A manageable epidemic became public enemy number one distracting from the real killers
Article by Almedina Gunić, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 16 March 2020, www.thecommunists.net
An anonymous NHS doctor in Britain formulated the situation in the following way: “It is not exaggerated – in fact, it is proportionate – to think of this as a war, a national crisis with a huge potential loss of life. Our army is poorly provisioned after years of neglect, our leaders are woefully underprepared.” (1)
The truth in these words is reflected when you look at the situation in Italy. Within few weeks doctors and nurses reached the point where they have to neglect intensive care treatment of patients and let them die because the facilities are used preferably for the younger ones. (2) However, it is more than ridiculous that the terminology of war is also used by bourgeois politicians for the epidemic respectively pandemic that we face now.
While the NHS doctor quoted above points out that it is the neglect of the healthcare system that will lead to a high number of deaths, bourgeois politicians use the comparison with war in order to justify massive attacks on democratic rights under the cover of pandemic control. But how effective is a lockdown anyway? Do we really need to accept curfews and quarantines in order to stop the pandemic? Spoiler alert: No. But let us a have a closer look on the case.
You don't need to give up your democratic rights
Italy has now reached more than 24,700 infections and a death toll of 1,809 people, which makes 7-8%. (3) The lockdown in Italy was first implemented in the North but is now effective for the whole country which has a population of nearly 60.5 Million people. Still, the ratio of new infections is increasing instead of shrinking and the death tolls reach new highs each day. Interestingly enough, the numbers worldwide are less dramatic compared to Italy. 156,000 people were infected and 5,800 died worldwide until now which means 3-4% instead of Italy's 7-8%. (4) One could argue that the reason for this is the fact that worldwide many countries have just started to face their first infections and that it will take some time before the death rate increases like it did in Italy. However, the first infection in Italy was reported on the 30th January when two tourists were tested positive on the virus. (5)
South Korea with a population of nearly 51.5 Million people on the other hand has more than 8,162 infections with a death toll of 75, which makes 0.9%. (6) It had its first reported case on the 20th January, ten days earlier than Italy. Today it is reported that the daily number of those who recovered from the virus in South Korea exceeded that of new cases. (7) It reflects that the epidemic is under control although South Korea has not implemented a lockdown respectively a general quarantine. The reason for that high degree of control over the epidemic is that South Korea started free screening for the virus very soon. It even has Drive-Throughs for testing people and tests in average 20,000 each day. The results are ready within 7 hours and measures like quarantine are only applied in a given case respectively for certain apartment blocks in the worst case. (8) This pro-active approach was the key to limit the outbreak of the virus without draconic limitations of democratic rights.
We as RCIT have stated already in our first article on the Coronavirus from 2nd February: “(...) the general quarantine for all people in Wuhan and other places has to be lifted and replaced by systematic and complete health screening of all people who might have had contact with the virus. This screening must be free for all people but should be mandatory. The same is necessary for any potential treatment which should include quarantine if necessary. The results however, should only be accessible for the health staff and the patients. All information must be protected by the workers movement in order to prevent any outrage against infected people.” (9)
The concrete experience with the epidemic in South Korea has fully confirmed our approach. To repeat the important lesson in these times of hysteria: No, you really don't need to obey to a limitation of your democratic rights in order to stop the virus. Just wash your hands properly, do the screening if you suspect an infection and stay away from others if your results are positive on the virus. People will still die from the infection but it will be a walk in the park (and you will be allowed to actually walk in the park) compared to a situation like Italy today.
Actually, Capitalism kills you – the virus, not so much
South Korea is an emerging imperialist power that has invested in its healthcare system since decades. (10) The number of hospital beds, doctors and nurses has increased systematically irrespective of the worldwide capitalist crisis that started in 2008. (11) Italy is an excellent example for a western imperialist country in decay, highly effected by the economic crisis and brutal in its healthcare cuts. This doesn't mean that the healthcare system in South Korea would not be overwhelmed with the numbers of infections and intense care patients that Italy is facing. It just hasn't come to this point because prevention respectively early screening was possible in the case of this specific virus. The concrete experience South Korea made with the so-called Middle East Respiratory Syndrom (MERS) was an important lesson in the necessity of epidemic control for the eastern imperialist states, so it invested in test kits. This coincidence saved the country from making the same mistakes like Italy.
