each last year as the tech firm paid more than £1bn in wages and a share scheme – but only £44m in UK corporation tax.
“Google UK reported £1.6bn in revenues [in 2019], up from £1.2bn, but this does not reflect how much it makes in total advertising revenues in the UK as they are reported in other jurisdictions.
“The research company eMarketer estimates that in reality Google made about £5.7bn in ad revenue in the UK last year, accounting for 39% of the total digital ad market, and will make more than £6bn [in 2020].”14 This means that Google in reality has a UK tax rate of less than 0.8%.
Branson and the airlines
Richard Branson has publicly requested $7.5 billion to bail out the Virgin Group – in particular Virgin Atlantic airline, from the UK government.15 A public backlash has so far delayed transfer of funds but it remains on the cards. Flybe, his European airline operation has gone into insolvent liquidation, and has now been joined by Virgin Australia.16
Branson, let us remember, is one of the richest men on earth. He “bought Necker Island, where he lives, in 1978 for $180,000… This property and others, as well as his businesses, contribute to a personal net worth that Forbes has estimated at $4.3 billion.”17
This is the same Richard Branson who is among the largest NHS privateers, having taken over east Kent hospitals, being the manager of GP practices having more than 3 million ‘NHS’ patients on their books and recently suing the NHS for failing to grant him a lucrative £82 million contract to supply paediatric services to the ‘NHS’ patients of Surrey.
In 2018, it was revealed that “Virgin has been awarded almost £2bn worth of NHS contracts over the past five years as Richard Branson’s company has quietly become one of the UK’s leading healthcare providers… The company and its subsidiaries now hold at least 400 contracts across the public sector – ranging from healthcare in prisons to school immunisation programmes and dementia care for the elderly…
“Virgin UK Holdings, the UK business which holds its rail and healthcare ventures, reported revenues of £1.5bn in 2016 and paid £22m in tax.”18 A tax rate of less than 1.5 percent of profits!
The US Senate on Wednesday 25 March passed a $58 billion (£46.6 billion) aid package for its airline industry, which included cash for paying pilot, crew and staff salaries.19
Macroeconomic Measures impoverish workers
The Bank of England has also taken macroeconomic measures, last seen in the 2008 economic crisis, by ‘creating’ £100bn, to be passed to banks (so-called quantitative easing), and reducing the base interest rate. This will have an inflationary effect, and indeed the value of the pound has fallen steeply. Thus British workers’ wages, assets and savings will be decreased in value and “living standards will decline.”20
Three days later, on 20 March, UK schools were closed and, in stark contrast to the largesse offered to the super-rich, the poorest and least secure workers were invited to sign up for universal credit, receiving the princely sum of £90 per week – but they will have to wait an average of six weeks for their applications to be processed.
During lockdown, it is “estimated [that] 3 million [British] children are at risk of being hungry in the school holidays – made up of more than a million children who qualify for free school meals, and about 2 million who are disqualified from free school meals because their parents work but remain in poverty.”21 An incredible one third of British children live in poverty that puts them on the edge of starvation.22
Over a million newly unemployed workers, dumped immediately by their employers, signed on within the first week of the lockdown.23,24 Unemployment in Britain has soared in the last 6 weeks, with at least 1.5 million newly unemployed adding to the official figures.
“The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said almost 950,000 new claims for Universal Credit… were made between 16 and 31 March” alone.25 But this leaves open the question of where the true unemployment figure really stands.
“Despite the government’s attempts to incentivise employers to keep staff on, investment bank Nomura predicts the effect of the pandemic will hit ‘multiple times that of the  global financial crisis’.”
Nomura expects an unemployment rate of eight per cent in the April to June quarter, rising 0.5 per cent in the following three months. According to the Sunday Times, the eight per cent would be the equivalent of an additional 1.4 million people in unemployment and a total number of 2.75m.
The [official] UK unemployment rate has generally fallen since late 2013, and in the three months to January 2020 was estimated at 3.9 per cent. An estimated 1.34m were in unemployment, 5,000 more than a year earlier but 515,000 fewer than five years earlier, according to ONS data.26
We note that the economically inactive population – those of working age who do not have employment – in 2019 was 8.5 million or 25% of the workforce, so in reality figures are far in excess of official estimates. In October 2019, before the coronavirus was heard of in the UK, OECD researchers pointed out that official government unemployment figures were heavily politicised and wildly inaccurate.
“The true unemployment rate should rise from 4.6% to 13.2% of the working-age population not in education. The OECD made the estimate by creating an adjusted economic activity rate, which removes students, retirees and people caring for family.”27
Millions of impoverished workers, laid off and living hand to mouth are in desperate financial need, and “…demand for advance payments [from the DWP] is also up, with people applying for loans to cover their finances as they wait up to five weeks for their first payment.
“Around a quarter – 70,000 out of around 270,000 Universal Credit applications in one week – applied for an advance payment.
“The Salvation Army has warned that the loan system could cause a "coronavirus debt crisis" for thousands of people, calling it a ‘point of critical failure that the Government must address’".28
The 21st century’s great depression
In an article titled ‘Forget “recession”: this is a depression’, David Blanchflower, the US bourgeois professor of economics at Dartmouth College said unemployment was rising at the fastest rate in living memory.
“ … UK unemployment could rapidly rise to more than 6 million people, around 21% of the entire workforce, based on analysis of US job market figures that suggest unemployment across the Atlantic could reach 52.8 million, around 32% of the workforce.” 29
We note again, that the ‘economically inactive population’, those of working age who do not have a job, was already 8.5 million, or 25 percent of the population in 2019 – before the latest economic collapse – yet the unemployment rate was quoted at just 3.9 percent.30 A rise of 18 percent could see real figures of joblessness, or ‘economic inactivity’, in the mid-forty percent range.
“… While joblessness would rapidly rise, he cautioned it was uncertain how long the impact would last and how quickly unemployment would come down. During the Great Depression [of the 1930s], records show unemployment hit 24.9% in the US and 15.4% in the UK over several years.”30
In other words – we have already surpassed the levels of economic dislocation and poverty seen in the 1930s Great Depression that triggered the imperialist political trajectory into World War 2. And we are still riding on the roller-coaster of economic descent.
US economic turmoil – decline of the ‘growth engine of global capitalism’
The USA has long been considered the growth-engine of global capitalism – the most powerful nation militarily and economically, with the largest domestic market. Much of China’s recent private sector growth has been fuelled by exporting consumer goods to the US market, and China holds over a trillion dollars in bonds (more than five percent of the total) of US government debt.
So the crashing of the US economy has global significance. Unemployment in the USA grew by 10 million in the last two weeks of March alone, and has already increased by 20 million overall since black Monday.31 US economists widely predict more than a 30 percent downturn in the US economy in the second quarter of 2020 – its worst ever performance.32
The US government’s $2.2 trillion bailout package did little to stem the panic selling-off of stocks, and moves are afoot in Washington to increase this record bail-out of Wall Street “amid growing signs that the economy is deteriorating much faster than expected and that the initial $2 trillion law is proving insufficient”33
Goldman Sachs projected that the jump in new spending and sharp drop in tax revenue would push the federal budget deficit to $3.7 trillion in 2020, up from prior estimates of $1 trillion, which many experts said was already too high (ibid).
Trump has characteristically predicted that the economy will bounce back and be stronger than ever – but increasingly, to use perhaps rather too grand a simile, he looks like King Canute, ordering back the tide, as the life-blood ebbs out of the capitalist economy.
That lifeblood, at root, is the ability of workers to buy the goods that the monopoly capitalist manufacturers produce. Yet the very workings of the system that have generated such fabulous profits for this corporate elite, have done so by downsizing their workforce, and impoverishing the world’s masses to an unprecedented degree. It is this collapse in ‘effective demand’ that has pushed the global economy to the edge. It was the same reason that stood behind the 2000 ‘dotcom bubble’ and the 2008 ‘housing bubble’. These are classical systemic crises of capitalist overproduction.
The worldwide bail-out of the failed banks led by Gordon Brown and Barack Obama, has simply ballooned credit, and transferred even greater poverty and indebtedness from the financial monopolists, the banks and stock-markets (considered too-big-to-fail) onto governments and private citizens. Thus the means of ‘weathering’ the last crash have led inexorably to the next, which is far more profound, and diminished the means of exiting it by any market mechanism.
The very imperialist powers which shaped this ‘new world order’ in their own image and to their own advantage, during an era of unbridled ‘globalism’ – that is, laissez-faire free-market fundamentalism or the unchallenged dominance of the monopolist corporations – stand helpless in the face of the poverty of the global population upon which the fabulous wealth of their ruling corporate elites was built.
