Article by Yossi Schwartz, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 12 April 2020, www.thecommunists.net
There is an attempt by the capitalist states that impose close-down policy to prove that the South Korean method of dealing with the Corona has not proven itself. This false argument is based on the fact that there are still cases of Corona in South Korea.
“South Korea has been held up as a paragon for containing the corona virus, lauded by the world for flattening its curve, but it is now bracing for a possible second wave (…) The other world, however, keeps its eye firmly on the slight daily uptick in the country's number of cases.” (1)
As of 9th April South Korea confirmed 10,423 cases of infection including 204 deaths after the first case of coronavirus in the country on 20th January. As of the same date, 6,973 patients were released from quarantine after making a full recovery from the virus. In total, over 494,000 people have been tested until now. (2)
In contrast to other capitalist states that claim that the old people are in risk, in South Korea the young men were infected more than others. In the countries where old people die from coronavirus it is often enough from poor health respectively poor care. In addition many countries count their death toll by infection of coronavirus as main cause irrespective of the fact that other illnesses might be the main reason for the death.
The following shows the South-Korean coronavirus death toll by age (3):
Below 10 years old
Just compare it to the USA where there have been 502,000 cases reported with close to 19,000 people who died (4) or Britain with over 73,000 cases and 9,000 deaths. (5)
Not only this, but anyone who cares to learn from history knows that there were three waves of the Spanish Influenza. Even the flu we all now is seasonal. Thus a new wave of the coronavirus in South Korea is not a big surprise nor does it prove that the South Korean method is not a better method to fight the epidemic in contrast to the close-down policy.
The Case of the Spanish Flu
A look at the USA makes it clear that the close-down policy only increases the inequality. The native Indians, Inuit, Inuk of North America and the black communities are the most vulnerable groups and the main victims in the close-down policy.
This is not the first time that the first people of North America and the Afro-Americans are hit by the capitalists system in America the worst way. The influenza pandemic of 1918-19, also known as the Spanish flu and scientifically known as H1N1 virus (to which the swine flu belong as well), was such a case. It spread with astonishing speed around the world, from India to Australia and to the Pacific islands. In just 18 months at least a third of the world’s population was infected. One should not forget that today the worldwide spreading of a virus is far easier because of globalisation.
There are different estimations of how many people died from it, varying between 20 million to 50 million or even up to 100 million deaths. The pandemic of the Spanish flu may have killed as many or even more than the imperialist First World War but the reason for the death toll by Spanish flu are to find in WW1. The soldiers didn't die because they were defending democracy or the fatherland like the propaganda of the ruling classes told them that days. They died because of the capitalists' greed and the H1N1 virus had it easy to become such a severe epidemic because of the destruction, the hunger, the injuries and the general misery caused by the imperialist war.
The epidemic began in the USA in March 1918 in a training facility, Camp Funston, that housed 50,000 men. It began with one infected person and within a few hours, more than a hundred other soldiers were infected. One month later American troops brought the virus with them when they arrived in Europe. European and North American mass media did not report the outbreaks because of censorship. Only in neutral Spain, the press reported freely about the new epidemic with the result that Spain was blamed for it and the epidemic named even Spanish flu.
Today, racists blame China rather than the economic crisis and the pollution of the earth and the atmosphere, which the capitalist mode of production is responsible for. During the influenza of 1918-1919, indigenous people were at much higher risk. Remote indigenous populations were especially vulnerable. Many Native Americans and Pacific Islanders were annihilated by the influenza. Native Americans suffered hideously, with mortality rates four times higher than in the white population. (6)
The Navajo of the Southwestern United States in particular experienced high mortality. Same is true for the oppressed today, although the capitalist propaganda creates the impression that the plague is “socially neutral,” infecting people across nationalities, ethnic groups, and classes.
In Britain, 2.5 % of the total population died, although almost 30% were infected. In the United States, 28 % of the population was infected and 2.5 percent died. (7)
Among the Native Americans, there was great variation by tribe. According to the US Public Health Service in 1919, less than 1 percent of the Native Americans of Oklahoma, Wyoming, Kansas, and Michigan died from influenza, compared to the 4 to 6% in Arizona, Colorado, Mississippi, New Mexico and Utah. Among Alaskan Natives entire communities were stricken and some towns were even abandoned. In the vicinity of the town of Marshal, 30% of all males and 10 % of all females died! (8)
The available literature suggests several factors that explain the level of mortality like age and gender, class and availability of resources (nursing, food, shelter), the condition of health and prior disease experience, community organization and communication infrastructure. Old people and very young and pregnant women were especially vulnerable. It came in three different waves. Among the Navajo it estimates a total mortality from the three waves of was as high as 10%. (9)
Studies show that many Navajo died from influenza because there was no one to care for them; abandoned family members died of starvation. The Navajo were dispersed in “camps,” with many families living at some distance from other Navajo. During the epidemic, all family members might catch the disease at the same time, and “since families resided alone, no one was available to tend the sick. Their dispersion did not keep them from catching the disease but was sufficient to prevent them from obtaining assistance”. (10) This by itself prove that the close-down cannot stop the virus and may cause more deaths.
