Since last February, daily life seemed to have normalized, especially in countries and regions with high vaccination rates (70% or more of the population), such as Europe, the USA and most of Latin America. Governments and companies lifted all restrictions and precautions, such as the use of masks and social distancing.

By Alejandro Iturbe

Sports stadiums were once again full of people, and those who had the chance to do so took advantage of the opportunity to take a few days off after a long period of care and isolation. Governments and the media no longer talk about the pandemic and, if they do, it is to refer to it in the past tense.

The idea of “new normality”, conveyed during the previous waves of contagion, has been transformed into that of “post-pandemic”, since it was considered that, with the predominance of the omicron variant, Covid-19 was controlled or reduced to the level of “a flu”. In an article last January, we denounced this as a fallacy or, at least, a very dubious perspective[1]. A conclusion for which we based ourselves on the considerations of the most serious specialists and of the WHO (World Health Organization) itself.

This idea of the post-pandemic era on behalf of governments and the bourgeoisie (and the political action that derives from it) has two objectives. The first is to “sweep under the rug” their responsibility in the emergence of the pandemic, in its expansion, in the lack of a vaccines against Covid-19, in the search for profit in its production, etc.

The second objective is much more profound: to resume, without any restriction, the full functioning of the economic process and, with it, the profits of the capitalists. Something that had already been expressed, even in the midst of the catastrophe, in the policy of “new normality” and that now takes a leap being presented as a post-pandemic stage. Recently, a top executive of a company with activities in Brazil and Argentina told me: “The world cannot stop”, which should be understood as “workers cannot stop producing surplus value because, otherwise, I do not make money or make less”.

Many “yellow flags”

However, reality usually comes back like a boomerang when governments and the bourgeoisie pretend to falsify it and act in accordance with that falsification. The truth is that reality has shown several yellow flags that indicate that the Covid-19 virus replicates itself in new variants that provoke new outbreaks that could be expressed in new waves of the pandemic.

The WHO itself “warns that the Sars-Cov-2 pandemic is not yet over”[2]. At the same time, it points out that “the study of the spread of Covid-19 has been complicated in recent weeks by the reduced number of tests being carried out by Member States” since these tests “are key in the investigation to estimate the possibility of entering a new phase of the pandemic”[3].

In this context, there were at least two significant outbreaks. One of them was in China, where, on Tuesday, March 15, there were “5,280 cases of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours, the highest number since the first wave of the pandemic in early 2020, according to data from the National Health Commission (NHC).”[4] This led the authorities to carry out tetanus tests in the country. This also led the authorities to carry out mass testing and to confine nearly 30 million people in 19 cities across the country. Among them, the “great technological metropolis of Shenzhen (17 million inhabitants), located in the south of the country, on the doorstep of Hong Kong”.

The other was in Great Britain, where “143,382 cases were recorded over the weekend ending March 26, with 210 deaths”[5]. It should be recalled that here 73.8% of the vaccinated population was vaccinated with two doses. However, the appearance of new strains, on the one hand, and the end of restrictions (a situation in which thousands of people took advantage of the weekend to travel) led to this new outbreak. It is estimated that the real number of infections is much higher, since testing and self-isolation are no longer mandatory.

Chaotic situations were experienced at several airports (including the country’s most important airport, Heathrow, in London) since, with a number of passengers equal to that before the pandemic, many airlines had to cancel numerous flights because some of their staff called in sick and they could not replace them all. A similar situation was experienced at other transport terminals: “There were delays of up to five hours on the Eurotunnel car service from Folkestone [England] to Calais [France] on Monday afternoon. Heavy vehicles were piling up on the M20 auto-route.” A tip given by Walter Ricciardi, a British government health advisor, completes the picture: “In Great Britain there is a 20-hour wait for an ambulance; they say they cannot give answers neither in emergency nor in normal calls”[6].