Poverty and want are universal. The real needs of the world’s population are crying and acute. Yet the relations of production, the need for the capitalists to make profit from every transaction, stand like a ghost between the glut of unsaleable goods, and the empty stomachs and unclothed backs of billions of impoverished workers.
And every day the living standards of the workers in the imperialist world, Britain included, are being forced down toward the level of workers in the most oppressed nations. In this sense, and this sense only, capitalism may be considered a great leveller.
“In one line: horrid, hideous, harrowing … you get the picture,” said Claus Vistesen, chief eurozone economist at the consultancy Pantheon Macroeconomics. “We are struggling to come up with words to describe these numbers, which are now so far out of any reasonable range that they are difficult to interpret.”34
But how does this crisis really interact with the coronavirus? And to what extent is the latter a genuine health emergency?
What is Coronavirus?
A virus is an infective agent that hijacks the metabolism of the host cell to reproduce itself, and in so doing produces its symptoms. It consists of a protein coat, containing a few proteins and the genetic material to code for its reproduction (DNA or RNA). Those new viral particles are then released from the cell and expelled into the environment (to infect others) or go on to infect adjacent cells of like kind within the same organic tissue of that host (worsening the condition of the same).
Coughs, colds and the common flu are all air-borne viruses. The coronavirus affects the upper airway and the lungs, producing fever, cough, aching joints and headache. For young and fit people, it may cause no symptoms whatsoever, but one may nevertheless infect others before getting symptoms, so its spread is difficult to control.
It is more dangerous than the flu, but its effects vary. The elderly, especially over-80s, are most severely affected. Those with other illnesses (diabetes, heart and lung problems, immune problems and chronic medical conditions) are most affected. Men are more severely affected than women. Both the sparing of the young and relative sparing of women is most likely due to their relative under-expression of the ACE-2 receptor, which in the case of Covid-19 is the surface receptor protein by means of which the virus gains access to the lung’s cells.35 Around 5% of the infected population seem to develop a severe viral pneumonia, requiring oxygen, and a proportion of these will need ventilation in hospital to survive.
The virus seems to have originated in Wuhan, China. The Chinese people and government have done an amazing job of combating the infection. They recognised the new virus, decoded its genetic structure, shared it with the world and developed anti-viral medical treatment that is effective. They threw up hospitals for those requiring oxygen therapy and for those requiring ventilation. Front-line medical staff heroically battled the virus. Extraordinary public health measures were taken to contain the virus, including testing 1.6 million people a day, rigorous contact tracing and isolation of infected and potentially infected citizens, providing sufficient ventilatory support and ITU beds and closing down inter-state transport and all social functions.
First appreciation of a novel virus
“In December, 2019, a local outbreak of pneumonia of initially unknown cause was detected in Wuhan (Hubei, China), and was quickly determined to be caused by a novel coronavirus, namely severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The outbreak has since spread to every province of mainland China…”36 and subsequently has been identified throughout the nations of the world.
Charting the spread of Covid-19
The World Health Organisation, after declaring Covid-19 a global health emergency on 30 January 202037, went on to declare it a world pandemic, with Europe as the global epicentre, on March 12.38 The Chinese government, collaborating with international institutions, including Johns Hopkins University in the USA and the World Health Organisation (WHO), initiated a coordinated global effort to share information about the epidemiology of the evolving outbreak. These widely available and daily updated figures chart the relentless spread of the virus across the globe.39,40
In a matter of a few short weeks, the novel coronavirus transformed from a worrying but apparently distant, local ‘Chinese’ phenomenon to manifesting as a major pandemic affecting all continents, with the exception of Antarctica.
Graphical depiction of the number of cases being diagnosed with Covid worldwide, having tested positive, and numbers of people who have died from the disease continue to show that we remain in the exponential growth phase, with ongoing propagation of the virus throughout the world’s population.41
Thus at the present moment, all the public health measures taken – on a world scale – have failed to check its spread. Even the limited data available makes it clear that there are, however, individual national success stories – notably in China itself, where the total numbers of cases have remained static at around 82,000, or 0.005 percent of the Chinese population, owing to the extraordinary and timely public health measures put into place to contain it.
Notable for having mitigated the impact of infection to varying degrees with respect to comparable neighbours are Vietnam, Korea, Singapore and Germany. Vietnam, in fact, has been among the first nations to begin to lift its restrictions, having reported no cases of coronavirus, on April 23.42
Scale of the problem
Currently almost 2.8 million cases have been diagnosed by testing worldwide, of whom 190,000 have died and 750,000 recovered, with the majority of the test-diagnosed patients still having active disease, although the majority of these are reported to be mild (97%) and a minority critical (3%). Almost a third of all proven cases are in the United States of America, which has now declared 900,000 cases and 50,000 deaths from Covid-19, with the epicentre of the US outbreak being New York, which together with its environs accounts for half of the initial US death-toll.
Sordid details of an increase in burials of New-Yorkers in unmarked graves on the mass burial grounds of “Heart island” have starkly illustrated the point.43
Low levels of testing outside China – where an impressive 1.6 million tests were performed weekly44 – with the exception of the relatively small nations of Korea and Singapore, and the larger central European state of Germany (which has managed to test 160,000 of its citizens a week45) , means that we do not have accurate data for the true spread of the disease, which is likely to be at least 10 time more widespread than test-diagnosed cases indicate.
The fact that testing is expensive and relies upon the existing health, industrial and scientific infrastructure will also mean that we will perhaps never know the extent of the infection throughout much of the exploited, so-called ‘third’ world. Again this fact highlights the egregiously uneven development of global monopoly capitalism in 2020, in what can only be described as its decaying imperialist stage.
Impact in the ‘third world’
The obscene levels of poverty throughout the exploited world are well illustrated by the fact that “…for many children in the global South – 85 million in Latin America and the Caribbean alone – school closures mean no more school meals. Which in turn (in some African households in particular) means an end to the only hot meal anyone among family members would get in a day.
“Already before the coronavirus crisis, more than 820 million people went to bed hungry. This is an enormous number to grapple with, not just morally but from a policy perspective. The world has, after all, committed to ending all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030.”46
It is clear that the global monopoly capitalist order has no such intention, and in the conditions of world economic depression will not be able to do so.
“After the economic crisis came the virus itself. Africa, which had practically no cases a month ago, now has more than 7,000, with clusters of infections in almost every one of its 54 countries. Cases in Brazil alone quadrupled in the past week to more than 8,000.
“While that is still behind Europe and the US, the numbers are rising rapidly and public health experts worry the pandemic could tear through tightly packed slums and informal settlements in some cities.
“Nor do poorer countries have robust health systems. Africa is the worst off. Governments on the continent spend an average per capita of $12 a year on health compared with $4,000 in the UK, according to the OECD. ‘Everybody is talking about ventilators,’ says Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister. ‘I hear some countries have less than 100’.
“Some experts hope that generally younger populations will limit the number of fatalities. Africa has a median age of 19.4 against 40 in Europe. Of the continent’s 1.2bn people, only about 50m are over 60. In India, the median age is 27. In Latin America, 31.
“There is also speculation that the virus might spread more slowly in hot and humid climates, though evidence for this is patchy. Set against that are the number of people who are malnourished or whose immune systems are compromised by HIV and other conditions, especially in Africa. That could mean the death rate is actually higher. Bill Gates has warned that 10m people could die in Africa if the virus is not contained, while Imperial College London estimated the global death toll — which at the moment is under 60,000 — would have reached 40m had the world not responded.”47
So it is not Covid in isolation that is causing the misery. It is simply compounding it. Nor is the criminal impoverishment of humanity a matter of chance. The wealth of the monopolists is built upon systematic robbery of billions of workers across the globe, and in turn upon the colonial legacy of the wealthy, imperialist nations. Global finance capital and its so-called ‘development’ banks, the IMF and World Bank enforce the national debt trap under guise of ‘relief’ and demand further stripping of national assets that in fact compound the situation.
Keeping resource-rich nations in a subordinate position, maintaining financial subordination and ongoing plunder of resources was the reason for the decades of war on the Congo, the war on Libya, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone, the stubborn sanctions enforced on Zimbabwe, the war on Yugoslavia, the Orange revolution and coup in the Ukraine, and of course the wars and campaigns being waged throughout the Middle East: on Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. This domination of the global capitalists is the essence of all injustice in our world today.
Covid-19 is extremely contagious.