Money for the Tribes withhold
Today we see the same pattern. At least 321 people were infected by 4th April at the Navajo nation that crosses three western states with an inrease of 51 cases and 13 fatalities in a single day, the most in Indian Country. Police started issuing citations to anyone who violates a stay-at-home order. Experts say ( that today) more than 5 million people who identify as American Indian and Alaskan Native are especially vulnerable: “When you look at the health disparities in Indian Country — high rates of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, asthma and then you combine that with the overcrowded housing situation where you have a lot of people in homes with an elder population who may be exposed or carriers — this could be like a wildfire on a reservation and get out of control in a heartbeat,” said Kevin Allis, chief executive of the National Congress of American Indians.” (11)
The American Indians live in small homes, where the virus can easily spread among family members. The Houses often lack electricity and running water so washing hands is more difficult. They suffer disproportionately from hypertension, asthma, cancer, heart and cardiovascular disease that put them at a higher risk of death from the coronavirus. American Indians are 600 times more likely to die of tuberculosis and nearly 200 times more likely to die of diabetes than other groups. More than a quarter under age 65 lack health insurance. (12)
The virus spread through the population of 350,000 Navajo, which means that infection increased from 71 to about 270 in just a week. Zes, an Indian chief, says that the Navajo couldn’t get federal funding for American Indians allocated by Congress in early March fast enough because he had to apply for it through the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention. Nez said money should have come directly to the tribe, so he could quickly buy protective gear for health workers:”I think you really need to let the people know the federal government again is short-changing tribes throughout the country. We’re always at the bottom of the list. That money has already been given to the states. What they want us to do is beg for money.” (13) From California to New York, tribal presidents and chiefs expressed similar frustration. When the economy shut down last month, so did the casinos and tourism that funded their way of life which left about 640,000 workers losing their jobs, suddenly facing dramatic poverty.
“A third stimulus package passed by congress on 27th March included $10 billion for American Indians but allocating the funds could take weeks. Poor health facilities are another concern. At the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota, President Julian Bear Runner said the federal Indian Health Services facilities “are not well equipped.” For the tribe’s 50,000 members, there are 24 coronavirus test kits, six ventilators and four beds set aside for quarantine at the Pine Ridge Hospital.”(14)
The Inuit communities are having high rates of death as well. “The long-standing disparities that exist in the way of healthcare and health conditions … put our people, our communities, at much greater risk," said Dalee Sambo Dorough, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, an organization that represents 180,000 Inuit across Canada, the United States, Russia and Greenland.
Based in the US state of Alaska, she said the risk of novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, spreading in Inuit communities is exacerbated by persistent infrastructure problems, such as overcrowded housing, a lack of sewage systems, and unsafe drinking water. Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that more than 3,300 rural homes that are occupied year-round don't have potable water.
"Overcrowding is a huge issue,"Dorough told Al Jazeera. "When you then compound that with a respiratory transmission of the coronavirus, that alone can be devastating. [But] it's not only the overcrowding - it's the lack of potable water, also just the lack of actual healthcare facilities”. (15)
Coronavirus and Racism: A Double Threat
The coronapandemic is infecting and killing black Americans at a disproportionately high rate, according to a Washington Post article: “The emerging stark racial disparity led the surgeon general Tuesday to acknowledge in personal terms the increased risk for African Americans amid growing demands that public-health officials release more data on the race of those who are sick, hospitalized and dying of a contagion. A Post analysis of available data and census demographics shows that counties that are majority-black have three times the rate of infections and almost six times the rate of deaths as counties where white residents are in the majority.” (16)
In Milwaukee County African Americans account for about 70% of the dead but just 26% of the population. It is similar in Louisiana, where 70% of the people who have died were black, although African Americans make up just 32% of the population. Race data was released in Washington for the first time showing that the disease has killed African Americans in disproportionately high numbers. Nearly 60%(!) of the District’s 22 fatalities were black, but African Americans make up about 46% of the city’s population. (17)
African Americans’ higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease are well-documented. No wonder that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only released figures by age and gender (Effective 4th April), defacto trying to cover the racist character of U.S. imperialism. This manoeuvre was so obvious that hundreds of doctors joined a group of lawmakers, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, including senators from the Democratic Party like Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker (first African-American U.S. Senator from New Jersey) and Kamala D. Harris (first senator of either Jamaican or Indian ancestry) to demand that the federal government release daily race and ethnicity data. They demand that the data should include coronavirus testing, number of patients and their health outcomes: “Elected officials and public-health experts have pointed to generations of discrimination and distrust between black communities and the health-care system. African Americans are also more likely to be uninsured and live in communities with inadequate health-care facilities.
