Fighting Coronavirus

An initial effect of Coronavirus in Ireland and Britain was one of disorientation, with uncertainty as to its impact and in particular its effect on those considered most vulnerable.  This is now evaporating.

The response of the British Government was a plan with four stages.

The first has passed and clearly failed.  It was called containment and was to involve trying to catch cases early and trace all contacts to avoid the spread of the infection.

The disease has spread and despite self-praise that the tracing system has been very effective there are an estimated 10,000 cases and no one knows who they are.  The disease has not been contained.

The second stage is called delay.  According to Sky News ‘this means the government will ramp up efforts to delay the spread of the illness’.  This however has only involved a recommendation that anyone with coronavirus symptoms, such as a continuous cough or high temperature, must stay at home for seven days, which appears not long enough to isolate the disease, and is anyway only a recommendation. School trips abroad should be stopped, while people over 70 with serious medical conditions should not go on cruises, which implies the problem is a foreign one that might be imported, and we are way past any such idea.

The second phase has therefore involved no actual measures so that the delay stage merely involves delaying a decision and a delay in doing anything.

This has been ignored by sporting and other bodies who have cancelled events, calling into question the Government’s strategy.  The Government, including Arlene Foster here in the North of Ireland, is hiding political decisions behind the advice of its experts.  Unfortunately, these experts are political appointments, and while Johnson gained credibility by their presence at his first press conference, their credibility will sink faster than his if they follow his agenda.  In Northern Ireland it was appropriate that the long-awaited report on the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal has just been published, reminding everyone of the lengths of stupidity that civil servants will go to in servicing their political masters.

The policies arising from the scientific advice that the British Government claims to be working from obviously conflict with that given in other countries, including the Irish State.  True to the traditions of the British state, this advice is a secret.  What we know is that Johnson appears sanguine that ‘many families will lose loved ones before their time’, and the mass media has played its role in preventing a tsunami of anger that this remark should have evoked.

On Thursday evening Radio 4 had an expert – ‘Chris’ – who continually referred to someone called ‘Boris’ as the font of all authority, as he defended the Governments’ strategy, and the interviewer gave the Government the deference it has so much enjoyed.  Social distancing measures were opposed because they could not be fully effective, but without the least recognition that less than perfect effectiveness in no argument in favour of no attempt at any effective action at all.  The strategy is clearly to allow the majority of the population to get infected in order for it to develop its own immunity and spare the health services from a task that it cannot cope with.

Delaying social distancing measures is supposed to delay the hit on the health service and flatten the impact on it; although it would appear to make more sense that the quick introduction of such steps would be much more likely to achieve this, while it also seems clear that no amount of realistically conceivable flattening will save it.

The third Phase of the British Government’s plan is called research and has been described as follows – ‘if delaying the spread fails, the government will intensify its focus on finding out more about how the virus spreads and how those who are infected can be treated most effectively.  The government has put £40m into finding a vaccine for the virus, which is undergoing clinical testing and is likely still several months off.’

So only if the delay fails will the Government focus on finding out more about how the virus spreads and how those infected can be treated most effectively???  It is impossible to take this seriously, or rather, impossible to take the plan as a serious attempt to achieve what it purports to be its objective.

The final Phase is mitigate, which, according to Sky News again,‘implies this is essentially the worst-case scenario . . . during this phase the pressures on services and wider society may start to become significant and clearly noticeable. At this stage, the virus would be considered widespread.’

However, it is clear by now that whatever impact the Coronavirus has, it will be lessened, or ‘mitigated’, less by anything the Government does than by what people do themselves, including health service staff doing their jobs.  It is beyond doubt that they are not well prepared.

Nothing in the strategy is capable of explaining how health systems will be able to deal with the massive increase in cases involving those in vulnerable groups such as the elderly and those with suppressed immune systems.  Acute facilities will be unable to cope and Governments have long starved social care systems of funds even before the last decade of austerity.

Promises of additional money now are of limited use without concrete plans to quickly requisition buildings or begin to increase production of necessary medical supplies and equipment. And these will also require additional staff, who even now should be brought forward for training in some of the basic tasks that will be required, freeing up qualified medical and nursing staff to carry out more complex tasks.

Self-isolation can only work if many of those isolating are not totally isolated.  An efficient state would be identifying this need and the means of ensuring that these people receive the minimum help in terms of food and monitoring so that they are able to maintain their self-isolation.

To pose such tasks is to expose the weakness of the current health system and illuminate the truth that far from there being no such thing as society, as Thatcher and her acolytes would have it, we are all individuals who are nothing without it.  And the nature of that society determines how we survive and thrive as individuals.  A society that defers to a state that is essentially unaccountable and governed by a moronic narcissist like Trump, or sociopathic liar like Johnson, is not one that can respond adequately to the current threat.