Seasonal influenza – the flu to you and me – is about as infectious an agent as we are used to dealing with, and that spreads rapidly because every person who has it is likely to give it to just over one other person, hence it keeps rolling on through the population. It also mutates its surface markers, or antigens, so it continues to be active against people who have previously contracted the flu. This number of people, to whom each infected individual passes on the virus, is known to epidemiologists as the reproductive number – denoted R0.
Covid-19 has differing rates of infection dependent upon the societal conditions it experiences. Data from the period before the limiting of population movement, migration and intercourse – from before the lockdown – showed that each person with Covid-19 was likely to pass it on to as many as 2-6 others, with an average over differing studies of 3.3 +/-1. This together with the fact that it is an entirely novel strain of virus, to which there is no pre-existing immunity in the world’s population accounts for its rapid transmission.48
Moreover there is a period after infection but prior to manifestation of symptoms, a latent phase, during which one will still be able to infect others, and which may last between 2-14 days.
The difference between these numbers is significant. If R0 = 1 then by the time ‘patient zero’ has passed the infection on, person to person, ten times, or to the 10th generation of infection, 10 people have been infected. If R0 = 2, over a thousand are infected (210). If R0 = 3 then there are almost sixty thousand (310) who have been infected. If R0 = 4 the numbers infected by the 10th generation of spread will reach one million (410).
How severe is Covid-19 infection?
This question is still not decided; the picture is incomplete and continues to emerge. What is clear is that the spectrum of clinical severity of novel coronavirus infection is broad.
Coronaviruses, or Coronaviridae, are not new. They circulate widely in human and animal populations and clinical consequences tend to be trivial. The common cold is caused by corona and rhino viruses, for example. Indeed evolutionarily this is the case because a virus which kills its host will be less successful at reproduction and passing to another host than one that does not, and therefore is less likely to persist. That is why viral diseases like Ebola, for example, tend to have sporadic outbreaks and then die down.
The presenting symptoms of Covid-19 vary widely, from being almost asymptomatic, to a mild disease causing cough, fever, sinusitis-like symptoms including headache and a feeling of pressure or being ‘blocked in the head’, lethargy, fatigue, muscle and joint aches to abdominal pain and diarrhoea, or even ‘anosmia’ (an inability to smell or taste food) in isolation.
What makes this virus different from other ‘coughs and colds’ or the influenza virus (an orthomyxovirus) is its ability to spread into the cells of the lung tissue, the lining or ‘endothelium’ of the broncheo-alveolar (airway) tree, and cause a severe lower respiratory tract infection – hence the acronym SARS, which stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
This pneumonia causes characteristic patchy ground-glass opacification on X-Rays and CT scans and can progress to affect the entirety of the lungs, causing what is known as ‘white-out’ – the lungs being filled with inflammatory exudate and having severely decreased ability to oxygenate the blood. A near equivalent non-infective condition termed ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) is seen in a variety of other severe medical conditions and is known to carry a very high mortality.
Dr Roberto Cosentini, an emergency physician at Papa Giovanni Hospital in Bergamo, Lombardy, at the heart of Italy’s Covid outbreak describes it as a “viral pneumonia”, which is a useful way of thinking about it.49, 50 When this pneumonia progresses, a proportion of patients – perhaps as many as 5-10 percent, will need hospital admission for oxygen therapy, and a subset of these may need ITU care and invasive ventilation, involving the use of an artificial mechanical ventilator.
The risk of developing severe infection is greatly increased in people over 60 and mortality rates are markedly increased in the over 80s – perhaps 14 percent. But given the median age of the UK population is 40.5 years, this still represents a high risk population of tens of millions of Britons. Those with comorbidities including diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, cancer or other immunosuppressive diseases are also high risk groups.
If one further considers that diabetes (4 million afflicted in the UK51) and obesity (60 percent of women and 70 percent of men in the UK are overweight or obese52) are themselves at epidemic proportions in our population, such are the poor nutritional standards of Britain’s food industry and our absence of preventative healthcare measures, it is not hard to see that the British population is at great risk of infection.
Conversely, children are virtually spared of morbidity (there are a few exceptions, but reported deaths have all been among children with chronic diseases), and a young 20 or 30 year old without any illness faces little risk of mortality (perhaps 0.2% or less), although as we have seen this is not zero, and they can certainly be severely enough affected to require hospitalisation and ventilation.53
Previous severe outbreaks of coronaviridae – the 2002 SARS outbreak and the 2014 MERS or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – were both zoonotic coronaviruses, that is, they had origins in animal diseases to which humans proved susceptible. Both had a much higher propensity to cause this severe viral pneumonia (SARS) and a much higher death rate (10 percent and 34 percent respectively54), but their saving grace was the fact that they did not spread easily from person to person as we now know that COVID-19 does, principally in respiratory droplets and to a lesser degree aerosols. We note that the virus is also detectible in other bodily fluids and secretions, including in faeces.
Considering that the world influenza pandemic of 1918-19 is considered to have a case fatality rate of just 2 percent, and caused 50-100 million deaths world-wide, this is a hugely alarming figure, but is also likely to be wildly inaccurate.
The best estimates of true mortality rate remain those that came from Wuhan, the capital city of the Hubei province in China, where the novel coronavirus was first identified, and where the genome of the single-stranded RNA virus was rapidly characterised, recognised as a new disease, and shared with the world.
True mortality rate of Covid-19
On the basis of figures from Wuhan, the WHO has used a crude estimate of mortality rate from China to be 3.4%. China points out that with improved testing, care and public health measures, that rate fell to 0.7%. It is widely believed by epidemiologists that the true case fatality rate is between 1 and 2 percent.55 Clearly, if this is correct, an unchecked spread of the virus could cause massive death tolls in Britain and across the world – in excess of 150 million worldwide deaths if 80 percent of the world’s population were truly to be infected.
In Germany, a random sampling of 500 subjects from the population in one particularly hard-hit municipality (Gangelt, near the border with the Netherlands, which following a carnival had an increased number of cases), showed 2% of residents were actively infected by the coronavirus and a total of 14% had antibodies, indicating current or prior infection.
“From the result of their survey, the German team estimated the death rate in the municipality at 0.37% overall, a figure significantly lower than the Johns Hopkins dashboard, where the death rate in Germany among reported cases has now reached 2%.”56
This is relatively reassuring – but also shows that the vast majority of the population remain vulnerable. The common flu has a mortality rate of around 0.1% and probably results in around a million deaths a year globally.
China’s sharing of Data, transparency and validity.
The initial response of the US and the UK government and our mainstream media to news of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan was to lambast the ‘authoritarian’ and ‘repressive’, ‘bat-eating’ Chinese people and their government, combining racist epithets with anti-communist propaganda, while continuing their no-holds-barred attack on China’s sovereignty, integrity and industrial advance. This was simply an opportunity to further the pre-existing aims of imperialism, to contain China (along with Russia) as their principal global competitors and counterweights to the often stated striving of Anglo-American imperialism for global hegemony.57,58 A heaven-sent opportunity for some cheap propaganda point scoring, it seemed.
As the Chinese have demonstrably, and in full view of the whole world, performed modern medical, scientific, technical, industrial and organisational miracles in order to demonstrate how a contemporary industrialised society, with the interests of its people uppermost in its priorities can and should deal with such a major public health problem, one might imagine that there would be some climb-down.
Rather, in the face of mounting domestic criticism, we are seeing a doubling-down on anti-Chinese propaganda in the US and Britain, in a vain but dangerous attempt to deflect the blame for our own disastrous laissez-faire free-market fundamentalist approach. The fact is that increasing and unnecessary numbers of workers are falling victim to our governments’ incompetence and the medical disarray of management systems that are more business-oriented than health minded.
In the UK, our government is fuelling the CIA-propagated rumour that the virus, rather than being a naturally occurring phenomenon, could have spread from a Chinese laboratory.59 Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Dutchy of Lancaster, has publicly voiced doubt about the validity of Chinese figures reported to the WHO.60
“John Sawers, former chief of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service MI6, from 2009 to 2014, said it would be better to hold China responsible [for coronavirus] rather than the WHO.
“There is deep anger in America at what they see as having been inflicted on us all by China and China is evading a good deal of responsibility for the origin of the virus, for failing to deal with it initially,” Sawers told the BBC.
