Fri Mar 01, 2024
March 01, 2024

Capitalism’s response to COVID-19: Not enough PPE, even less testing, many die

The class nature of pandemics is revealed by the fact that in the Flu Pandemic of 2009 three times as many of the poorest died compared to the richest despite both groups having the same level of infection. Today NHS doctors, nurses, porters, and care workers, bus drivers, construction workers and many others are dying in increasing numbers due to inadequate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and the government’s refusal to carry out mass testing and tracing.

By Peter Windeler, International Socialist League UK

The absurdity of the situation is that in the UK the cost of the crisis will be at least £350bn, which is 3 times the annual cost of the NHS. However, the crisis could have been averted if preparations had been made in response to the warnings over many years.

BAME and workers are dying

A high proportion of those dying are Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers. In The Observer the journalist Sonia Sodha has been inundated with a torrent of racist abuse after raising the issue. Sodha also disclosed that a prominent broadcaster had sharply reprimanded her for pointing this out.

The crisis is bringing to the fore racism within the UK. What is obvious to all is that the NHS could not survive without foreign workers, but these same workers have to pay an NHS levy of £2,200 a year just so that they and their families can use the NHS.

It is becoming more and more evident that workers are paying the price of the crisis. Those that are most at risk of losing their jobs are the young and less well paid while the better-off can continue to enjoy their salaries and are more able to work from home.

There is a crisis in care homes, where residents and staff are dying are just now coming to light. “Figures gathered from care homes by the Guardian this week show the actual death toll is considerably higher, while Care England and the National Care Forum, which represent home operators, have estimated that between 7,500 and 4,000 residents may have already died from Covid-19. The official figures rely on death certificates, which can take 11 days to process and may not always include Covid-19 as a cause of death, sometimes including deaths from flu, pneumonia or other underlying causes.”[i]

Workers fight for control of H&S

Dangerous situations are coming to light for all those forced to work. There are increasing deaths of bus workers in London due to coronavirus. This has caused a rapid response from drivers who sealed front bus doors and demanded and got other PPE measures. Their union branch also asked to witness the deep cleaning bus companies say happens each night to the buses. Their struggle is the reason that buses in London are now free, as announced on 17 April. Because for bus drivers taking bus fares means death.[ii]

RMT rail workers on the London underground have also imposed control over health and safety measures. If a rail worker’s task or job is considered health threatening it is not done, and they demand full pay.

Government in crisis as it does not deliver

There is a shrinking pile of PPE equipment and NHS staff are being told to work with smaller and less effective aprons. Government ministers warn that shortages of PPE could continue, and test rates remain low while the hospital death toll rose on Sunday to 16,060. With deaths in care homes and at home, the COVID-19 death toll is likely to be around 20,000 or more.

Testing is extremely delayed for many nurses, those, for example who have a high temperature are sent home, and many are not getting tested.

The government cannot answer the most basic needs of protection for many workers and the UK population – unless you’re rich or powerful.

In addition to hospitals PPE equipment is in needed in care homes, prisons, local authorities, undertakers, and in many non-essential factories that continue to work.

Ruling class hypocrisy

Everyone knows there is a lockdown but the rich can decide where they live. Prince Charles received a COVID-19 test as he isolated on his Aberdeenshire estate and the Queen relocated to Windsor Castle. The Prime Minister relocated to his grace and favour country retreat. Chequers to recover from an apparent bout of COVID-19 after leaving St Thomas Hospital in London.

The Chief Medical Officer in Scotland had to resign as she was visiting her second home during weekends. The daughter of the government Minister, Michael Gove, jumping the queue ahead of home care residents and staff to obtain a virus test (which was negative). Cabinet Minister Robert Jenrick broke lockdown rules twice in moving to his “family” home 150 miles from London and far away from his constituency.

