After initially downplaying the combined contagion capability of Covid-19 and its conduit along the global supply chain, many governments, have started to rehearse a self-serving narrative. It is a narrative which will dominate contemporary and future discussions and evaluations of political performance in a post-pandemic return to normality (!). Already excuses are being made, particularly in the advanced countries of Europe and the West, as politicians and senior government advisers seek to justify their considerable salaries, expenses and pensions. Early ones are as follows.
A. This is a new virus, so we are still learning. There is a tiny gram of accuracy in this official line of ‘spin’, but it hides a pound of deceit. Covid-19 is a new zoonotic (from animals) corona virus and specialists in this field have experience of all kinds of viruses, their origins, methods of transmission, contagion caypabilities and how to contain them.
If we discount the lessons learned prior to 2000 (eg. HIV; H5N2), then there have been six: SARS; HPN1 (avian); H1N1 (swine); MERS; H7N9 (avian); EBOLA; and ZIKA. Covid-19 is part of a family of viruses that can produce mild to serious respiratory problems. But more to the point the lessons of how they spread and how dangerous they can be was readily known at the highest levels of government and World Health Organisation. There is even a journal, ‘Emerging Infectious Diseases’. And as one author on the a future pandemic perceptively wrote;
“Will the Next Big One come out of the rainforest or a market in southern China?” (‘Spillover’ David Quammen.)
Indeed, the problem of virus pandemics, including corona ones, is so well known and anticipated that a series of preparatory stages had been proposed to governments by those most up to date in this area. In non-medical language these amount to the following.
1. Expect new zoonotic viruses and be alert. 2. Put health concerns before economic ones. 3. Have, well-funded and prepared health services already in place. 4. Respond rapidly once infection is detected. 5. Provide honest, clear and consistent communication. 6. Begin diagnosis, quarantining and treatment early. 7. Invest sufficiently in scientific research and prevention strategies. 8. Mobilise the public in active preventions.
1 Most western and European governments and their specialists seem not to have been on the alert. 2 Indeed, even after news came out from the source in China, economic concerns were the primary ones. 3 The health services in most neo-liberalised countries, we’re underfunded and under-prepared. 4 Response was far from rapid once the problem became obvious. 5 Information was far from, honest, clear or consistent from most capitalist governments. 6 Diagnosis and treatment is still not fully operational three months after the first alert. 7 In some countries scientific research and prevention strategies were either static or in some cases (USA) had been reduced. 8 In some countries the public were not mobilised but at first largely ignored, then asked to isolate themselves.
However, in the UK faced with having effectively defaulted on stages 1 to 7 the well-heeled government politicians and officials here have finally decided to mobilise ordinary citizens and as key workers become sick, will need to mobilise more. Already in some countries care homes are woefully understaffed. How are the old on medication to get their tablets if they cannot leave home without risking contagion? Furthermore, as transport workers and supermarket operatives become sick drivers and shelf-stackers will be needed. As in the case of Brexit, the UK elite demonstrate that nothing seems to have been thought through quickly or effectively.
B. The Government is taking the right measures at the right time. That political rationalisation is devoid of any connection with reality as the above section makes clear.
C. ‘We are all in this together.’ I have dealt with that nonsensical political sound bite in Corona Virus Pandemic – 3. However, it is worth adding that if you are self-isolating in a palace or mansion, with your own private grounds, with your own gym, swimming pool, games room, wine cellar and all the other luxury that goes with our unequal class system, is different. That is obviously a vastly different ‘all in it together’ experience than a poor pensioner in a terraced cottage or a single mum in a high – rise or low rise apartment with a young child.
We are going to have much more of this self-serving denial of reality pouring out of the mouths of the elite and refined and amplified by the sycophantic middle – class in the media outlets. They are simply trying to buff-up the rusting hulk of capitalist social structures. Middle-class professionals like the ‘idea’ of there being communal equality, but shrink at trying to achieve it in ‘reality’. Our only hope lies in the stoicism and humanism of ordinary working people, who will keep basic services running and also step up and help each other in the community. Each community, as soon as possible, should create neighbourhood Covid-19 defence committees, who will monitor the the situation, keep an eye on the most vulnerable and ensure any government initiatives get to those in need and not siphoned off for private gain.
Roy Ratcliffe (March 2020)
[For lessons learned from Epidemics and Pandemics, see for example; ‘The end of Epidemics’ by Dr. Jonathan D Quick.]