“Intelligence is about acquiring information which has been concealed from you by other states and other actors, there was a brief period in December and January when the Chinese were indeed concealing this from the West.”61
Lest anyone be any doubt that Labour wishes to play its part in this co-ordinated imperialist response, Labour Europhile Lord Andrew Adonis, former transport minister, has gone so far as to apportion China full blame for this naturally occurring viral outbreak, and our own government’s incompetence, in an article entitled ‘Coronavirus – China’s Chernobyl’:
“The root of the problem with China is its one-party state and dictatorship. Until these are ended, there can be no real safety and security in our relations with Beijing, just as there will be precious little freedom for most of the Chinese people. But there is a difference. Whereas Tiananmen Square was a crime against a nation, coronavirus will probably rank as a crime against humanity.”62
We note in passing that the Chinese, in face of this ongoing propaganda have hinted that they suspect the virus may have in fact spread from the US to China as US ‘patient zero’ has not been identified, the virus being far more widespread on initial testing than could be easily accounted for by a spread from China to the US. They point out that the US military attended the world military games, held in Wuhan, immediately prior to the viral outbreak in October 2019.63
USA withdraws funding from the WHO – the China blame game
On 14 April, US president Donald Trump announced that the USA would withdraw funding from the World Health Organisation in view of what he termed its “role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”. He also criticised the organisation’s relationship with China. “American taxpayers provide between $400m and $500m per year to the WHO; in contrast China contributes roughly $40m a year, even less,” Mr Trump said on Tuesday [14 April]. “As the organisation’s leading sponsor, the United States has a duty to insist on full accountability.”64
The Financial Times has a duty to paraphrase Trump in order to make him sound coherent. But it is an irrational response to his own government’s ineptitude and the systemic failings of an economic model that before the virus hit left 60 million of the poorest US citizens without health insurance, and millions more underinsured and unable to access medical care owing to the prohibitive associated costs.
The number of uninsured has been steadily rising, with an increase of 7 million US citizens without healthcare between 2014 and 2019.65 Since the economic crisis hit and the unemployment in the USA increased by 20 million, the true number of uninsured is likely to have risen toward the 70 million level.66 This in the richest nation on earth, which draws profits from exploiting so many others, and wages wars across the globe to prop up its system of plunder.
“Jim Risch, the Republican senator from Idaho who chairs the Senate foreign relations committee, said last week that the WHO had become a ‘political puppet of the Chinese government’ and called for an independent investigation into the organisation.” (ibid.)
The opinion of US Doctors and Scientists
Let us contrast this to the previously stated opinion of virologists at the prestigious US ‘ivy league’ Yale school of medicine in January 2020:
“When severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS struck southern China in 2002-2003, Chinese officials were criticized for waiting too long to alert proper authorities of the outbreak and delaying efforts to bring the deadly virus under control. This time around, as the world watches – and worries about ‑ a new respiratory virus known as nCOV2019 emerging in China, many are praising China’s scientific community for sharing information about the virus as soon as it becomes available…
“Two weeks ago, we didn’t even know what the nCOV2019 virus was. Today, thanks to China’s quick public release of the initial nCOV2019 virus genome, there are now 18 genomes connected to nCOV2019 that are being shared and studied by scientists around the world. By rapidly sharing this data, scientists were able to quickly identify nCOV2019 as a novel coronavirus related to those previously found in bats. It is about 80% similar to SARS coronavirus, but it is distinctly not SARS. More importantly, with this information, the international community has been able to test and validate several diagnostic assays that could help identify patients with the virus more quickly. To go from unknown pathogen to diagnostic tests so quickly is incredible!”67
Frankly, this is a modern medical miracle, which has rightly drawn praise from the WHO, and from objective medical organisations, scientists and commentators across the globe. The WHO sent a mission involving the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) and US delegates to Wuhan which reported back in glowing terms, based upon their professional opinion of the Chinese response to the outbreak, of which more later.
Does the threat justify the response?
On this basis there are some who think that the hype surrounding coronavirus is just that – some kind of manipulative stunt being pushed by a hostile corporate elite intent on imposing fascistic measures of social control, etc.
While the general characterisation – of a corporate elite pushing its own imperialist agenda against the true interests of the wider working population – is correctly perceived, we should not let that blind us to reality of the insurmountable medical and scientific evidence.
One isolated figure, showing an atypically low death rate (Germany) cannot be relied upon as the true figure that other nations with very different social and economic conditions will experience, any more than the abnormally high rates seen in Italy (12-15% of the tested population) can be generalised and reliably extrapolated on a global scale.
The true mortality, or case fatality rate (CFR) is determined by the way in which the pathogen interacts with the population, and therefore hits poorer sections of the population, the poorest workers living in the most overcrowded and unhealthy conditions, poorer nations, the comorbid and the elderly with a disproportionate ferocity.
That explains why so many of the deaths from Covid, including frontline medical and NHS staff, have been from the poorest sections of society, and why a disproportionate number of the victims of the virus in the UK have been from the South Asian and Afro-Caribbean community.68 It also raises very real concern about the way Covid will hit populations who have little or no social security or public health systems in much of the most exploited sections of the globe – the so-called ‘third world’, as indicated earlier.
As the UK sees numbers approaching 2,000 dying daily from Covid-19, combining those who are dying in hospitals, care homes and in the community, the true increase in overall deaths is also becoming reflected in our weekly mortality data.69
It is notable that while hospital-only mortality figures delivered by the government accounted for 17,337 Covid-19 deaths in the UK by 22 April, analysis of rising excess mortality rates suggests they are far higher – more than double that figure, in fact.
“The coronavirus pandemic has already caused as many as 41,000 deaths in the UK, according to a Financial Times analysis of the latest data from the Office for National Statistics.
“The ONS data showed that deaths registered in the week ending April 10 were 75 per cent above normal in England and Wales, the highest level for more than 20 years. There were 18,516 deaths registered during that period compared with the most recent five-year average of 10,520 for the same week of the year. There were similar patterns in Scotland and Northern Ireland”.70
We will all be wise after the event, but it is now beyond doubt that this pandemic is a very real threat to millions of workers across the globe. That said, it is unquestionably the case that the response of our government reveals its true values. In Britain, legislation to grant the government extraordinary powers took precedence over the attempt to increase the capacity of our health system to cope.
The response to Covid-19 in Britain
Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet published an editorial on March 28 entitled ‘COVID-19 and the NHS—“a national scandal”’. It’s worth reproducing his words, which are both powerful and have the merit of being well-informed.
“’When this is all over, the NHS England board should resign in their entirety.’ So wrote one National Health Service (NHS) health worker last weekend. The scale of anger and frustration is unprecedented, and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the cause. The UK Government’s Contain–Delay–Mitigate–Research strategy failed. It failed, in part, because ministers didn’t follow WHO’s advice to ‘test, test, test’ every suspected case. They didn’t isolate and quarantine. They didn’t contact trace. These basic principles of public health and infectious disease control were ignored, for reasons that remain opaque. The UK now has a new plan—Suppress–Shield–Treat–Palliate. But this plan, agreed far too late in the course of the outbreak, has left the NHS wholly unprepared for the surge of severely and critically ill patients that will soon come. I asked NHS workers to contact me with their experiences. Their messages have been as distressing as they have been horrifying. ‘It’s terrifying for staff at the moment. Still no access to personal protective equipment [PPE] or testing.’ ‘Rigid command structures make decision making impossible.’ ‘There’s been no guidelines, it’s chaos.’ ‘I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel protected.’ ‘We are literally making it up as we go along.’ ‘It feels as if we are actively harming patients.’ ‘We need protection and prevention.’ ‘Total carnage.’ ‘NHS Trusts continue to fail miserably.’ ‘Humanitarian crisis.’ ‘Forget lockdown—we are going into meltdown.’ ‘When I was country director in many conflict zones, we had better preparedness.’ ‘The hospitals in London are overwhelmed.’ ‘The public and media are not aware that today we no longer live in a city with a properly functioning western health-care system.’ ‘How will we protect our patients and staff…I am speechless. It is utterly unconscionable. How can we do this? It is criminal…NHS England was not prepared…We feel completely helpless.’71
Nor should this have been a surprise. As recently as 2016, it now transpires, Jeremy Hunt, former Health Secretary, oversaw a pandemic capacity assessment codenamed ‘operation Cygnus’ designed specifically to gauge Britain’s ability to cope with a pandemic such as the one we are now facing, “based on a virus similar to H2N2 (so-called bird-flu) influenza, which like COVID-19 causes deadly respiratory illness in patients.
“It pretended that the hypothetical virus had reported its first cases in South East Asia two months before. The infection had then arrived in the UK a month later via a group of travellers.
“It had not yet reached its peak in the researchers’ scenario, but the NHS was already ‘about to fall over’, according to the paper.
“Cygnus highlighted a terrifying lack of critical care beds, ventilators and general NHS capacity…
“It came at a time when Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was [further] cutting beds…” 72 The results of the exercise were considered too toxic to make public – but apparently not significant enough to act upon.
