Professor Tim Colbourn of University College London was quoted in the ‘Financial Times’ (on 4 Jan) that it was “entirely reasonable to think that the burden of Covid can be reduced by 95 per cent in 2022, so that it’s no longer a top 10 health problem. That would be a reasonable goal to end the pandemic.”
The article notes that ‘some experts view Omicron itself as a pointer to future evolution of the Sars-Cov-2 virus, as natural selection favours mutations that pass quickly and efficiently between people who already have some immune protection . . . These conclusions are supported by epidemiological evidence that the risk of severe disease is reduced by half or more with Omicron.’
The Director of the Wellcome Medical foundation, Jeremy Farrar, is quoted as saying that he was reassured at the prospect of Omicron taking over from Delta and that “I’d be more worried if you had different variants circulating at the same time.”
The article states that ‘another variant of the virus is a certainty and that while individual changes in the genetic code are random the environmental pressures that allow some to thrive are not. This favours variants that transmit quickly while evading immune response but mutations that make the virus more lethal are unlikely to make it fitter and may even be a handicap.’
Jennifer Rohn, a cell biologist and UCL professor, said that “although you can imagine a deadly new variant emerging that’s more harmful . . . I don’t know how feasible that would be for this virus. Sars-Cov-2 depends on infecting cells and it may already be close to the limits of its repertoire.”
The article notes that the view that the virus will become milder is ‘a matter of debate among scientists’, but quotes another professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, Paul Hunter, that he is convinced this is true of coronaviruses. “Sars-Cov-2 will continue to throw up new variants forever but our cellular immunity will build up protection against severe disease every time we’re infected. In the end we’ll stop worrying about it.”
Jeremy Farrar notes that there is a small risk of an evolutionary jump – “something out of left field that does not come from existing lineages”, the article states that ‘most experts regard it as extremely unlikely. “I’m much more scared of another pandemic caused by a new virus that we don’t yet know about than by some variant of Sars-Cov-2” says Tim Colbourn.
Since much of the left has taken a doomsday view of Covid-19 this is perhaps not good news for their perspectives. How they can continue to argue for a zero-Covid policy – the article quotes a forecast of 3bn infections world-wide over the next two months – is a terrain I don’t really want to explore. With perspective not far from the fictitious character Private Frazer of ‘Dad’s Army’, perhaps they will cling to a dialectical understanding of the non-linear revolutionary genetic leap that will confirm their pessimism.
They will not, in addition, be enamoured with the views of the former chairman of the UK’s vaccine taskforce, Dr. Clive Dix, who has said ‘Covid should be treated as an endemic virus similar to flu, and ministers should end mass-vaccination after the booster campaign.’
He effectively repeats the views of Dr. Gerald Barry in Dublin quoted in the previous post in calling ‘for a major rethink of the UK’s Covid strategy, in effect reversing the approach of the past two years and returning to a “new normality”.
“We need to analyse whether we use the current booster campaign to ensure the vulnerable are protected, if this is seen to be necessary,” he said. “Mass population-based vaccination in the UK should now end.”
‘The Guardian’ article goes on to report him saying that ministers should urgently back research into Covid immunity beyond antibodies to include B-cells and T-cells (white blood cells). This could help create vaccines for vulnerable people specific to Covid variants . . . adding: “We now need to manage disease, not virus spread. So stopping progression to severe disease in vulnerable groups is the future objective.”’
The article quotes Professor Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, saying: “Everything depends on whether another variant comes up. A fourth dose or second booster of the existing vaccine probably isn’t going to achieve very much. The evidence is that immunity against severe disease is much longer lasting. The only justification for doing a second booster for the majority of the population would be if we saw clear evidence of people, five or six months after their booster, ending up in hospital with severe Covid.”
Most people will welcome these views, if only because it’s what they want to hear, as they are tired of lockdown and fed up with the restrictions on their lives. One danger of pretending everyone has been equally in danger from Covid-19 was always that the vulnerable would be overlooked. A continuing blanket assertion that we are all still threatened, including children, is worse than useless.
The left’s zero-Covid strategy has nowhere to go, except to expose its exponents as wild catastrophists whose ultra-left politics is exposed once again; supporting longer restrictions for which more and more people can see little justification. Believing that socialist revolution can only arise out of crisis, they wrongly assume that every crisis requires revolutionary methods. They do so in pursuit of relevance and sign of their revolutionary purity. That social crisis has not shown itself conducive to working class politics was the subject of some of the earliest posts on this blog.
A continued forlorn and regressive campaign for zero-Covid will ignore the real issues that are arising, and will have to argue that individual, very basic, freedoms and civil rights should continue to be suppressed by the state.
The issues arising include other costs of lockdown, which will affect working people, and the young especially, for decades. A left that wants this lockdown extended and deepened has no credibility in responding to these problems.
These costs include financial, health and educational losses. Calls by the left for the government to pay for workers not to work exhibit all the ignorance often called out by conservatives and reactionaries. Those workers genuinely at risk or sick must be fully protected but this requires that the rest of the working class actually continues to work. Real mass lockdown of society is impossible. Pretending that only ‘essential’ workers should continue to work divides the working class perniciously and reveals levels of ignorance about a division of labour under capitalism that makes the vast majority ‘essential’.
As for asking the government to pay, this reveals incredible confusion at multiple levels – illusions in the capitalist state; illusions in the power of money without workers producing goods and services to buy with this money; the effects of inflation on workers’ living standards in simply handing out money, and the fact that governments don’t pay for anything – they tax or borrow and pay back the latter with the former, unless of course they print money, but then see previous comment.
If any of what this left claimed was true for any length of time, the ‘property question’ which Marx said was key would not be the ‘leading question’ in socialist politics.
More immediately, socialists should support workers being back in the workplace, in order to strengthen their feelings of shared identity, interests, solidarity and organisation. Concern about health and safety should be dealt with collectively, which is much easier to do if you actually work closely together.
The Health Service has failed – see this earlier post – but to say so is almost to be damned as impugning the staff who work in it, some of whom have made real sacrifices during the pandemic. Unfortunately, the politicians and bureaucrats who have been responsible for the incapacity of health services to carry out their role have cynically hid behind them, substituting rhetoric about heroes and rituals of hand-clapping for an effective service.
The British left is especially bought into illusions in the NHS, which is a health bureaucracy that was exposed from the start as incapable of protecting even its own staff. The overwork of many staff is testament to its essential nature as a medical bureaucratic creature of the state, which for socialists is first and foremost a capitalist state with operations, functions and direction determined by the requirements of its class character.
Much of the Irish left wants an Irish NHS, because health care in the South is two tier, in complete ignorance of the fact that the failure of the NHS in the North means that health care there is more and more two tier as well.
Health provision in the pandemic has undergone a real crisis, with services closed down or restricted, waiting lists increased and diagnoses not carried out. Just like an economic crisis, no crisis goes to waste as far as those in power are concerned. Simply defending the existing service and believing that more money is the answer is an illusion.
So, to answer the question – Covid-19 will only go away if a zero-Covid policy was possible and was implemented. It isn’t possible so it isn’t going to happen. Instead Covid-19 and the mistaken reaction to it will leave in its wake multiple problems. We need to understand the reason for this mistaken reaction and what the correct approach now is to the current and future evolution of the disease.
Back to part 2