Article by Almedina Gunić, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 02 February 2020, www.thecommunists.net
The 2019-nCoV (short for: 2019 novel Coronavirus) dominates the news since more than two weeks now, broadly labeled as the “Wuhan Coronavirus” respectively “Wuhan Virus”. Travel bans were announced by the U.S., followed by Australia. Western European countries like Britain withdraw the majority of their staff in embassies and consulates from China (1).
Revolutionaries, however, need to distance themselves from the sensational hype and take a sober look at this phenomenon. #Jenesuispasunvirus (“I am not a virus”) was initiated by migrants from various countries like China, Vietnam, Cambodia and many more who live in France and experienced a massive increase of chauvinism lately (2). We need to understand and learn from the experiences that our brothers and sisters from various Asian countries made since the media hype started.
Information on the virus itself which is given by doctors, health workers and research institutes help us to get an idea about the virus itself. But it is our Marxist worldview that provides us with the methodological framework to draw the correct conclusions in order to deal with measures implemented by the ruling class. It is our Marxist worldview which guides us in elaborating a revolutionary stance even in such events like the spread of a virus. In the end of the day, it is the task of our class – the proletariat – to solve all fundamental problems of the human society.
Hard Facts on 2019-nCov
The 2019-nCov is a virus which shares some similarities with already known diseases like the so-called SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS-CoV) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or EMC/2012 or MERS-CoV). All three diseases are a form of zoonotic human coronavirus. This means that they most likely started with an infection passed to human by animals like some species of bats in the case of SARS-CoV and eventually 2019-nCov and camels in the case of EMC/2012. It is not excluded that some intermediate host linked these viruses between the named animals and humans. However, after the infection all three viruses are spread from human to human as the viruses mutate and adapt to the specifics of our bodies. All three forms are part of the Coronavirus family which is named after the appearance of the viruses being reminiscent with a worn crown (3).
2019-nCov is not well researched yet as it most likely infected patient zero (first human infected by the virus) in December 2019 or sooner, giving medical researches not enough time to fully understand its character. However, it seems that patient zero was not infected at the Huanan seafood market (Wuhan) but rather a later infected person “brought” the infection to the market where it spread rapidly (4). The morbidity (number of infections in a population group) is not clear yet, although we know that worldwide 11,955 laboratory-confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV infection have been reported until 1st February. The same source states that the number of deaths is 259, which doesn't give an exact answer to the mortality (ratio of how many died in a statistic group of people) but gives a certain premature idea (5). A commentary published by the NPO institute Molecular Diversity Preservation International (MDPI) states: “A range of disease has been observed highlighted by fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, and leukopenia; patients have included mild cases needing supportive care to severe cases requiring extracorporeal membrane oxygenation; however, compared to SARS-CoV (10% mortality) and MERS-CoV (35% mortality), the 2019-nCoV appears to be less virulent at this point with the exception of the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.” (6)
The basic reproduction number of 2019-nCov might be 3.11 (i.e. how many people are infected by one patient), although approximately only 5% of the cases in Wuhan may be known yet (7). The incubation period seems to be something around 6 days (8).
In simple words one can say that as far as we know, 2019-nCov was most likely caused by an animal like a bat infecting a human, potentially transmitted via another host but is spread by human-to-human contact since then. It seems to be similar contagious to the flu, although we don't know if it is spread via air, sneezed droplets or other ways. It is absolutely unclear how many people have been in contact with the virus without an outbreak of infection respectively how many people have functioned (“only”) as a host. Therefore we only estimate that the virus is less deadly than SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV but more deadly than Influenza (the flu) compared to the overall contact it gets. Mutations of the virus are developing, which is a general virus behavior. Very dangerous mutations might or might not happen as with other viruses. Last but not least the origin of the first infections seems not to be the Huanan Market (Wuhan).
The Perception of 2019-nCov
The virus itself may or may not become a severe threat to mankind, a danger always looming on the medical horizon. However, the way the bourgeoisie and its media deal with the virus is quite exceptional. One of the most chauvinist examples of bourgeois media coverage on 2019-nCoV is the French paper “Courrier picard”. The printed issue from the 26th January had the words “Alerte Jeune” (Yellow Alarm) on its cover and the title “Nouveau péril jeune?” (New Yellow Peril) on the leading article (9). The racist phrase “Yellow Peril” has a long history in the Western world to describe threats from the continent of Asia which are destroying the culture, the economy and health of Western societies. It is arch-reactionary and was very often used in France in the time of colonialism (10).