A struggle is therefore required to fight this disease and protect our most vulnerable fellow workers and citizens.  Relying solely on the state, a top-down bureaucratic monster that now has monsters at its top, is not an option.  A campaign to demand an adequate response to the crisis from the state is therefore only one option.

I work in an office, for the state, and it took the local union committee to raise the question of dealing with the virus and its implications for vulnerable staff and their families before local management took even minimal action.  They were, and still are, waiting for orders from above, as everyone working for the state often does, at which point we are back in Renewable Heat Incentive-land.

In general, the union movement has failed to act as a movement (as has the British Labour Party), revealing the extent to which it is a purely sectional organisation and not a class movement; more and more a series of organisations hollowed out of active participants and dominated by bureaucrats.

Acting as a social mobilisation to protect the most vulnerable and isolated would make it appear relevant to many in the working class, to whom its current relevance is not that much.  In Ireland the high level of membership at least gives it the potential to play such a role, although no one can have much confidence that it will do so.

Instead community organisations, including the GAA in Ireland, could play a major role in identifying the most vulnerable and offering them support and assistance.

A pervasive social disease requires a wide social response that only organisations within and for the working class can hope to provide adequately.  This is the perspective that socialists should offer and advance.

In the meantime it is to be hoped that the Governments that have left their populations exposed without adequate protection pay a political price; that Johnson for example is reminded how his breezy cynicism promised that the county is “extremely well prepared” when it obviously is not.

While over half the country has bitterly opposed him as an inveterate liar, and most of the rest have regarded him similarly, the latter have at the same time also agreed with him and so supported him.  With Brexit this might have been easier to do as xenophobia could be employed to ‘fight’ the EU and the imagined hordes of foreigners and immigrants.  But Johnson’s lies will be no use against viral infection and neither will xenophobia and prejudice..

The virus will be with us for some time, if it ever disappears completely at all.  It will more and more become a political issue, as it should. While we all familiarise ourselves with viral infections and epidemiology, and seek to protect ourselves and those vulnerable that we love, we should not forget what our politics means in all circumstances.  The class struggle between oppressed and oppressor is sometimes open and sometimes hidden, but it always exists.


5 thoughts on “Fighting Coronavirus

  1. We are told that there have been over 91,000 people admitted to hospital with flu like symptoms who have been tested for COVID19. Of these, only just over 8,000 have tested positive for Coronavirus. That means that the vast majority of people admitted to hospital with severe respiratory problems due to flu-like symptoms do not have COVID19, but either flu, or some other flu like virus. So, the real reason that hospitals are being over run is a bad year for the flu.

    So, the question that needs to be asked is, how many people admitted to hospital are actually suffering from flu or some other flu like virus rather than COVID19, and also, given that the number of deaths attributable to COVID19 is still only just over 400, how many deaths currently are attributable to flu, or other flu like viruses.

    When provided with this information, we might have a better understanding of what is actually going on. Because as I wrote earlier today, given that the number of confirmed COVID19 cases in Stoke amounts to just 4, its hard to see why this should be causing the NHS to be overwhelmed, or if it is it is an indication of just how unfit for purpose it has become following ten years of Tory austerity.

  2. “workers in car factories in Italy ” – Unions representing workers in all types of essential factories and plants met with the Italian govt 2 days ago, asking for personal protective equipment, safe distance between workers, temperature to be taken before and after shifts etc.
    The government gave them everything they wanted.
    The workplaces are being modified over this very weekend. Workers will be taught the new way of doing things on Monday or Tuesday and will then resume work.
    Some info about the development of the epidemic in Italy as well as stats here

  3. A few people have queried my attribution of the term social Darwinism. Social Darwinism was an ideology ie a pseudo science of social science that was influential up until the Nazis got hold of it, after the defeat of the Fascism the ideology lost influence but lingered on in some fashion. The normative premise of it that despite the cover of civilisation society really is really about the survival of the fittest, a rat race, a dog eats dog, a concrete jungle and so forth. This mentality can be stated
    in a crude or subtle way. The subtle way can be stated by hint or suggestion or between the lines of what is nominally being said. You can detect this in some of the capitalist supporting media with regard to the current viral crisis. Yesterday sky TV put out a piece on the roll call of the dead. The name of the person was not stated but the reporters had gathered what details they could from the hospital announcements, what was emphasised in all cases was the age of the deceased person, all bar one was over 70 years and all had ‘underlining health problems’. The expression ‘had underlining health problems’ keeps popping all of the time. This hints to those of us who have no underling health problems and are below pension age will be just fine if we happen to contract the infection, in short I’m all right jack, I can on as before for the worst that can happen to me is that I catch a cold. It is sad about the rest, but hey nature is selective in its cruelty.