A similar scenario, with a sharp increase in the number of infections, is taking place in several European countries. For example, in Germany, in the context of a new law “eliminating general restrictions”, almost 132,000 infections occurred during the last weekend of March[7].

The emergence of new strains

We have said that one of the factors causing these recent outbreaks is the emergence of new strains of the virus. Let us look at some cases. For example, the existence of the deltacron variant (combination of the delta and omicron strains) has been confirmed, which, months ago, some specialists considered that it did not exist and that it was the result of a manipulation error produced in the laboratory. “WHO has confirmed the existence of this new strain of coronavirus”, according to Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, leading epidemiologist of this organization: “it has already been detected in France, the Netherlands and Denmark, but at very low levels”, which was ratified by studies of the Pasteur Institute of France.

Another new strain, called IHU, has been detected in Marseille (southern France), with several cases. According to the researchers, “the index case or patient zero returned from a trip to Cameroon… This data is another example of the unpredictability of the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants and their introduction into a given geographical area from abroad”, explain the authors of the study”[8]. In this case, what happened with the delta and omicron strains (initially detected in India and South Africa) is repeated: in countries with lower vaccination rates, infected persons became “laboratories” for mutation and the emergence of new variants which were then transferred to imperialist countries and others with higher vaccination rates.

But now the dynamics of the pandemic have become more complex because, in addition to the persistence of the original omicron strain, there is also the appearance of the XE variant, the result of the combination of two sub-lineages of the first one. XE is considered by the WHO as “the most contagious of all known variants”. It was first detected in Great Britain last January, but also appeared with several cases in the Galician city of Vigo (Spain)[9]. In other words, to the extent that cases of covid are maintained, people infected in imperialist countries or countries with high vaccination rates also become “laboratories” for the emergence of new strains and, in the context of the elimination of restrictions and care by governments, the starting point for new waves such as the one we described in Great Britain. This conclusion is shared by the aforementioned Walter Ricciardi: “The appearance of cases in Great Britain also facilitates the formation of variants because since February 24 there are no restrictions”.

It is true that both omicron and XE appear to be less lethal than the original covid or the delta variant. It is also true that the increase in vaccination attenuates the level of danger of infection. But the new strains appear to have the capacity to also affect vaccinated people or those who were infected with previous variants. A recent report states that, in addition to a percentage of cases of second infections, in the face of the new strains “a person who today has two doses is practically unvaccinated”[10].

An uncertain future

An article recently written by three scientists specialized in the evolution of the Covid virus explains what is happening in this field[11]. A virus is a basic microorganism that needs a higher living organism (a host) to survive and reproduce, a process that occurs through a chain of contagion. The host organism responds with antibodies whose function is to destroy and eliminate the virus within it. At the same time, the virus responds with genetic mutations that seek to evade this attack. This is a process called “evolutionary scanning”.

Normally, a mutation to a new strain of the virus requires a “chain of contagion”. But Covid-19 has shown a much faster mutational capacity: it is hypothesized that it is sufficient for one or two infected people to “mis-respond” to the virus for there to be a mutation to a new variant.

It is quite possible that many new strains or substrains have emerged. Those that are more contagious because of their ability to evade or fool antibodies are the ones that may thrive. This is the case with omicron and now XE: they appear to be less lethal but more contagious: “These large jumps in their contagiousness have been a major driver of the pandemic so far”. The authors go on to state that “the coronavirus variants that have emerged so far represent only a fraction of the likely genetic space. [There is no reason, at least biologically, why the virus will not continue to evolve […] That the virus has developed the ability to infect vaccinated or previously infected individuals should not have come as a surprise”.

Finally, they analyze the combination of several variables to forecast possible future prospects: “Will it disappear? Will it get worse? Will it fade into the background of our lives? Will it become seasonal, like the flu?” Their answer is: “Taken together, we anticipate that SARS-CoV-2 will continue to cause new epidemics, increasingly driven by the ability to evade the immune system. In this sense, in the future it could resemble something like seasonal flu, where new variants cause waves of cases each year. If this happens, as we expect it will, vaccines may have to be updated frequently, as is done for influenza, unless we develop broader variant-proof vaccines.”