In addition to the USA and Australia, countries like Singapore, Mongolia and Guatemala have announced travel restrictions respectively travel bans from Chinese visitors. Italy has even declared the state of emergency for the next six months because of two (!) Chinese tourists in Rome, who were diagnosed with 2019 -nCoV infection. The spokesperson of the WHO, Chris Lindmeier put it rightly: “As we know from other scenarios, be it Ebola or other cases, whenever people want to travel, they will. And if the official paths are not opened, they will find unofficial paths.” (11). The major threat is not 2019-nCov, it is the potential for chauvinism and bonapartism. The major threats are the steps that have been and will be taken by the ruling classes against the workers and oppressed under the pretext of security. China has already forced the people of Wuhan into quarantine, allowing only minimum interaction between the citizens (12).
The progressive protests in Hong Kong (13), which had mainly the youth on the streets fighting against the bonapartist regime in China may come under a reactionary influence with some blue ribbons joining the protests (14). The RCIT strongly oppose any collaboration between the protesters in Hong Kong with pro-establishment forces. In addition some activists have raised reactionary accusations similar to the chauvinist Yellow Peril-trend in France. It is true that the imperialist Chinese regime can not be trusted in its implementation of the correct measures against the virus. However, any chauvinism against the people from Wuhan and other parts of China must be opposed by any means!
Irrespective of all of these developments, the Chinese imperialist state has shown how centralized it deals with the outbreak of 2019-nCov. A whole new emergency hospital, the Huoshenshan Hospital with 1,000 beds for patients infected by 2019-nCoV was build in only 9 days (15)! The Western imperialists' approach shows a combination of chauvinism towards the people of the continent of Asia and the general increase of inner-imperialist tensions. However, for the more neoliberal, less state-capitalistic Western imperialists such an efficient and centralized reaction by the Chinese state is so far beyond their understanding. The only explanation they have for such an efficient reaction is: the 2019-nCoV is a bigger threat than known yet and Chinese imperialists are hiding information. It is beyond the horizon of the lobbyist structured U.S. and the ideals of the Western imperialist version of free market to create such a facility irrespective of the costs in shortest time.
Even with all resources at hand, the government of the U.S. had nothing similar done in 2009 and later on as the so-called “swine flu” infected 60.8 millions, killing between 8,868 and 18,306 patients in the United States in only one year! The (H1N1)pdm09 virus (swine flu) killed 151,700-575,400 people worldwide without a single state declaring travel ban for US-citizens (16). This demonstrates again that the paranoia around the 2019-nCoV is simple chauvinism against Chinese people and people from Asia in general.
Not to speak about the fact that so many other diseases are killing people in poor semi-colonial countries like the war-driven Yemen where a Cholera outbreak infected 686,722 people and killed 1,093 – mainly children – between 1st January 2018 and 12th May 2019 (17). Another example is the HIV/AIDS infection where the estimated regional death toll stood at a total of 2.2 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2001 (18). Even from a pure medical point of view, it is unreasonable to participate in any hysteria with 2019-nCoV when so many more people in the world die from other diseases. However, it is the imperialist arrogance where the lives from the Western respectively the imperialist citizens (in case of Japan, Russia, China) count more than thousands or even millions of lives from people living in semi-colonial countries.
Now, with all the facts clear and the bigoted, chauvinist motives of the people behind the hysteria made visible, it is important to draw the correct conclusions out of the current situation.
First, revolutionaries have to oppose any form of chauvinism that occurs against people from Asia (or any other part of the world). This chauvinism can appear openly articulated like in the newspaper “Courrier picard” and the Yellow peril ideology. But it can also be far more hidden like it is in the case of the double standard towards dealing with diseases coming from China with the 2019-nCoV and diseases coming from the U.S. like the (H1N1)pdm09. Therefore revolutionaries should even oppose general travel bans and forced quarantine. This doesn't mean to ignore the necessity of protection against 2019-nCoV and other diseases. However, the answer is to implement health screens for all travelers and to offer immediate health care for free if any case of infection is detected.
Second, revolutionaries should demand that both cure and preventive vaccination must be developed as soon as possible. This means that experts and medical staff all around the world have to collaborate in order to fulfill these tasks in short time. All developments in this field must be accessible for the global public and have to be monitored and controlled by the international workers movement. Health care facilities and hospitals must be built in the same tempo as it was the case with the Huoshenshan Hospital in order to offer sufficient treatment.
Third, 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.
The costs of all measures must be financed by the multinational corporations, especially the pharmaceutical industry which needs to be nationalized under workers control. We must fight for these and other revolutionary demands via protests and strikes and general strikes.
2019-nCoV is a virus and its cure has to be developed by medical experts. However, we as the working class are the class which leads mankind into a future of freedom and health. We are the ones to fight against the ruling classes, against capitalism and imperialism. We are the ones to fight for a revolutionary uprising, a world revolution against this class system. A system which is responsible for the unnecessary dead of billions of people in so many forms! Let us make sure that no brother or sister must die in misery anymore!