Wrong strategies, broken plans and promises

The government’s strategy for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic has further been criticised. The government had to make an apparent change in its policy of “herd immunity”, however when this was changed to a policy of lockdown there was no accompanying contact tracing policy.

To effectively curtail the virus, as well as lockdown, there needs to be a policy of testing and contact tracing. It now appears that the government failed to use the 5,000 contact-tracing experts employed by local councils that already are in place.

Public Health England (PHE) had a team of 300 contact-tracing staff that it was using, but these were stood down in mid-March according to a report in The Guardian on 6 April. The 5,000 contact-tracers based in the councils were expecting to be called to start work and were re-organising their work in the expectation. But they were never asked.

According to Anthony Costello, a professor of global health at University College London, giving up on contact tracing was wrong. Speaking to a reporter from Channel 4 News, Costello explained that a lockdown is not a solution. It must be part of a strategy if suppression of the virus by reinstating contact tracing. It was a “guerrilla war”, and it was necessary to identify those infected, trace all their contacts and isolate each one to snuff out the virus. China, Singapore and South Korea had successfully attacked the problem this way.

Professor Costello explained that during their press briefings the government had been unable to explain what their strategy was. And without a strategy, that included contact tracing, it was evident that the government were still pursuing “herd immunity” and a possible 500,000 deaths. On Radio 4 on the 9th April, Professor Costello mentioned that the incompetence of Britain is revealed by the fact that it has a COVID-19 death rate of 100 times that of Japan.

In the early stages of the crisis, The Sunday Times reported a claim of “just let pensioners die” by Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s special adviser when arguing for implementing a policy of letting the disease rip through the country and so minimise its cost to big business. It has now come to light that associates of Cummings, who worked with him on the Brexit Leave Campaign, have been involved with modelling the effects of “targeted herd immunity” on behalf of the NHS. This was revealed in documents seen by The Guardian after the government, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, explicitly denied that the sacrificial “herd immunity” plan had been ditched.

Cuts and Coronavirus: capitalism exposed

The government has no strategy to end the coronavirus crisis in the UK because capitalism has destroyed public services and left workers at risk of death by the virus has been exposed by the closing of the testing laboratories run by the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS).

Matt Hancock admitted that the UK “…did not have the scale” to undertake the testing required for the COVID-19 pandemic unlike Germany. A network of 50 laboratories spread across the UK that operated as a first line of defence against virus outbreaks were run down, closed and centralised after 2003. A process that began under a neo-liberal Labour government was continued by the Tories with the sole purpose of saving money and rewarding the capitalist class.

Disabling the PHLS has resulted in a crucial lack of capacity for extensive scale testing. To avoid the implementation of the mad “herd immunity” scenario and its accompanying 500,000 deaths, it will be necessary to implement testing, contact tracing and isolation. Without the first part the second part cannot happen.

As the pandemic overwhelms the health service people the most vulnerable, especially in care homes, are defenceless against the virus onslaught. In particular people with disabilities are particularly at risk.

The truth revealed

A strange clique of right wing politicians now rules Britain. This clique only thinks of his or her short-term interests and are incapable of think strategically for the population.

The UK death rate is still rising and is set to exceed the daily deaths in Spain and Italy. In fact, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), in Seattle, estimate that the UK will be the worst hit of any European country. The UK with a projected death toll of 66,000 will eventually have more deaths than the combined deaths of Italy, Spain and France who all have tougher lockdown measures.

Despite the World Health Organisation urging a policy of “test, test, test” the UK government did not carry out that advice. The WHO, an organ of the UN, has seen its advice ignored by both the US and the UK whose leaders only concern is with their selfish, short term political calculations.