In this context, they issue a warning: “Of course, the importance of all this for public health depends on the severity of the disease caused by the virus. That is the most difficult prediction to make, because evolution selects the viruses that spread well, and whether that increases or decreases the severity of the disease is, for the most part, a matter of luck” (emphasis added on luck). In other words, it cannot be predicted that the trend towards lower lethality that is perceived today is the only possible alternative. It is also hypothesized that a new variant will combine the contagiousness of the omicron and XE strains with the lethality of the delta. It is just “a matter of luck”.

The bourgeoisie gambles with the health of the workers.

The big problem we face now is that governments and bourgeoisie have taken the possibility of “flu-ization” of Covid-19 not as the specialists we have quoted but in the sense of the acceptance, by the population, of the flu as something “normal”. As we have witnessed, they have lifted the restrictions and the necessary care, thus helping the spread of new waves. They have also stopped investing (or invest very little) in the development of new vaccines or in the improvement of existing ones.

As important as this: they continue with the weakening (with ever-tightening budgets) of public health systems and the approach of transforming healthcare into a private business. We have already seen the case of Great Britain, an imperialist country that in the past had one of the best public health systems in the world, the NHS, now badly deteriorated by decades of attacks by different governments[12]. The situation is even more difficult in countries such as Brazil or Argentina and reaches an absolute fragility in the poorest nations of the world.

Now, the governments and bourgeoisie are playing a game of chance with the health of the workers and the people: they toss a coin in the air and bet that luck will be favorable to them. If they lose the bet, the defeat will be paid by the population with greater hardship and suffering. Even if they win, the prospect is of sequential epidemics of a chronic disease that will be confronted with increasingly deteriorated public health systems. In other words, although minor, there will also be hardship and suffering.

We reiterate, then, what we expressed in an article of last January, written before the wave generated by the omicron variant: “Faced with this panorama, we affirm the slogans, assumed by the IWT-FI, of vaccines for all, breaking the patent rights of the laboratories that manufacture them and the need for an international plan of massive and free vaccination, extended to all the countries of the world, as well as the reconstruction and strengthening of the public health systems”[13].

 

Notes

[1] https://litci.org/es/omicron-oleada-final-o-pandemia-eterna/

[2] https://www.cronica.com.ar/mundo/Variante-XE-Cuantas-dosis-son-necesarias-para-estar-protegidos-de-esta-nueva-cepa-del-Covid-20220406-0005.html

[3] https://www.redaccionmedica.com/secciones/sanidad-hoy/la-oms-halla-la-variante-covid-xe-la-mas-contagiosa-de-todas-las-conocidas-5269

[4] https://www.france24.com/es/minuto-a-minuto/20220315-china-confina-a-casi-30-millones-de-personas-por-un-brote-r%C3%A9cord-de-covid-19

[5] https://www.clarin.com/mundo/coronavirus-vuelve-reino-unido-provoca-nuevo-caos-aeropuertos_0_iYTW1Sh3aq.html

[6] Ver nota 2.

[7] En medio de una sexta ola, Alemania levanta restricciones contra COVID-19 (planoinformativo.com)

[8] https://www.redaccionmedica.com/secciones/sanidad-hoy/una-nueva-variante-de-covid-con-46 mutaciones-y-origen-camerunes-a-estudio-3301

[9] https://www.redaccionmedica.com/secciones/sanidad-hoy/la-oms-halla-la-variante-covid-xe-la-mas-contagiosa-de-todas-las-conocidas-5269

[10] See note 2

[11] Creemos que este es el futuro del coronavirus – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[12] See among other articles in this site: The year of living dangeroulsy (litci.org)

[13] Omicron: the Final Wave or Another Ripple in an Unending Pandemic? – LIT-CI (litci.org)