(1) Travel bans plunge China into deepening isolation over coronavirus, Australia and other countries follow US in imposing near-total travel ban as foreign companies scale back activity. By Emma Graham-Harrison. The Guardian, February 1, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/01/coronavirus-travel-bans-plunge-china-into-deepening-isolation
(2) 'I am not a virus': France's Asian community pushes back over xenophobia. By Caroline Pailliez, Johnny Cotton. Reuters World News, January 31, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-health-france-sentiment/i-am-not-a-virus-frances-asian-community-pushes-back-over-xenophobia-idUSKBN1ZU2PV
(3) Human Coronavirus Types. By Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USA), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/types.html
(4) See: Figure 1 - Date of illness onset and age distribution of patients with laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV infection, in: Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China. By Chaolin Huang, Yeming Wang, Xingwang Li, Lili Ren, Jianping Zhao, Yi Hu, Li Zhang, Guohui Fan, Jiuyang Xu, Xiaoying Gu, Zhenshun Cheng, Ting Yu, Jiaan Xia, Yuan Wei, Wenjuan Wu, Xuelei Xie, Wen Yin, Hui Li, Min Liu, Yan Xiao, Hong Gao, Li Guo, Jungang Xie, Guangfa Wang, Rongmeng Jiang, Zhancheng Gao, Qi Jin, Jianwei Wang, Bin Cao. The Lancet, corrected version, January 30, 2020, page 3, https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0140-6736%2820%2930183-5
(5) Geographical distribution of 2019-nCov cases globally. By European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, February 1, 2020, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases
(6) Return of the Coronavirus: 2019-nCoV. By Lisa E. Gralinski, Vineet D. Menachery. MDPI, January 24, 2020, page 2, https://www.mdpi.com/1999-4915/12/2/135
(7) Novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV: early estimation of epidemiological parameters and epidemic predictions. By Jonathan M. Read, Jessica R.E. Bridgen, Derek A.T. Cummings, Antonia Ho, Chris P. Jewell. MedRxiv, Version 2, January 27, 2020, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.01.23.20018549v2.full.pdf
(8) See: Table 1 - Epidemiological characteristics of human CoVs, in: Nowcasting and forecasting the potential domestic and international spread of the 2019-nCoV outbreak originating in Wuhan, China: a modelling study. By PhD Joseph T Wu, PhD Kathy Leung, PhD MD Gabriel M Leung. The Lancet, January 31, 2020, p. 4, https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0140-6736%2820%2930260-9
(9) Twitter status of Mr. Propagande from January 26, 2020, https://twitter.com/MrPropagande/status/1221400655010631681
(10) The "Yellow Peril" Mystique: Origins and Vicissitudes of a Racist Discourse. By Stanford M. Lyman. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society Vol. 13, No. 4 (Summer, 2000), pp. 683-747
(11) Coronavirus: US bars foreigners who recently visited China. BBC News, February 1, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-51335278
(12) Diary of a Wuhan native: A week under coronavirus quarantine, A teacher from epicentre of deadly outbreak describes the growing anxiety under lockdown and anger towards government. By Shawn Yuan. Aljazeera, January 31, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/diary-wuhan-native-week-coronavirus-quarantine-200131045152448.html
(13) China: Long Live the Popular Uprising in Hong Kong! After protestors storm the parliament: general strike against the extradition bill and the Lam Administration! Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), July 3, 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/long-live-the-popular-uprising-in-hong-kong/
(14) A Divided Hong Kong Confronts the Arrival of the Coronavirus. By Austin Ramzy. New York Times, January 28, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/28/world/asia/coronavirus-hong-kong-border.html
(15) China just completed work on the emergency hospital it set up to tackle the Wuhan coronavirus, and it took just 9 days to do it. By Bill Bostock. Buisnnes Insider, February 2, 2020, https://www.businessinsider.de/international/photos-wuhan-coronavirus-china-completes-emergency-hospital-eight-days-2020-2/?r=US&IR=T
(16) 2009 H1N1 Pandemic (H1N1pdm09 virus), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services), https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/2009-h1n1-pandemic.html
(17) Epidemic and pandemic-prone diseases Outbreak update - Cholera in Yemen, 12 May 2019, World Health Organization, May 12, 2019, http://www.emro.who.int/pandemic-epidemic-diseases/cholera/outbreak-update-cholera-in-yemen-19-may-2019.html
(18) Disease and Mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa, Chapter 5: Causes of Death. By Chalapati Rao, Alan D. Lopez, Yusuf Hemed, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2298/