However, in the case of a more complex disease than COVID-19 every healthcare system in the capitalist world would be overwhelmed because not a single one is prepared to deal with tens of thousands of newly infected intense care patients. A new virus which is similar in its aggressiveness and danger to Orthopoxvirus variolae, or the poxes – an illness we know since millennia and are able to prevent via vaccines – would be a severe threat to the existence of mankind as long as we live in a capitalist society. Mutations of viruses which became that dangerous are a permanent threat and, although medical knowledge is on its peak in history, it is the class system that limits its effectiveness.
The exploitation of the working class and the super-exploitation of the people in the semi-colonial countries have already killed billions of people, far more than a virus like COVID-19 could. In average 9 million people die of hunger each year, 36 million have died from HIV/AIDS between 2005 and 2012, the two world wars have killed more than 115 million people and the list goes on and on. Even climate change (also a result of capitalism) kills at least 300,000 people every (!) year.
If there is a single lesson to learn from COVID-19, it is that the rule of profit makes every new virus more lethal than it has to be and that as long as we have not smashed capitalism, humanity can not survive. In the end, it might be even worse than Rosa Luxemburg's famous quote states. It might not be “Socialism or Barbarism” but rather “Socialism...or Extinction”.
(1) “I'm an NHS doctor treating coronavirus – you have no idea how bad things could get”, by Anonymous, The Independant, 13 March 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/coronavirus-uk-doctor-nhs-hospital-symptoms-italy-china-a9397736.html
(2) "Inside Italy's most infected province: 'To see an entire generation of residents taken is unthinkable'. Doctors forced to choose who to save amid chronic lack of resources", by Andrea Vogt, The Telegraph, 15 March 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/03/14/elderly-left-isolated-abandoned-italy-death-rate-soars/
(3) “Coronavirus in Italy: Outbreak, measures and impact”, by Praveen Duddu, Pharmaceutical Technology, 15 March 2020, https://www.pharmaceutical-technology.com/features/covid-19-italy-coronavirus-deaths-measures-airports-tourism/
(4) "France Holds Local Elections Despite COVID-19 Outbreak Fears", by Sylvie Corbet, TIME, 15 March 2020, https://time.com/5803469/france-local-elections-coronavirus/
(5) “COVID-19: What Can the World Learn From Italy?”, by Daniela Ovadia ,Medscape, 13 March 2020, https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/926777
(6) “South Korea designates regions hit hardest by coronavirus as disaster zones”, by Reuters Seoul, India Times 16 March 2020, https://www.indiatoday.in/world/story/south-korea-coronavirus-disaster-zones-1655859-2020-03-16
(7) “New infections in South Korea drop to double digits; disaster zones declared”, The Straits Times, 16 March 2020, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/new-infections-in-south-korea-drop-to-double-digits-disaster-zones-declared
(8) “Coronavirus in South Korea: How 'trace, test and treat' may be saving lives”, by Laura Bicker, BBC News, 12 March 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51836898
(9) “Coronavirus: "I am not a Virus"... but WE will be the Cure! The chauvinist campaign behind the “Wuhan Coronavirus” hysteria and the revolutionary answer”, by Almedina Gunić, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 02 February 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/wuhan-virus/
(10) On the RCIT’s analysis of South Korea see e.g. our pamphlet by Michael Pröbsting: South Korea as an Imperialist Power. On the nature of South Korean monopoly capital and the ensuing programmatic tasks of the workers vanguard, December 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/study-on-south-korea-as-an-imperialist-power/
(11) See statistics on the increase of the Hospital Beds in South Korea here: https://www.statista.com/statistics/647213/hospital-bed-density-south-korea/, the increase of the numbers of Doctors here: https://www.statista.com/statistics/647235/doctor-density-south-korea/ and the increased numbers of Nurses here: https://www.statista.com/statistics/647249/nurse-density-south-korea/