Of three important questions concerning the current pandemic of Covid-19 two have attracted little attention and one has received a great deal. They are 1) Where on the planet did this latest Zoonotic virus come from? 2) How did it spread so quickly? and 3) which groups in society enabled it’s spread? These are increasingly important questions because it has become clear that its effects are so severe, in terms of deaths from infection and the collapse of economic activity, that scapegoats are eagerly being sought by those who wish to avoid responsibility.
1 Where did the virus come from?
This has been the most discussed and answered question and it has helped that it is almost universally accepted, as the Chines elites eventually admitted, to have originated in the Chinese province of Wuhan. The only disagreement concerning it’s origin in Wuhan is whether it was from a wet – market or from a laboratory researching viruses of the corona type. This question has been elevated to importance because it has become part of a campaign by politicians and governments around the world to shift the blame for a lack of preparation away from themselves and onto someone else.
This focus is an attempt to redirect blame for the many deaths onto the source of the virus, rather than the lack of anticipation and preparation. A subsidiary element of this blame deflection has been to correctly suggest that the Chinese Government did not reveal the problem quickly enough. For this tactic to fully work it depends upon ignoring the following. 1. On January 3, China informed the USA and others. 2. In addition to this pre-February warning, all countries had at least five years warning (some ten) of a likely pandemic and most, if not all, had strategic plans to meet it, but waimed until March to partly (!) implement them.
And novel viruses, like Covid-19 are not simply products of far off locations, but of a particular mode of production, supply and consumption. One which, moreover, stirs up infections by disturbing indigenous people’s and wild – life habitations. Multi – national agri-businesses funded by Investment Banks in Europe and America, are part of this de-stabilising, viral-spreading, global supply chain which connects one side of the globe to the other.
2. How did Covid -19 travel?
The speed of the physical human to human relay chain which enabled the virus to spread to all countries of the world within weeks, points to the fact that rapid transport mechanisms were involved. This explains the creation of new international hot spots of contagion within a month. Secondary transmission could also have occurred via road, rail and shipping from China to the rest of the world. In all probability some did, but at a much reduced rate.
However, if we consider the scale and scope of air travel that has risen exponentially over the last few decades there can be little doubt that air transport was the main conduit for Covid-19 to spread so quickly from one side of the planet to the other and everywhere in between. Millions of passengers on business and leisure trips are on long-distance journeys measured in hours rather than days and the air circulation on board is notoriously contained and recirculated.
These millions of passengers disembark and pass through airport hubs of thousands waiting to board other aircraft bound for other hubs or by trains, cars or buses to other destinations. The human to human virus transmission via air cargo routes is just as rapid but less in volume from air crew and freight handlers. It only takes a small percentage of these millions of passengers to spread it to dozens of others and for each to do the same for it to be carried into every airport and into every town and city in the world, within days let alone weeks.
3 Which humans carried Covid-19?
If the main means of the rapid spread was indeed the fast moving networks of air travel and the associated transport hubs then obviously the passenger’s on board these aircraft were the primary human transmission conduits for the virus. It follows therefore that the unwitting carriers of this virus throughout the world were those who could afford to pay the air fares and fees necessary to travel on business or pleasure and to eat, drink and purchase things during those journeys.
It was therefore the more privileged sectors of society, not the poorest which initially spread the virus.
A terrible ironic twist to this undoubted fact is that the poorest sectors of societies in each country are those who suffer most from the virus when it reaches them. The low – paid, homeless, poverty – stricken, precarious employed workers, occupants of refugee camps – the ones who are least likely to fly on business or leisure – are the most likely to die in greater numbers than those who spread the virus in the first place. How is that for an injustice?
A second irony is that some of the privileged sectors in a number of countries are mischievously or cynically trying to blame the non-jet-setting Covid-19 victims (Gypsies, asylum seekers, homeless etc.) for actually spreading the contagion. This lack of air-miles self-criticism by affluent travelers is yet another instance of the more privileged sectors of modern capitalist societies avoiding responsibility for their own contribution to the problems humanity faces.
Such attempts to transfer responsibility for viral transmission onto victims of this unequal socio-economic system is nothing short of scurrilous. If this blaming of victims and using them as scapegoats for the ills of the whole system is allowed to go unchallenged, then the real problems humanity faces will never be solved. In fact they will be further compounded. The source, the means and the human agency for this pandemic, is a product of the neo – liberal, supply-chain stage of capitalism.
Now no one can be fully safe from the effects of viruses, floods, fires, droughts, storms or economic collapses until the capitalist system is ended.
Roy Ratcliffe (May 2020)