So Britain’s initial response was essentially to ‘keep calm and carry on’, which, whilst having the merit of being a very British slogan, with particular resonance among the Tory electorate, stood in stark contrast to the mounting concern in other countries and the medical world as the evolving reality of the virus was becoming increasingly clear.
The February half-term holiday saw Britons fly to ski-resorts and viral hotspots, in Italy, Spain, Austria, and across the world, with little concern for the evolving world health emergency. As it became clear that Covid had landed on British shores, testing was sporadic, and contact tracing was non-existent. People with suspected infections were encouraged to self-isolate, but their family members were given the advice (on dialling 111) that there was no need to do so.
The first death in the UK came on March 5, when a woman in her seventies was confirmed to have died from the virus. By this point, 100 people in the country had tested positive for the virus. Yet these crucial weeks were squandered as the passive inaction of the UK government continued.
NHS not prepared for Covid-19
As coronavirus infections hit our hospitals’ emergency departments and intensive care units, (not to mention GP surgeries, care homes, transport routes and the wider community) infection protocols were out of date and few measures were initially taken to adjust the hospitals’ running to the demands that the virus would place on the already overburdened NHS.
The experience of China suggested that testing, triage, isolation and treatment of the virus should be entirely separated from the community and other hospital patients in particular, who would form a naturally high risk population for infection. What is more the unusual infectivity of the airborne virus, compared to usual bacterial infections that hospitals are used to dealing with, necessitated a totally different level of personal protective equipment and infection protocol.73 These were not put in place.
High viral loads experienced by healthcare workers, particularly those performing surgery, intubation, ventilatory care and endoscopy, led even young and fit nurses and doctors to contract severe cases of Covid-19 and many were among the initial victims in Wuhan.74
Yet in Britain all social functions initially continued. Schools remained open. This would have been entirety reasonable if the virus was being detected, traced and isolated from the community. But that was not the case.
Social Darwinism: “Take it on the chin!”
While the numbers of Covid cases reported in the UK were initially low, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock undertook a series of broadcasts and announcements in late February, in which he predicted that 80% of Britons would become infected, while Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnsons informed viewers, during a television interview on Good Morning Britain, on 5 March, that discussions in cabinet and COBRA had explored the possibility of “letting the virus spread through the population and taking it on the chin!”75
‘Herd Immunity’ or, to paraphrase, total inaction, was official governmental policy for a fortnight, despite the obvious implication that such a policy, given official predictions of population spread and estimated mortality rates, was likely to mean in excess of a million deaths.76 Seasoned observers of Tory politicians and their political ethos quickly pointed out that this was the result of their underlying philosophy of ‘social Darwinism.’
The Reverend Thomas Malthus and his lasting hold on the minds of the wealthy
There is a Malthusian view, still prevalent among our ruling political and economic class and the intelligentsia that serve them, that poverty and inequality are not the product of exploitative monopoly-capitalism, but rather are the personal responsibility of the poor themselves. The poor are feckless, untalented, lazy, drink and smoke, take drugs and have too many children. Moreover, they opine, no social or charitable measures can truly help them, and this section of the population – principally the poor, but also the disabled, various behavioural, political and ‘racial’ groups – have been targeted by ruling-class Eugenicists for various forms of ‘social cleansing’ over Europe and America’s recent history.
Moreover as poverty and inequality and environmental degradation reach record levels, the billionaire class in their Davos forum are increasingly of the view that this is due to ‘overpopulation.’ Once more they look with renewed interest in the direction of Thomas Malthus, as they are incapable of recognising their own culpability, the grinding exploitation of labour-power of the worlds’ working classes by capital, their colonial history and modern wars of plunder, their own companies’ short-term thirst for maximisation of profits, and the economic system of monopoly capitalism that has propelled humanity to this point.
Humanity currently does not face ‘a climate emergency’ alone, although ‘we’ [those in control of commerce and industry] are unquestionably degrading our planet. Billions of human beings, our most marginalised brothers and sisters throughout our world, are facing an existential emergency: the real global crisis today is extreme poverty.
Literally billions of our fellow human beings face an inability to feed and clothe themselves and their children, as they have been robbed of their birthright, namely, their rightful place on this earth, and a reasonable claim on the resources necessary to sustain themselves. Their sustenance has been robbed by a handful of parasites who have used their vast capital to wrest it from them.
Thus the cynical Malthusian or ‘economic utilitarian’ view, that Covid’s propensity to hit the elderly in our society would ‘cull the surplus population, the economically inactive, the old, the chronically unwell’ and might even mean ‘savings’, for example, in health and pension budgets was attributed to the government by many commentators.
This familiar reasoning, was sponsored and propagated by the Victorians as it helped them to regard so many British imperial atrocities with equanimity, from the deaths by famine of tens of millions in colonial India, to the victims of the potato famine in Ireland. It is the logic of an exploiting class who see workers only as a resource to be farmed for surplus value, for profit, and cannot recognise – as China has done – that the purpose of human wealth and economy is to serve society, the overwhelming majority of whom will always be working-class.
“Herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”
That appears to be why few if any steps were initially taken to increase Britain’s efforts to limit the virus, which would have had economic costs. This inference was vividly confirmed when news broke that Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s special advisor, had spoken in exactly those words:
“As reported in The Sunday Times, Cummings made the comments at the end of February, while suggesting that allowing 60%-80% of the population to become infected was the right approach.
“Cummings outlined the UK Government’s position which, according to those present, was ‘herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad’”.77
It was perhaps Italy, above all else, that brought home the reality of Covid to the British government, and smashed through its entrenched ideological reticence to lend a hand to their ‘fellow countrymen’, the British working-class. As scenes unfolded in Lombardy, which reached the peak of infection 2-4 weeks earlier than London, itself slightly ahead of the rest of the UK, the British public witnessed, on the daily news, medical staff in Hazmat suits treating wards of patients on ventilatory support, their capacity overwhelmed and with constantly rising demand outstripping supply.
Italy’s case fatality rate rose to an incredible 12-15 percent of tested cases even in the developed industrial north, and with a lockdown in force in Spain and Italy, and growing travel restrictions throughout the world; with scientists pointing out that we were watching our own future if we did not act, even Cummings, by all accounts felt some twinge of dawning realisation: this was not India under Victorian rule. Something would have to be done.
Under a storm of mounting criticism of their policy of inaction, the British government, and prime minister Boris Johnson, were forced to make a 1800 policy reversal. The ‘discovery’ of ‘new science’ was used in a vain attempt to stick to the mantra that ‘the right decisions are being taken at the right time, following the science.’ Thus, on March 23 Britain’s schools closed, except for key workers, and a gradual closure of cafes, restaurants and social functions kicked in.78
Pandemic Modelling in the UK
On 16 March, the Imperial College Covid-19 response team, working as an advisory body with the British government, published a report “Report 9: Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID-19 mortality and healthcare demand”79, in which they modelled the effects of the virus in Britain, using fairly conservative assumptions, assuming an Ro of 2.2 – 2.4, and “and infection mortality ratio [ie CFR] corrected for non-uniform attack rates by age applied to the GB population result[ing] in an IFR of 0.9% with 4.4% of infections hospitalised”.
Absence of intervention would result in 550,000 deaths, they predicted, which could be mitigated by cancelling social functions, closing schools, and asking British citizens to stay in their homes and ‘self-isolate’. Schools closed on Friday 22 March, a week before the Easter holidays, but remained open for the children of key workers.
Key workers in transport, logistics, transportation, education, food delivery networks and supermarkets as well as construction projects, care and health-workers have been among the groups to continue working, and unable to ‘socially isolate’. In addition the poor, as discussed earlier, are forced to continue to work and many of the poorest children continue to make their way to school to collect their free lunches. What’s more, flights into the US, Italy and Spain, among other destinations, continue.
Absence of testing, screening, contact tracing, adequate triage centres away from hospitals, risk stratification and social isolation all meant that no-one had any idea where or how far the invisible enemy had spread. Therefore the draconian measure of total lockdown, the social sledge-hammer, was the lone tool available to deal with the rising wave of cases and fatalities.
The degree of protection afforded to the British public can be gauged by the fact that within the space of 24 hours, Boris Johnson (prime minister) , Matt Hancock (health secretary), Chris Whitty (chief medical officer) and even the misanthropic Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief advisor himself, all were diagnosed as positive for coronavirus.
Shortly afterwards, having passed the Coronavirus Bill, government was suspended, and Boris Johnson was admitted to the intensive care unit at St Thomas’ hospital with shortness of breath due to coronavirus pneumonia.80
The NHS lacks capacity to cope with the health needs of the population.