One report from a senior figure that witnessed the government at first hand said, “They were very slow, and they didn’t understand the scale of this.” He went on to say that those at the top were “blasé”, that emergency Cobra meetings were nothing like the efficient co-ordination exercises that have followed terror attacks, but ‘chaotic”.[iii]

Can there be an explanation for the incompetence of the ruling class? The deadly prospect for the UK reminds one of something Trotsky wrote in his monumental History of The Russian Revolution. Trotsky was describing the state of the Russian army and how it suffered more casualties than any of its allies in the First World War. He reminded the reader that the Russian soldier used black humour to cope with the prospect of his fate. A common saying was, “the war would continue until the last drop of Russian blood”.

In 1917, a stinking corpse of a system, desperate to cling on to power and prevent a workers’ revolution, ruled Russia. So, it pursued a policy of sending soldiers to die against a superior enemy. It even had an offensive in July 1917 just to appease it allies, Britain and France, which from 18 June to 6 July cost the lives of 56,000 men.

Similarly, the projected death toll in the UK of 60,000 can be seen as a sacrifice to the hedge fund managers that support the Tory party. The present capitalist class have allowed this crisis by running down public services and being incompetent when faced with the crisis itself.

Coronavirus warnings ignored

The pandemic has been rationalised in the finance circles as a “Black Swan” event – something that is unforeseen and takes everyone by surprise. However, this is not the case. Many warnings have been issued to governments throughout the world but to no avail especially in the UK and the USA.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, the threat of a pandemic was not in the 5 top threats to the global economy.

Since 2008, when the banking system nearly collapsed, capitalism saved the banks and capitalism itself by pumping in money through quantative easing. This is a fairly straightforward method of buying government and company bonds. By doing so, the money in the system has to invest in shares and keep the economy afloat.

Eventually, as the theory goes, governments will be able to get their money back by just selling the bonds they bought. Quantative Easing has continued. The US has embarked on a fresh round of it to lessen the effects of the crisis. This is the pumping of money into the economy by governments. The government buys its own debt and debt issued by companies to keep the companies afloat and to force investors to use their money in the economy.

But due to coronavirus the pack of cards has collapsed. The disruption to the global economy will be greater than the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression. In the US there is estimated to be an unemployment rate of 30%.

However as always, the hedge funds have been able to make billions from the chaos in the money markets and stock exchanges.

Everything has now changed. The stability of the EU is threatened as the richer countries like Germany and the Netherlands refuse to share the financial burden with Spain and Italy and continue to impose strict measures on Greece. The French government stopped a company fulfilling an order of masks by the NHS and Germany has accused the US of highjacking a shipment of masks bound for them from China.

The Guardian on 10 November, quoted Marx from 1868 saying that if a nation ceases work it perishes. This is why there is now a drive to stop the lockdown and start up the economy. The government has to keep paying out, which will lead to an inflationary spiral, as it has authorised the Bank of England to print money without any value backing it up. It is very possible that hyper-inflation will merge with recession.

As the pandemic subsides one thing for sure is that the economic contradictions will not go way. Banks will essentially be insolvent and only keep going because of government bailouts. Unemployment will be higher and there will be an increase in precarious work. The social and health services will be under ever more pressure. Added to this will be a continuing reduction in living standards as inflation undermines what people can buy with whatever money they have.

The only way capitalism has prepared for pandemics was to close down as many public services as it could. For the moment the rich West has ensured the survival of capitalism. However, the less developed countries of the world are now left looking over the precipice. Future deeper crises are guaranteed, and revolutionary upsurges will intensify in the oppressed and also in the imperialist countries as a result.

No crisis can be truly overcome without a fight against the cause – the pandemic of capitalism. To live under capitalism means one crisis after another or even at the same time. Today workers are dying because capitalism will not protect them from COVID-19. It has to be overthrown in the fight for socialism. But that fight can only develop its full extent with a revolutionary party that fights for mass mobilisations, for workers’ control and a workers, not a parliamentary government

PPE for all staff and MASS testing and tracing!

Organise in your workplaces – NO safety – NO work – FULL pay!

Support all actions by workers to save their lives!

Defend our lives – fight for workers’ power – fight for socialism!




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