    This mentality is well to the fore in Britain today, foreign commentary about Britain is astonished at what the Americans wrongly calling ‘innate British Stoicism.’ The World Health Organisation is astonished that the British have stopped testing for the virus for they see mass testing as the only way to stop the spread, the British are only going to test those who turn up at hospital for treatment. If there is testing you can know were the virus is, what street, what village, what town, what region might require more stringent measures and let the rest of society carry on. The British shrug their shoulders and say well the virus is already too wide spread for testing. An airways pilot phoned into a radio show the other day to say he was still bringing people into London from northern Italy, that was not is complain, rather his worry was there were no health checks at all at on his passengers, absolutely nothing, he said that he had flew passengers into Ukraine on the same day and all passengers were checked for temperature which only slowed things down for ten minutes.

    People like Michael Portillo appear on TV to say things like how proud it made it him feel to be British to see no Britishers wearing those awful face masks, still going to the horse races and down to the pub. He personally would not be seen dead wearing a face mask. This of course is the comical side of it all, it reminds me of the last 15 minutes of Carry on up the Khyber were we have Kenneth Williams and the gang sipping tea and eating scones will bombs and bullets rattle around their heads. The Tory strategy as I said was to let the bulk of the population acquire herd immunity, the scientific advisers are of the view that to try suppressing the virus is just a waste of time and money, they are now beginning to back track somewhat saying the older people will be protected by being invited to stay in doors for a month or so.

  4. The best analysis I have seen was from Chairman of the BMA, Dr, Ragpaul, on Sophie Ridge this morning. He points out that its those in at risk groups (over 60, and/or with underlying medical conditions) that need to be the target, and who need to be able to isolate from infection.
    South Korea did not call for social distancing etc., but had an effective containment programme, based on extensive testing. Its infection rate has slowed dramatically. That is one route if you can do it, but the problem is that new infections will always arise unless you completely seal off the country from outside contact.
    Containment in Britain failed. The government seems to have accepted that the most effective means of defence is the creation of herd immunity. That is also the most sensible scientific advice. However, Johnson’ government like Trump’s is a populist government. It is therefore prone to responding to populism and cries for “something to be done” whipped up by the media, even if that something is the wrong thing. Ireland seems to have done that by closing down schools etc., which is a totally bonkers response.
    Herd immunity is a sensible goal. It is after all precisely what vaccination is. The word vaccine itself comes from the Latin or cow, reflecting the fact that the first vaccines arose because it was noticed that milkmaids who developed cow-pox, and became immune, also because immune to smallpox. A vaccine deliberately infects people with a mild dose of a virus so that their body develops the antibodies to destroy the virus, and so gives immunity. The more people who are vaccinated, and so the larger the herd immunity within the population the fewer people who can become infected, and so pass it on.
    But, some people, often for narrow political purposes have used the term to attack the government policy, which has resulted in the government pulling back from it. As a result it is falling between two stools. Its policy of delaying the spread of the virus responds to the fact that its containment strategy failed, but also appeases criticism of the “herd immunity” strategy. Logically, as with vaccination, what is required is to get the virus into as many people as possible as quickly as possible so that they can build up the required immunity, so that it will be killed off, and unable to spread further. A strategy of delay works counter to that.
    But, of course, getting the virus into as many people as possible does not mean doing that willy-nilly. Health Secretary Hancock said that a sudden spike in infections would have obvious consequences though he didn’t spell them out.

    What he meant was a sudden spike would overwhelm the NHS. But, that simply shows an inability to think strategically or subtly. Of course, you don’t want to spread the virus into people like me who are in the at-risk category! We need to be isolated as effectively as possible from it, whilst the herd immunity amongst the rest of the population (about 80%) who only have mild symptoms or no symptoms is built up. That means as Dr. Ragpaul said that those of us in the at risk group need to self-isolate now. yet, the government is not calling for that, and is providing no support for people to be able to do so. Moreover, whilst many people could self isolate for a month or even two months with support, its difficult to see how that could work over a 4, 6 or more months period. But, the policy of delay is precisely what means that instead of coming to a quick, and short lived peak, during which those at risk could be isolated, the continued spread of the virus will go on for months and months, requiring those at risk to self isolate for all that time.

    In addition, the government is bemoaning hoarding, which is a rational response when the alternative is that you could find yourself unable to get vital supplies. But self isolation itself requires hoarding. If I’m going to stay in my house for a month without contact, I need to have hoarded food and supplies to last me for that month. If, however, I’m going to have to self isolate for 4 months, I will need to have hoarded 4 times as much in advance. Moreover, the need for hoarding is increased if, as a result of the government policy of telling people to stay away from work whether they are actually ill or not, so as not to spread the virus, production and distribution of food and other goods and services comes to a stop. That is why closing schools is bonkers. Children are unaffected by the virus, so it can’t be argued on that grounds. But closing schools means their parents have to stay home, including parents who may be health workers and so on. Or to take another example, there will be no point telling people to self isolate and so stock up on frozen food, or telling people they can speak to doctors and others via Skype, if people who work in energy production stay home either to look after kids off from school, or as part of social distancing, even though they might otherwise have been perfectly fit enough to work, because without energy supply workers there is no electricity. With no electricity there is no freezers, no Skype or Internet, indeed no electricity for hospitals, including to the ventilators needed to keep people alive.