The truth is that Britain’s NHS was on its knees before this crisis, and no measure taken by the government in the short term has changed that. What’s more, despite paeons of praise from Boris on release from hospital, and plans to award NHS workers with the George Cross, there are no palpable measures planned that could reverse the trend of forcing Britain towards a privatised insurance-based healthcare model as we see failing miserably in the US.81
Britain’s NHS has one of the lowest rates of acute hospital beds, at fewer than 2 per thousand of the population, having reduced this number from 300,000 in the late 1980s to 140,000 today, through PFI and other measures. We have just six ITU beds per 100,000 of the population, that is, a normal number of around 4,000. Germany has seven times that number, with 28,000 in normal times, and has increased that number to 40,000 to deal with the Covid outbreak.82 Britain by contrast has one of the lowest numbers of any developed economy or nation.83
That was the situation in March 2020, and this situation persists. Before this crisis we had 4,000 ITU beds. That number has been expanded toward the 10,000 mark by putting a halt to all but the must urgent emergency surgery. Any clinician within our NHS hospitals will be able to attest that both acute beds and ITU beds are a scare resource. Operations are routinely cancelled owing to a lack of bed capacity (both at standard ward and HDU or ITU level).
Capacity in our hospitals to deal with Covid-19 has been made chiefly by cancelling all elective and semi-urgent work, thus storing greater health problems to be dealt with in the coming months and years. Under-capacity remains the principle ‘rationing’ measure being used to drive those who can afford it to seek care in the private sector. If all out healthcare needs could be met in a timely and exemplary fashion within the NHS, why would anyone chose to go outside that system?
Britain’s biggest enterprise – the privatisation of our NHS
In fact forty years of progressive privatisation have left all NHS trusts and hospitals at financial and organisational breaking point, with no ability rapidly to expand the levels of care. The policies of that 40-year period are multiple, but have increased the role of private medicine from a peripheral role to the central pillar of provision, around which a skeleton ‘NHS’ service can be dimly perceived. The pathway to privatisation was planned out under Thatcher government, and outlined in a document penned by Tory MPs and City bankers Oliver Letwin and John Redwood.84
It began with the removal of clinical consultants from management responsibility and the introduction of the ‘revolving door between business and health.’ Then came the abolition of planning of service provision and introducing an ‘internal market’ in which providers and purchasers would negotiate, buy and sell services to each other (really to themselves, as these were all formerly branches of the NHS). First, exemplary NHS organisations were encouraged to apply for ‘foundation trust’ status and then all parts of the NHS were forced to adopt trust status, thus making all our hospitals and NHS services function as individual business units. After years of under-investment, we were sold the concept of private finance initiative (PFI), by the Blair/Brown government, in which extortionate loans were granted to the state to rebuild hospitals from private bankers and capitalists. These loans were transformed into an ongoing albatross of debt used to drive further privatisation. Since 2012 there has been progressive cutting of operational budgets to ‘enforce savings’ or rather put all trusts into further debt, forcing them to sell-off remaining cottage hospitals and other land assets.
The ballooning of management costs associated with these changes, far from introducing ‘efficiency’, means that managers rather than front-line staff now consume more than 20% of NHS budgets.
This process has been accelerated further by the HSCA 2012, which removed the role of the Health Secretary from responsibility for providing healthcare and operational management of the NHS. Thus the creation of management Quango NHS England and the fact that its Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens who now actually runs the NHS, accountable solely – to himself!
HSCA 2012 reorganised the funding structure of the NHS, kicking out funding to consortiums of GP practices (Clinical Commissioning Groups or CCGs). This was done under the guise of ‘putting clinicians in charge’, but busy GPs, of course, are not qualified in health economics, and by definition don’t have time or ability to plan NHS spending! But faced with budgetary shortfall, these CCGs can and do ration care.
This has made way for the increasing role of the big 4 management companies (KPMG, PWC, EY and McKinsey), and now US insurance giant United Health, in operational management of that CCG funding. Increasingly private contractors are winning bids to provide not just ‘peripheral’ but central services. Hence (and his is only one example) the £2bn in contracts won by Richard Branson.
That is why the winter of 2019-20 saw the worst-ever crisis in care provision, with 52 percent of hospitals forced to create extra, temporary beds, and the government increasingly inclined to abandon targeted outcomes which have only highlighted the axe that they are wielding on the NHS.85
More than likely that is why no action was taken when the warning bells were sounded by operation Cygnus. Remedial action to prepare Britain for the event of a pandemic went against the entire direction of strategic policy of privatising our NHS. Better for our then Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and the entire apparatus of government, in cahoots with finance capital, just to hush it up and keep swinging the axe.
Emergency measures such as the Nightingale hospital in East London failed to address any of this. Not only were they thrown up hastily with poor integration into the existing NHS, with unclear mechanisms of referral and patient transfer, but they were also grossly understaffed.
Having 4,000 ITU beds nationally means there are staff to run the 4,000 ITU beds. Creating more physical beds does not instantly create the additional staff. In fact staff were being asked to leave their usual places of work – already swamped and resource-starved ITU units in NHS hospitals dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic – in order to attend the Nightingale.
What’s more, very few additional ventilators were obtained and staffing ratios were poor – hence the initial public health warning that ‘mistakes will be made and mortality will be high.’
What was needed were centres for social isolation of patients with Covid-19, providing for their needs and allowing them to recover, with necessary levels of care and triage to allow their safe discharge or admission to higher levels of care. In addition, if new medical units were to be planned, they should have totally separated Covid patients from the general population.
In the event, our NHS management and government failed even to introduce adequate protocols for personal protective equipment – which remain driven by an overall shortage of adequate masks and protective goggles and gowns. Thus increasing numbers of staff have been infected, with record numbers of medical staff dying, while just five percent of NHS staff had been tested by mid-April.86
This despite widespread staff-shortages and as much as 20 percent of NHS staff being off sick, self-isolating with symptoms, and unsure of their own safety, the safety of their families or, once recovered, whether it was safe for their patients for them to return to work.
Despite promising testing of NHS staff, it emerged a cap of 15% had been placed on staff testing owing to lack of testing facilities within the NHS, and that fewer than 5,000 out of the NHS’s 500,000 workforce has so far been tested.87
At the current rate it will take the best part of two decades to test the population of the UK.
One acute trust chief from the Midlands revealed he had faced “a near revolt amongst my clinical staff [because of PPE shortages and also] about the national guidance on use of surgical masks for non-aerosol generating work”.88
The senior figure added: “They see hazmat suits and FFP3 [masks] being deployed in all scenarios in western Europe and want to know why we aren’t doing the same. Staff testing… would provide a huge psychological boost and help us get staff back to work.” (ibid.).
Despite promises that the government has bought 3.5 million coronavirus antibody tests — with more widespread testing of NHS workers coming ‘online soon’, they have not materialised, and it seems increasingly clear that besides general lockdown, there is no realistic plan to limit the spread of Covid. Hence all the talk which essentially means that the same number of people will get the disease – and the same number will die – but over a longer period of time ‘flattening the curve’.
Emergency Legislation – The Coronavirus Act
And this is why the government were quick to use the pandemic to arrogate to themselves extraordinary emergency powers.89 After passing through both Houses in three days with little scrutiny and no vote, the Commons deputy speaker Eleanor Laing confirmed the Coronavirus Bill had received Royal Assent on the afternoon of Wednesday 25 March.
The bill grants unrestricted ministerial powers during an initial two-year period. It is a piece of legislation that we will live with for at least two years – and, despite the most cursory of clauses mandating parliamentary scrutiny, it has the potential to be extended in perpetuity.
Opening the Commons debate on the Bill, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said the scale of the threat posed by coronavirus necessitated “extraordinary measures of the kind never seen before in peacetime”.
The 300+ page document includes provisions allowing the forced detention and isolation of anyone, including children, initially for 48 hours but then with open-ended provisions for extension. This is allegedly to allow police to force those suspected of infection into isolation and testing, but, in view of widespread demand among health professionals and the public for testing that has not been met, this cannot be maintained as its true purpose.
The Act provides for the forcible taking of biological samples and retention of DNA fingerprinting evidence, and there is no clear mechanism of accessing legal rights from as-yet unidentified ‘isolation facilities’. Lockdown powers will suspend the right to mass gatherings (where ‘mass’ can be defined as more than 2 people) and protests. Provision is made to close all transport networks and for increased use of remote court hearings.
Several health related statutes have come into force. While recognition and use of retired and as yet unqualified staff could be reasonably viewed as necessary in order rapidly to recruit more medical personnel, many provisions are made which are not immediately attributable to the need to deal with the outbreak, unless viewed in the loosest terms.