As a result, African Americans have historically been disproportionately diagnosed with chronic diseases such as asthma, hypertension and diabetes — underlying conditions that experts say make covid-19 more lethal.” (18)
Many Afro-American people hold low-wage and essential jobs, such as food service, public transit and health care, that required them to continue to interact with the public. Compared to white people, blacks have lower levels of health insurance coverage and are less likely to have insurance coverage through an employer. The closedown of non-essential businesses has effected Black and Latino workers at a higher rate. William Rodgers, chief economist at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, estimated that the true rate of unemployment is likely 20.7% percent for African Americans rather than the official rate of 4.1%, and 18.7% for Latino workers, as opposed to the official rate of 6%. (19)
Coronavirus spreads faster in places with higher density, such as cities. Black Americans are more likely to live in urban counties than suburban or rural ones. In these locations, black Americans are more likely to live in crowded places which is the perfect hotbed for any contagious disease. Thus the Coronavirus is killing a bigger number of people because of pollution - a direct result of the unclean energies the capitalists use - but the racist exploitative system might kill even more.
Lockdown is not a measure that can stop the plague effectively but rather isolates the oppressed, increasing the suffering and the rate of death among North American Indians, Inuit and Black people. The close-down policy is trying to mask the worst recession since 1929 as well as the preparation of Bonapartist measures to fight effectively – not against the virus but rather the protests and uprisings to come. As our brothers and sisters from the North American Indians, Inuit, the Afro-American and Latino communities are the ones to be effected the most by the epidemic in the United States it makes it even more obvious how important their participation and leadership in revolutionary struggle is and will be.
In the end of the day, their knowledge and concrete experience with the racist, sexist and imperialist class system makes our brothers and sisters the strongest force for the ruling class to fear.
The RCIT has published numerous statements and articles on the COVID-19 crisis of which several have been translated into different languages. They are all collected at a special sub-page in our website:
(1) “South Korea's return to normal interrupted by uptick in coronavirus cases”, by Grace Moon, NBC News, 5 April 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/south-korea-s-return-normal-interrupted-uptick-coronavirus-cases-n1176021
(2) “Coronavirus (COVID-19) in South Korea - Statistics & Facts”, by Won So, 14 April 2020, statista, https://www.statista.com/topics/6082/coronavirus-covid-19-in-south-korea/
(3) Table by Yossi Schwartz, numbers from: "Age distribution of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in South Korea as of April 11, 2020", by Won So, 12 April 2020, statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1102730/south-korea-coronavirus-cases-by-age/
(4) “Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count”, The New York Times, Updated April 11, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html
(5) "United Kingdom, Coronavirus Cases, Deaths", Worldometer, 11 April 2020, https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/uk/
(6) "Geography may explain adult mortality from the 1918-20 influenza pandemic", by Mamelund SE, Elsevier B.V, March 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21420659
(7) “The Influenza Epidemic of 1918– 1920 among the Navajos. Marginality, Mortality, and the Implications of Some Neglected Eyewitness Accounts” by Benjamin R. Brady and Howard M. Bahr, University of Nebraska Press, published in: American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Fall 2014), pp. 459-491.
(9) “The Influenza Epidemic of 1918– 1920 among the Navajos. Marginality, Mortality, and the Implications of Some Neglected Eyewitness Accounts” by Benjamin R. Brady and Howard M. Bahr, University of Nebraska Press, published in: American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Fall 2014), pp. 459-491.
(11) “Indian Country, where residents suffer disproportionately from disease, is bracing for coronavirus”, by Dana Hedgpeth, Darryl Fears and Gregory Scruggs, The Washington Post, 4 April 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/04/04/native-american-coronavirus/
(13) “Indian Country, where residents suffer disproportionately from disease, is bracing for coronavirus”, by Dana Hedgpeth, Darryl Fears and Gregory Scruggs, The Washington Post, 4 April 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/04/04/native-american-coronavirus/
(15) "Indigenous 'at much greater risk' amid coronavirus pandemic Water shortages, insufficient healthcare, overcrowded housing make native groups especially susceptible to the virus.”, by Jillian Kestler-D'Amours, Al Jazeera, 20 March 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/indigenous-greater-risk-coronavirus-pandemic-200320185556308.html
(16) “The coronavirus is infecting and killing black Americans at an alarmingly high rate”, by Reis Thebault, Andrew Ba Tran and Vanessa Williams, The Washington Post, 7 April 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/04/07/coronavirus-is-infecting-killing-black-americans-an-alarmingly-high-rate-post-analysis-shows/?arc404=true
(18) “The coronavirus is infecting and killing black Americans at an alarmingly high rate”, by Reis Thebault, Andrew Ba Tran and Vanessa Williams, The Washington Post, 7 April 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/04/07/coronavirus-is-infecting-killing-black-americans-an-alarmingly-high-rate-post-analysis-shows/?arc404=true
(19) "Why black Americans are at higher risk for coronavirus", by Karyn Olsen, RUTGERS, 8 April 2020, https://bloustein.rutgers.edu/why-black-americans-are-at-higher-risk-for-coronavirus/