Government policy is the engine of the Covid crisis

IT IS a strange fact that some of the richest countries in the world are having some of the worst outcomes from the pandemic, along with other countries like Brazil.

Since social conditions, housing and especially health services are much better endowed in richer countries, this can only mean one thing. It is government policy that is at the root of the crisis.

Frequently, government claims about the pandemic turn into unverifiable or even blatantly false claims.

“We’re all going to get it anyway,” or “There’s nothing the government can do about it” (Biden), or it’s a natural phenomenon that we can’t affect any more than the changing tides, in the words of Boris Johnson, “We just have to ride this wave.”

This is all completely wrong. The virus is a natural phenomenon. But the huge global disparities in the death toll, and in the number of people suffering from serious long-term illnesses from long Covid, punctures these myths.

If death from Covid-19 were inevitable, it would naturally fall more heavily on those companies that were least able to offer medical treatment and mitigation measures.

But the huge gap is in the opposite direction. The poorest countries are doing much better, despite their lack of resources, and despite the scandalous lack of immunization support for them from the rich countries.

The website Our world in data operated by Johns Hopkins University is essential to fully understand the trajectory of the pandemic (and many more, including climate change). It is highly recommended.

They use internationally recognized categorizations of countries by income. It’s a surprising fact that low-income countries as a group have the lowest cumulative death toll in the world – 59 deaths per million in total at the time of writing.

As we move up the income ladder, those totals increase. Thus, the lower middle income group has 360 deaths, upper middle income countries just over 900 deaths, and high income countries more than 1,600 deaths per million.

The latter total is a huge multiple of the death toll per capita in the poorest countries. This group is the one to which Great Britain belongs, along with the United States and most of the countries of the European Union.

Rich countries have not faced a more serious virus than the rest of the world. But the combination of social factors, including the frequency of international travel and dire political choices, has led to much worse results.

Of course, there are always anomalies in large groups. But the huge death toll in Brazil, from a government that slavishly follows the neoliberal Western model, simply reinforces the idea that the carnage in the richest and most affected countries is a reflection of public policy.

Because that is what is at stake here. The Economist now estimates that just under 19 million people have died from Covid worldwide.

This is equivalent to the death toll in a major war (the death toll from WWI is estimated at around 20 million). The vast majority of these are found in the richest countries.

Shortly after the bank bailout in the 2007-08 global financial crisis, the wealthiest Western economies generally imposed austerity.

One of the main side effects has been the degradation of health services. In this country, that meant the NHS was completely unprepared for a pandemic that was long overdue, with huge staff shortages, high turnover due to appalling conditions and salaries, and even lacking the basics in operation. terms of PPE.

Never forget that it was the Conservative Party as a whole, including former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, as well as the Lib Dems, that decimated the NHS.

The result was that we had crying nurses using trash bags to protect themselves when the pandemic broke, and things have not improved much since.

The government’s response has not been to tackle the crisis on its own. He did the opposite and used the crisis to privatize NHS functions, such as Test and Trace, wasting tens of billions of dollars on unnecessary services and equipment where, as if by magic, Conservative donors and friends were still in the lead. of the queue.

At the same time, they introduced a series of authoritarian laws to increase the powers of government and the state and to reduce the liability of both.

Hard-won voting rights, assembly rights and freedom of expression are now under threat.

Government efforts to deflect any nascent opposition to them include the demonization of refugees, young black men and Muslims.

Deportation flights, Channel pushbacks and powers to render black and Asian British citizens stateless are meant to provide a distraction. The measures are certainly winning praise from most of the media.

In addition, austerity is making a comeback. The state’s retirement age is “revised” again, after the Tories reneged on their triple lock promise.

Taxes and national insurance have both gone up, with no tangible benefits for the NHS and nothing for welfare at all. And free market ideology is causing an absolute energy cost crisis at a time when real wages are already plummeting.

Hard-won rights and working conditions are also being torn apart, not least by the dirty practice of “fire and rehire”, or even simply the threat of it.

This is the whole gamut of reactionary policies that the Tories have always dreamed of, dating back at least to the period immediately following World War II, when they repeatedly opposed the introduction of the NHS and the Welfare state.

It is vital that the left and the labor movement as a whole understand how this is possible. The Conservatives’ wishlist for reactionary social, political and economic policy has always been there.

Yet they are only able to implement Enoch Powell’s race policies and Monday Club policies on the economy now because of their deliberately catastrophic handling of the pandemic.

Pandemic policy is not a side-show, as some seem to think. This is the main event. The chaos caused and the uncertainty created are the perfect cover to pursue this agenda. And who is hit hardest as the government proclaims freedom for the virus?

As government statisticians from the Office for National Statistics recently pointed out, it is workers (especially in the NHS and education), the poorest, people with disabilities and women who suffer.

We know from previous ONS reports that blacks and Asians are disproportionately affected.

It is our people, the working people and the most disadvantaged and oppressed who are on the front lines. The Conservatives will never defend them. So we have to.

Diane Abbott is Labor MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.

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