Protections from forced detainment and treatment under the Mental Health Act are lowered, with the number of doctors required to sign off on sectioning those with mental health issues reduced from two to one.
Clauses suspend existing duties requiring Councils to meet the eligible needs of vulnerable older people, disabled people, and young adults with social care needs about to leave the children’s care system.
Disability Rights UK said: “Given the already broken social care system, this bill will almost inevitably leave many thousands of disabled people without essential support or any rights to request this support. Rolling back our rights is not good for anyone and in the current circumstances will put many lives at risk.” Moreover, these are potentially long term changes, not limited to the duration of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Changing the NHS workforce – and the mass volunteering campaign
Registration of emergency health practitioners and volunteers is loosened, with the ability to recruit recently-retired medical staff and students who have nearly qualified to work immediately, with protection given against any negligence claims. In other words, unqualified medical teams will supplement the qualified.
In this regard it is important to note that part of the long-term plan for privatisation of the NHS involves cheapening the workforce by downgrading the staffing costs. There is a variety or proposed mechanisms, but one of these is the mass use of unqualified, unpaid or underpaid, volunteer staff. And while it is heartening to see the high esteem in which NHS workers are held, the government’s rapid drive to recruit 750,000 volunteers – many of whom are not currently being used to deal with the pandemic – serves another agenda entirely.
“A total of 750,000 people signed up in less than a week at the end of March, in response to a call by Matt Hancock, the health secretary, for volunteers to help those who have been told to stay indoors for at least 12 weeks. The appeal was so successful that new sign-ups have been halted.
“A spokesman for the RVS (Royal Volunteer Service, who traditionally have run small tea-shops in many hospitals) said the scheme would expand in numbers over the coming days and weeks: ‘It will be a gradual and developing process as more healthcare professionals, pharmacists and local authorities refer people who need help in greater numbers.”90
In 2018 NHS England released a report on increasing the volunteer workforce, advancing the agenda of surreptitious privatisation: “NHS England and NHS Improvement want to help more NHS Trusts achieve more with their volunteers. Today we have announced a new £2.3 million partnership with Helpforce, a community interest company, to help another ten NHS Trusts make and achieve ambitious new plans for volunteers.”91
According to the King’s Fund, 3 million volunteers already participate in the delivery of care in the UK. They note that HSCA 2012 called for a drive towards increased this volunteer force, as a way to reduce overall costs of care, and noted in passing concerns that “Financial pressure in public services is bringing concerns around job substitution to the fore and risks creating tensions between volunteers and paid employees.” 92
“Sensitivities around job substitution, real or perceived, need to be handled carefully” (ibid.). Indeed. The altruistic desire of the British working class to help in time of a pandemic was a heaven-sent opportunity to push this, the agenda of further reducing the wages of British healthcare workers, along with other agendas of increased social surveillance and control of an increasingly marginalised British population.
A word about data – and distinguishing truth from fiction
It is clear that our analysis is only as strong as our data. And it is to be regarded as a great boon that the published data have come under such intense scrutiny from all sides. There is a world schooling in economics and health data going on before our eyes, and to the extent the workers of all nations are learning to analyse, and distinguish truth from fiction, this is to be greatly welcomed. But data analytics, like economics and politics, is a science that demands careful thought and study.
The levels of scrutiny and scepticism are to be welcomed precisely because the current economic crisis, as well as the health measures taken to treat patients infected with Covid and to limit its spread, will affect the lives of all. Moreover the control of data and information has become so central to the process of governing a country that there are few disinterested parties involved.
The realisation among workers that their ruling class depends on ‘fake news’ is a great benefit to them – but in many cases the lack of a clear alternative and trusted narrative, or source of information, has thrown otherwise sober minds into disarray and subject to the whim of rumour, supposition and conspiracy.
Science and even medicine itself is viewed with suspicion. Who after all funds the scientist? Who funds his work? What is researched and what is not – and why? All must be subject to the dictates and appetites of the market – of profit (or, what is but a veiled extension of the same phenomenon, of grant funding).
And therefore groups of scientists and scientific institutions are viewed in their alliance with national interest, or in connection with the groups of capitalists who fund them. To what extent are our doctors servants of the people, and to what extent are they the instruments of global capital and transnational corporations?
Never have Communist Manifesto’s profound observations rung so true: “The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.”
Vaccination and Big Pharma
At the other end of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be a vaccine – and; given the size of the global market and the current workings of the pharmaceutical monopolies, fabulous profits are to be made by a corporate elite from the world’s misfortune.
Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline have announced their cooperation to produce a vaccine, which will be purchased and promoted by British and American capitalists.93 Financially, they will make a killing. The market for vaccinations is projected to be worth $100 billion by 2025 and is the fastest growing pharmaceutical sector. The vaccine being developed by the People’s Liberation Army academy of military medical sciences is likely to be available first, but no doubt will not be adopted if that is to the financial detriment of these powerful companies in our country.94
Thus curing coronavirus by widespread vaccination, while potentially effective in protecting the populations who have not been infected (which should be test-proven prior to vaccination), will itself further impoverish poor nations and the world’s working classes, and concentrate wealth into fewer hands, just as will the workings of the economic crisis, if left within the sphere of the capitalist economy. Is it any wonder that there are people who prefer to believe that the entire coronavirus pandemic is one gigantic hoax?
Data may be objective, but its gathering, analysis and presentation is subject to bias. Moreover there are groups of people who have an inherent interest in presenting data to conform to their pre-existing ideas or interests, or to justify – prospectively or retrospectively – policy decisions. Hence the well-known aphorism that there are ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics.’
The WHO’s advice and report from Wuhan: Test, test , test95
As the anti-China rhetoric increases, it is worth recalling that the World Health Organisation and European Centre for Disease Control sent a mission to investigate and report upon their findings in relation to the outbreak in Wuhan at the invitation of the Chinese government between16-24 February 2020.
The WHO report from this mission contemporaneously made those findings public. It was a clarion call for the governments of the world to act. That they did not do so will be a matter for them to justify before the anger of their own people. It is indicative of the approach taken by the British government that very few are aware of the existence of this international mission or its findings.
We will briefly reproduce excerpts from the conclusions of the WHO and ECDC report:
“In the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history. The strategy that underpinned this containment effort was initially a national approach that promoted universal temperature monitoring, masking, and hand washing. However, as the outbreak evolved, and knowledge was gained, a science and risk-based approach was taken to tailor implementation. Specific containment measures were adjusted to the provincial, county and even community context, the capacity of the setting, and the nature of novel coronavirus transmission there.
“Achieving China’s exceptional coverage with and adherence to these containment measures has only been possible due to the deep commitment of the Chinese people to collective action in the face of this common threat. At a community level this is reflected in the remarkable solidarity of provinces and cities in support of the most vulnerable populations and communities. Despite ongoing outbreaks in their own areas, Governors and Mayors have continued to send thousands of health care workers and tons of vital PPE supplies into Hubei province and Wuhan city.
“China’s bold approach to contain the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic. A particularly compelling statistic is that on the first day of the advance team’s work there were 2,478 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in China. Two weeks later, on the final day of this Mission, China reported 409 newly confirmed cases. This decline in COVID-19 cases across China is real.
“By extension, the reduction that has been achieved in the force of COVID-19 infection in China has also played a significant role in protecting the global community and creating a stronger first line of defense against international spread. Containing this outbreak, however, has come at great cost and sacrifice by China and its people, in both human and material terms.
“These include overcoming any obstacles to act immediately on early alerts, to massively scale-up capacity for isolation and care, to optimize the protection of frontline health care workers in all settings, to enhance collaborative action on priority gaps in knowledge and tools, and to more clearly communicate key data and developments internationally.
“China’s uncompromising and rigorous use of non-pharmaceutical measures to contain transmission of the COVID-19 virus in multiple settings provides vital lessons for the global response.”
This rather unique and unprecedented public health response in China reversed the escalating cases in both Hubei, where there has been widespread community transmission, and in the importation provinces, where family clusters appear to have driven the outbreak.
The report went on – in early February, to give the following clear recommendations:
“Much of the global community is not yet ready, in mindset and materially, to implement the measures that have been employed to contain COVID-19 in China. These are the only measures that are currently proven to interrupt or minimize transmission chains in humans. Fundamental to these measures is extremely proactive surveillance to immediately detect cases, very rapid diagnosis and immediate case isolation, rigorous tracking and quarantine of close contacts, and an exceptionally high degree of population understanding and acceptance of these measures…”
“…In China, the overall CFR was higher in the early stages of the outbreak (17.3% for cases with symptom onset from 1-10 January) and has reduced over time to 0.7% for patients with symptom onset after 1 February… The Joint Mission noted that the standard of care has evolved over the course of the outbreak.