    COVID19 has proceeded in a similar manner to all previous moral panics, and the ole of social media in an age of populism has exacerbated that effect. Politicians and even scientists in the public eye have been pressured to come out with statements based not on reason but on appeasing public calls for something to be done. On TV last week, I saw one former scientific advisor come out and rant against Johnson from a clearly political standpoint, and then call for him to step aside so that Rory Steward could take over as PM. he was presumably unaware even that Stewart isn’t an MP!!!!

  5. I recently wrote a short article about this in relation to Britain alone because I happen to be subject to their vicious policy/ strategy, hopefully the SD website will publish it soon. Before I add a few words I would like to commend the English medical blogger Dr John Campbell over at youtube for raising my awareness about the threat posed by the corona infection, he has been warning and advising on this for over two months now, with a new video update every day.

    Another indispensable youtube collective is MedCram, this provides all the latest information on the still developing science that is being unearthed to find a potential treatment and vaccine. I have been following the two above for a month now and can say they are very reliable without bogus claims. On their recommendation as well as the usual washing of hands etc you readers should consider taking these three items, vitamin D supplement, Quercetin with vitamin C, and maybe a zinc supplement. All three items have proven anti corona type viral protection. Zinc is being used in combination with an older anti malaria drug to treat sick patients with some success in S.Korea. In the biggest double blind study of 10,000 older folk a daily intake of vitamin D reduced respiratory infections by 74 percent. Dr Campbell is himself taking increased vitamin D at this time.

    The above youtubers are usually non political. However this morning Dr Campbell could not help saying that the policy of the British Government policy was in overt contradiction to what the World Health Organisation was asking governments to do all over the world. He stated that the latest WHO statement was a diplomatic yet sure rebuke to what ‘my own government was advocating and doing.’

    The British policy is best summed with the catch phrase ‘laissez faire’, the policy means putting the economy before health and life, it means permitting 70 percent of the work force to just contract the infection over a three or four month period resulting in minimum economic disruption. The young and strong who get the illness will only be out of work for only a week or two with a mild illness and be fast tracked back to work having acquired a ‘herd immunity.’ The policy, it is claimed, is grounded on the best ‘science’ but the phrase is of dubious standing at this juncture.

    Another science mentioned in the last big press conference was not medical science – it was ‘behavioural science’. This is an ideology of science, something Sir Patrick Valence is an ‘expert on’; you can find recent material of this on Youtube under the tagline ‘ bringing the new behavioural science into Government.’ Most behavioural science is of an ideological character, it aligns itself with a naturalism in psychology, sociology, economics and politics, it folds into something like Social Darwinism.

    The British policy contains more than a hint of ‘social Darwinism’ about it, I have come across a good deal of commentary with the assumption that the corona crisis could well turn out to be a blessing in disguise, ‘never let a crisis go to waste’ potentially riding the country of a million unproductive and welfare dependent old and sick people and maybe riding the streets of lots of undesirables like beggars, drug users and the undocumented etc. There is good reason to think that the science being talked about on the medical front is also of unproven quality, to offer just one example, the latest studies coming out of Hong Kong of those in recovery after having had the infection is saying that many of them have damaged lung capacity of around 35 percent. So much for the workers being fit to work again with a weeks rest.

    A good section of the British public from all the social classes are already in revolt against the Tory policy and there is much newspaper talk of a Government U-turn to be announced next week. To finish for now, workers in car factories in Italy and America have come out on strike against having to work without masks, which contrary to what people have been told does give protection if used correctly. While blue collar workers of every skill are being told to not panic and just work to they become sick, the more privileged are permitted to work from home and stay safe, meanwhile the super wealthy are using their private jets, hiding out in their out of town gated houses,(the former editor of the Sun newspaper boasted on GMTV he was having all this food delivered to his house), and consulting with the best private clinics. This sort of class inequity and hypocrisy is being noted not just in one country but in all countries at the same time, over the space of six months this could take on the character of the mythical permanent revolution against neo liberal capitalism, workers from all countries in revolt against the policy of putting profit before health and life.

    Quite a few self declared ‘Marxists’ have had a bad start with this thing, saying it was no more than a middle class moral panic and of no political importance . Bullshit, to quote Trump.

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