By Mark Buckley
The global pandemic continues to rage and is now twice as deadly as in the first wave of the crisis. It is important to note that the motor of the crisis is located in the imperialist countries of Western Europe and North America, as well as other countries that are following their lead. Because this is a global pandemic it should be clear that these countries’ failure to suppress the virus remains a threat to the whole of humanity, not least through continued mutations of the virus itself.
Doubling of death rate
Fig.1 below shows the global death toll on a seven-day moving average basis. The Our World In Data website, using data from John Hopkins University shows that the daily death rate is now accelerating sharply and that it has reached a level more than double that of the first wave in April.
Fig.1 Daily New Confirmed COVID-19 Deaths
The chart also shows the death rate for selected countries on the same basis. These are the US, Mexico, UK, Brazil, Germany, Italy, France and Spain. In this snapshot, these countries account for just over 8,550 deaths, or almost exactly 60% of the total global deaths. This is despite the fact that these overwhelmingly wealthy countries account for well under one in seven of the world’s population (990 million of a global population of 7.674 billion).
On current trends, the population of these countries is more than 13 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the population in the rest of the world. Clearly, this is nothing to do with the resources that could be made available to prevent the spread of the virus and in treating its victims. The failure is attributable to policy decisions at the level of government.
Within this group of the worst countries in the world, the UK stands out as the worst of all in terms of per capita death toll. Fig.2 below shows the cumulative death toll on a per capita basis. The UK’s death toll is 1,504 per million of population. This is far worse even than Trump’s legacy, where the rate is 1,297 per million. Both of these can be compared to the world total of 277 deaths per million.
Fig.2 Cumulative Death Toll per Million Population, World and Selected Countries
Of course, a per capita death rate of 277 people per million population is extremely serious and should not be minimised. But the fact that the US rate is almost 5 times the global total and the UK is almost 5.5 times is a damning indictment which ought to make the governments of both countries international pariahs.
An over-arching plan
The question is posed, why are relatively extremely wealthy countries, with governments who falsely boast repeatedly of their own superiority, so badly out of line with the rest of the world? Incompetence, greed and corruption are all factors no doubt, but these failings are not entirely absent from the rest of the world. As such, they are an inadequate explanation for the catastrophe the Western governments have inflicted on their own populations and others, given the global spread of the virus and its mutant strains.
Two of the worst major countries in the world on a per capita basis in the world are the US and UK, with the far-right infected Italian political establishment also to the fore. These are the countries which over decades have most thoroughly embraced neoliberalism, the attack on unions, privatisations, deregulation, driving down both wages and the social wage.
They have not changed character throughout the pandemic. On the contrary, all the ills inflicted on society as the legacy of the Reagan/Thatcher years have been deepened and accelerated in the pandemic, from privatisation, attacks on unions, reductions in pay and conditions, mass unemployment, withdrawal of welfare payments, hand-outs to big business, and so on. They have overlaid this with deepening racism, although in the US they have been met with the heroic resistance of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which has had a global resonance.
In short, they have taken the approach of ‘let no good crisis go to waste’ and intensified the ruling class offensive against workers, the poor and the oppressed. As such, it is completely right to describe the struggle against the virus and the governments’ refusal to suppress it as a class struggle. Under the cloak of the pandemic, a completely ruthless class struggle is being waged in the Western imperialist countries.
Vaccines are not a magic bullet
The vaccines, if properly applied, can be an important weapon in the fight to suppress the virus. But it is important to note that none of the countries which have suppressed the virus did so with a vaccine. Vaccination provides neither immunity from infection nor a barrier to transmission. At most, they can provide an important prophylactic against acute infection, hospitalisation or worse.
But even this is only reliably true if they are administered effectively, in line with manufacturers’ recommendations and WHO advice. Israel, which disgracefully excludes Palestinians from its mass vaccination programme, was the poster child of the one-jab approach to vaccination. But authorities there argued this was not effective, so that now about one-half of the population has received a single jab, but one-quarter have received both. In practice, the one-jab approach has been abandoned.
Britain leads the world in this one-jab approach. The government is trusting to luck it will work. There is no trial evidence to support it. They may get lucky, but they are once again gambling with the population’s health.
Theirs is clearly a public relations aim, not a public health one. That is, to claim an early success when some fraction of the population has received one dose, and so declare we can all go back to work. This would be to repeat, in a different context, the repeated falsehoods that have led to three waves and three lockdowns lasting almost a year. Other countries suppressed the virus in a matter of weeks.
Zero Covid Coalition
The Zero Covid Coalition established by Diane Abbott and the Morning Star in this country is an important step in the right direction. It is mirrored in a number of European countries, to one extent or another, where these disastrous policies are being pursued. Naturally, there are no similar campaigns in successful countries, as there is no need.
The recent public launch event brought together leading medical professionals and scientists, left MPs, trade unionists and campaigners. It is reported that online viewing figures are over 80,000, which is a sizeable event.
This is a good beginning. But it seems clear that the Starmer leadership of the Labour Party is clinging like a limpet to the government line, only deviating from it to argue recklessly that schools should be reopened. Therefore, some in the labour movement may baulk at a confrontation with the Labour leadership. That would be regrettable. But it is very important that the campaign presses on and maximises all the forces that can be brought into the struggle against the effects of government policy and for zero COVID.