“Mortality increases with age, with the highest mortality among people over 80 years of age (CFR 21.9%). The CFR is higher among males compared to females (4.7% vs. 2.8%). By occupation, patients who reported being retirees had the highest CFR at 8.9%. While patients who reported no comorbid conditions had a CFR of 1.4%, patients with comorbid conditions had much higher rates: 13.2% for those with cardiovascular disease, 9.2% for diabetes, 8.4% for hypertension, 8.0% for chronic respiratory disease, and 7.6% for cancer…
“…COVID-19 was included in the statutory report of Class B infectious diseases and border health quarantine infectious diseases on 20 January 2020, which marked the transition from the initial partial control approach to the comprehensive adoption of various control measures in accordance with the law. The second event was the State Council’s issuing, on 8 February 2020, of The Notice on Orderly Resuming Production and Resuming Production in Enterprises, which indicated that China’s national epidemic control work had entered a stage of overall epidemic prevention and control together with the restoration of normal social and economic operations…
“…The response mechanism was initiated with multi-sectoral involvement in joint prevention and control measures. Wet markets were closed, and efforts were made to identify the zoonotic source. Information on the epidemic was notified to WHO on 3 January, and whole genome sequences of the COVID-19 virus were shared with WHO on 10 January. Protocols for COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment, surveillance, epidemiological investigation, management of close contacts, and laboratory testing were formulated, and relevant surveillance activities and epidemiological investigations conducted. Diagnostic testing kits were developed, and wildlife and live poultry markets were placed under strict supervision and control measures.
“During the second stage of the outbreak, the main strategy was to reduce the intensity of the epidemic and to slow down the increase in cases. In Wuhan and other priority areas of Hubei Province, the focus was on actively treating patients, reducing deaths, and preventing exportations. In other provinces, the focus was on preventing importations, curbing the spread of the disease and implementing joint prevention and control measures. Nationally, wildlife markets were closed and wildlife captive-breeding facilities were cordoned off…
“…New technologies were applied such as the use of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) to strengthen contact tracing and the management of priority populations”.96
EU solidarity is dead
Declaring a state of Emergency in Serbia, President Aleksandar Vučić, in face of abandonment by the European Union, and on receiving medical aid and expert help from China, made the observation (on 15th March) that “European solidarity does not exist. That was a fairy tale on paper. I have sent a special letter to the only ones who can help, and that is China…,”
He noted that many Western governments had pressed Serbia to change its tender procedures in order to reduce imports of Chinese goods and import from the EU instead. “But now the same governments do not want to help Serbia even in exchange for money.”97
At the height of the pandemic, Italy was hit by a EU fine for supporting its hotel industry, breaching EU free-market rules.98
And in a rare intervention Jacques Delors, the former European commission president who helped build the modern EU, broke his silence last weekend to warn that lack of solidarity posed “a mortal danger to the European Union”.99
Suppressing the truth and demonising China
China not only shared this information, but sent medical aid to countries around the world, including Greece, Spain, Italy and the UK – to whom it donated 300 ventilators and a great deal of PPI.100
But while this aid is downplayed and scorned, and the contents of the above cited WHO report are suppressed by our government and media, a growing chorus of Conservative MPs are calling on Downing Street to conduct an urgent review of Britain’s relationship with China ‘as a result of Beijing’s handling of the pandemic’.
Their concerns range from China’s alleged misinformation campaign about virus transmission within its borders to fears that Beijing will seek to exploit its early recovery from the pandemic to gain an unfair economic edge over other nations.101
Downing Street for the first time explicitly named China as the source of the virus. Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, warned that the UK could not maintain ‘business as usual’ with China. “We will have to ask the hard questions about how it came about and how it couldn’t have been stopped earlier,” he said.
Hawkish Conservative MPs are calling for Britain to conduct a strategic reset of relations with China. A growing number want Downing Street to review its approval for the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to supply the UK’s 5G infrastructure, amid security concerns. The company denies that it poses a risk.102
It is clear that the CIA and British agents, organised in such units of the British Army’s Brigade 77 are in full propaganda offensive against ‘the enemy’ – which is perceived by our ruling-class to be first and foremost British public opinion and anger and, secondarily, the outstanding performance of the Chinese in combatting the Corona pandemic. Assigning blame for our government’s mismanagement and the impoverishment of British workers kills two birds with one stone.
The world has seen other pandemics. This will not be the worst. The black death, after all, killed off one third of Europe’s population. But modern medical science should offer civilised humanity the opportunity to mitigate and treat this as so many other infectious diseases.
The fact that we ‘cannot’ do so arises from a deeper social malaise, from the true global pandemic of poverty and inequality that leaves billions without food, or running water, or healthcare, and totally unable to protect themselves. The fact that the medial life expectancy in Africa, South Asia and Latin America remains so desperately low is an unanswerable indictment of global capitalism.
As larger swathes of Britain’s workers are thrust down into the lower depths of destitution by the unfolding economic crisis, and as thousands die unnecessarily from a combination of the virus itself exacerbated by our under-resourced and sub-contracted social care and health services on the other, there will inevitably be a backlash. The capitalist themselves are noting that we have reached ‘peak globalisation’ and that there is an emerging resistance to their sociopathic scouring of the earth to maximise profits regardless of the cost.
Socialism is no longer a dirty word in the USA. In 2019, “Gallup found that 43% thought some form of socialism would be good for the country, putting socialism at a statistical tie with Trump, whose approval ratings were 42%.”103
But what workers understand by ‘socialism’ is largely shallow and superficial, jaded by 120 years of Labour Party social democracy in the UK. Real change will mean an end to the system of monopoly capitalism, in favour of a planned economy under working-class control.
Vested interests of global capitalism will fight the rise of a truly popular socialist movement tooth and nail and, as we have noted, are already stepping up to malign and scapegoat China, with a view to mobilising in the only way they can, during such black times of crisis – through inciting one section of the workers against another.
Racism is the first recourse of capitalism, and will take the obvious anti-Chinese, but also more diverse and pernicious forms. And after trade war and isolationism, there is the inevitable recourse to military adventures and all-out war. This is the meaning behind the sinister phrases “deep reassessment of our future relationship with china” and “no more business as usual.”
China, whose economy shrunk for the first time during the pandemic but is already out of lockdown, will have a global edge on its competitors, but the penetration of the market system and the heady growth of billionaires will itself cause social tensions within China that may also present it with more problems than solutions going forward, if it leaves the bacillus market system unchecked – just as marketisation has unravelled our own NHS.
The workers of Britain, above all, need to break our servitude to imperialism. Only in this way can the working-class movement emerge strengthened from this crisis. We must resist the drive to war, and demand improvements in our NHS, housing and welfare, as well as – crucially – a renaissance of domestic agriculture and industry, providing real jobs for the workers of Britain, and reducing demand on over-extended global supply chains and the exploitative hand-outs from the City derived from the export of capital.
Capitalism in crisis can offer nothing but deepened austerity, division and war, and will seek to save its skin by making British workers take the pain, in wartime or peacetime.
“Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” 104
The Labour party, under Keir Starmer and the leaderless Liberal party, are already singing the familiar hymn of loyalty to the capitalist class, ‘national unity’ in times of crisis, and echoing the calls to war with China. At this time only a new political force can advance the interests of the British workers and it is encouraging that the newly formed Workers Party of Britain is shaping up to be such a force.
The reproductive number of COVID-19 is higher compared to SARS coronavirus Ying Liu, et al. https://doi.org/10.1093/jtm/taaa021↩
Coronavirus: covid-19 has killed more people than SARS and MERS combined, despite lower case fatality rate
BMJ 2020; 368 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m641↩
Estimating clinical severity of COVID-19 from the transmission dynamics in Wuhan, China. Joseph T. Wu, et al. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-0822-7↩
MIT technology review. Blood tests show 14% of people are now immune to covid-19 in one town in Germany Surveys of who has been infected show the pandemic still has far to go before it burns out Antonio Regalado. April 9, 2020. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/04/09/999015/blood-tests-show-15-of-people-are-now-immune-to-covid-19-in-one-town-in-germany/↩
Rapid Data Sharing and Genomics Vital to China Virus Response. January 23, 2020. Assistant Professor of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases) Nathan Grubaugh. https://medicine.yale.edu/news-article/22389/↩
Read more: https://metro.co.uk/2020/04/19/first-case-coronavirus-uk-covid-19-diagnosis-12578061/?ito=cbshare
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Karl Marx, “The communist Manifesto” Chapter I. Bourgeois and Proletarians.↩
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