Testament to failure
With over a million deaths globally, writes Eddie Ford, criminal incompetence has inevitably led to a second spike
September 29 saw the passing of a grim milestone with 1,000,555 deaths from Covid-19 recorded globally. This is nine months after the authorities in China first announced the detection of a cluster of pneumonia cases with an unknown cause in the city of Wuhan. Regrettably, this figure probably grossly underestimates the true total.
Almost a quarter of the deaths have occurred in the US, at 210,785 - a truly damning indictment of Donald Trump.1 The UK, where the number has just exceeded the 42,000 mark, is fifth on the list, whilst China is way down at 4,634. But, when it comes to the death rate (per one million of the population) - perhaps the real list of shame - as of September 29 Peru comes top, followed by Belgium - not least because it includes all deaths in more than 1,500 nursing homes as Covid fatalities, even those untested for the virus.2 However, the UK comes seventh at 631.7 deaths per million - slightly ahead of the US, which stands at 624.68. China again is at the bottom end at just 3.4. It should, however, be expected that India and other backward capitalist countries will soon soar up the death rate list.
These figures are only the known toll of a virus that may have already been spreading in the world before it was first identified in China in December 2019. Recent studies from Italy have found traces of the virus in sewage samples taken the same month, while scientists in France have identified a case there on December 27. Hardly surprisingly, there is significant underreporting of deaths in many countries - either for political reasons or due to lack of capacity. In developed countries, deaths from Covid-19 in the home may be less likely to be counted than those in hospitals. For example, the Office for National Statistics in the UK calculates that the real death toll is over 57,000, as it includes every instance where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, including suspected cases.3 That is, possibly 15,000 more deaths than the official government figure.
Then there is the question of the excess mortality figure, which many people think is the most accurate - or only real way - of establishing the true number of Covid deaths. Fairly obviously, that will come much later after the acute stage of the pandemic has ended and data could be collected and cleaned of as much uncertainty as possible. A study published in July and yet to undergo peer review has estimated 202,900 extra deaths across 17 countries between mid-February and the end of May.
Nevertheless, despite its manifest imperfections, the official death toll still paints a grim picture of a virus that has spread with astonishing speed since December and it still shows no signs of slowing down.
In fact, the virus in Britain appears in danger of running out of control. The total number of confirmed infections now stands at 446,156 and on September 29 there were 71 deaths - the highest since July 1.
The sharp rise in infections was eminently predictable, as schools and universities started to open up again and people were urged to get back to work for the ‘good of the economy’. Once you relax a lockdown, there is going to be some sort of spike upwards. Naturally, the government has bended over backwards in the direction of business and getting things back to normal - as defined by capitalism.
In reaction to all the restrictions and assaults on ‘our liberties’, ancient or otherwise, there have been a number of anti-lockdown protests. There are those who are basically saying that the government is lying to us and the Covid threat has been massively exaggerated, or even that the virus does not even exist.
Having said that, you do not need to be a lunatic to think that the government has not exactly played a straight bat. Actually, all governments have an interest in exerting control. The recent anti-lockdown demonstration in London organised by the likes of David Icke and Piers Corbyn - brother of Jeremy - was attacked by the police and 16 protestors were arrested. Formally, people are allowed to demonstrate, but the organisers are meant to give the police “due notice” and assure the authorities that social distancing measures will be put in place - though in reality it is near impossible to enforce such measures on a protesting crowd. Other demonstrations have been banned, however. It is hard to see the logic of why some have been and not others, but that is precisely the point. Come a crisis, governments always have the opportunity to impose draconian measures - the danger being that these new emergency measures become the norm.
It might sound obvious, but Covid-19 is not a government plot - nor was it made in a Chinese or American laboratory. The likelihood, as most scientists believe - unless you think they are part of the conspiracy as well - is that the virus originally came from bats and was passed on either directly to a human or, more likely, via some other animal and then to humans.
It is true that the Chinese authorities were initially slow to get a grip. On other hand, it is remarkable that China does not appear in the top 10, when it comes to death rates. Beijing put in the necessary measures to suppress the virus, unlike advanced countries, such as the US or UK - which is not to say, of course, that there are no cases in China any more. Over the last seven days there have been 25 new infections, but that is not bad for a country with a population of 1.43 billion.
There has been a lot of debate in Britain over the plight of university students. And here there is no doubt that the authorities have acted irresponsibly. When you take a load of freshers straight from school - often for the first time living away from home - and put them together, what do you expect? Saying this is not to blame students for being students: rather the finger of blame should be pointed at the authorities - crucially the government - for not putting in sufficient measures like home learning using Zoom, and so on. Obviously this is not a substitute for direct, face-to-face experience, but the spike in Covid infections speaks for itself.
The fact that they are now talking about forcing students to stay at university over the Christmas period - confined to cramped accommodation like prisoners - testifies to a failure to predict what was surely obvious.
Although young people do not tend to suffer in the same way that those over 45 do, let alone the over-70s, they still get Covid. We now seem to be in a situation where about one in 10 who get the virus suffer long-term effects to the heart, lungs and brain, lasting many months - possibly even years. This can happen to the young, though older people are far more likely to die. For those between one and 14, the numbers of registered Covid deaths is four. But for those over 75 the figure is 39,058 - which tells you something about the nature of the disease.
Another thing to be noted is that the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced the end of the furlough scheme and its replacement by a far less generous system - paying only 20%, as opposed to the 80%, of wages. It is to be expected that the new scheme will not be taken up widely, leading to expectations of an extra million becoming unemployed. Yet the government has no real plans for retraining people. It just spouts empty rhetoric, when it should be working on the basis that Covid will be around for years to come - not just months. Realistically, this is how long it will take to roll out the vaccines and get them to people in sufficient numbers, so that the population to all intents and purposes becomes immune. But all we have had from the government is the promise to provide free courses for those without A-levels … beginning in April 2021.
Lockdowns cannot be extended indefinitely. The fact of the matter, except for utopians, is that you do need production and reproduction in any society. Without that people cannot consume. So the key question is who controls - is society run the on the basis of need or profit?
And, of course, it was the profit motive that the government was bowing to by encouraging the bosses to force employees back into the office and other workplaces.