The struggle against Covid is a class struggle, against imperialism

By Mark Buckley

It is no accident that the US has the worst per capita death toll from Covid of any major country, and that China has the lowest death toll. This has been the pattern throughout the pandemic.

It becomes even clearer when it is noted that the majority of the imperialist countries are among the countries with the worst outcomes from the Covid virus and that socialist countries are among the best.

This is because, although viruses are naturally occurring phenomena their effect is to a large extent determined by the type of society they operate in, and the policy response of governments. This point is illustrated in the chart below.

Selected countries per capita death toll

In general, the Western imperialist countries, the US, Britain and the countries of the EU (who are overwhelmingly imperialist in character) have the worst death toll and the socialist countries, China, Cuba and Viet Nam have either far better outcomes or the best of all.

There are certain exceptions to this, not least because Cuba and to a lesser extent Viet Nam are heavily dependent on the tourist sector of the economy and (re)opening to foreign visitors brought the virus into the country. Even so, the death tolls were far lower which is all the more remarkable because per capita incomes are far lower than in the imperialist countries. This should have significant implications for healthcare, but in fact has only very little impact because of government policies. (In the starkest comparison, Cuba has the same life expectancy as the US, despite having one-seventh of the average per capita income).

There are exceptions too among the imperialist countries in Asia, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Because of the SARS outbreak in Asia at the beginning of this century, widespread use of facemasks, hand sanitisers, and other measures have become customary. There was too a widespread implementation of the Zero Covid policy now most closely associated with China during this pandemic.

Until July and August this year, each of these three countries had followed that policy. But an international campaign orchestrated by the US, backed by the powerful regional Murdoch press, and supported by right wing forces including anti-lockdown hooligans apparently forced a retreat in both Australia and New Zealand.

However, the reality is that many of the earlier measures to supress the virus remain in place, and with considerable success, as shown in the tweet below. While not as low as China, the Australian death toll is currently 15 times less than the US in per capita terms, and the New Zealand rate is 60 times less. China has had no Covid-19 deaths since July.

Currently the Omicron variant is threatening to completely overwhelm domestic health services in many Western imperialist countries. A number of EU countries have effectively gone back into partial lockdown, including Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia at the time of writing. It seems as if both the US and Britain are simply delaying the inevitable to support the profits of the food, drink and hospitality sectors over the holiday period.

The possible death toll from Omicron is an unknown. South Africa’s experience has so far been that it is not highly lethal. But few conclusions can be drawn, as South Africa recently experienced an Alpha wave prior to Omicron and its population is much, much younger than in the imperialist centres.

But Omicon’s transmissibility is understood, doubling in a matter of days. The British epicentre of the variant is in London and it has seen both cases and hospitalisations soar. In the northern hemisphere, there are already pressures on health systems before the Omicron variant takes effect. This combination of factors, a variant spreading at great pace and previously overstretched medical services threatens a new catastrophe.

But socialists should understand that this is not an ‘act of God’ or a mishap.

Repeatedly, the Western imperialist countries have allowed the virus and its variants to spread. Their priority was to defend profits. They have never pursued public health as a priority. In fact they have a eugenicist approach to letting disabled people and the elderly die.

They have used the virus as a battering ram against the wider population too, with lower-paid workers, Black and Asian people hugely disproportionate victims. This is supplemented by an enormous attack on pay and rights at work, as well fundamental political rights, to vote, freedom of protest and freedom of assembly. It is a liberal error to believe that this is the ‘real offensive’ and to ignore the policy of letting the virus rip.

This is a comprehensive offensive against all of the working class and the oppressed, and the imperialist governments have no intention of supressing the virus as long as it allows them to suppress the population. Resistance to their policy remains vitally important.