How the Pandemic Revealed the Real Health of Nations

As we noted in our last issue, a pandemic is as good as any event to demonstrate the efficacy, or not, of a social system. This one has generally found the capitalist mode of production wanting. By now most people will have forgotten the early failures.

Submitted by Internationali… on September 18, 2021

The Chinese Communist Party’s initial attempts to cover up what was happening in Wuhan were only matched by the refusal of world leaders elsewhere to recognise what was about to happen. Nothing had to stand in the way of making profits so “the China virus” was China’s problem, and it was, in any case, “no worse than seasonal flu”. The insouciance of Trump, Bolsonaro and Johnson on the capitalist Right was matched only by President Obrador’s denials of the reality of the pandemic in Mexico on the capitalist Left.

The attitude of the richer states was that it was an Asian issue (like SARS before) that would not hit their shores. When it struck the heart of Italian industry in the province of Lombardy in January 2020, the health service there, which like such services everywhere has suffered cuts for years, was completely unprepared. Lacking PPE, ventilators and intensive care beds, the hospitals were overwhelmed. Doctors had literally to make life and death decisions. They were forced to abandon the elderly, and those with existing medical conditions as lost causes, as what few resources they had were focussed on those who had a better chance of survival.(1) In the 21st century, with all the benefits of modern science, the scenes were reminiscent of past plagues. Despite this horror, the denials continued. Bolsonaro insisted it was no worse than the “sniffles”, whilst Trump ostentatiously refused to take any precautionary measures. Johnson went around glad handing everyone until he, like Bolsonaro and Trump, caught the virus. His narrow escape from death (no shortages in treatment for him, or the other leaders) at last jerked him out of his complacency. The nonsensical idea of achieving “herd immunity” was abandoned, and the first lockdowns started, against a background of noise from the capitalist Right that these were unnecessary restrictions on the freedom to make profit. In fact, it was this concern for an economy that was already in trouble before the pandemic, that delayed decisive action. The delay not only cost thousands of unnecessary deaths, but ended up having an even greater impact on the economy, thus demanding an even greater amount of “quantitative easing” to cushion the blow to livelihoods and profits. This bought social peace, but we were never “all in it together”. Whilst those already with money and income saw their wealth rise during the pandemic, the low paid, and those on benefits, have been its main victims, both in terms of death and debt. We highlighted, back in March 2020, those workers, especially in Italy, who went on strike rather than work in unprotected environments(2) but in the UK, as even the Financial Times pointed out, statutory sick pay is so low that many workers could not afford to take a day off even when they fell ill.(3) 700,000 people in Britain were using food banks before the pandemic, but by April 2021, the Trussell Trust was distributing 2.5 million parcels a week.

Saving the National Health Service or Saving the System?

The malign neglect from the likes of Trumps and Bolsonaros has delivered some of the highest death rates in the world, but in per capita terms the UK’s is actually worse than the US. As elsewhere, the driver of the U-turn from “herd immunity” towards lockdown and other emergency measures was the impact on the National Health Service. The NHS was not in good shape even before the pandemic. In March 2017 we started an article in our broadsheet Aurora with the sentence: "There can hardly be a household that has not been affected by the declining quality of medical services in the UK."(4)

This is the product of decades of selling the NHS short by duplicitous governments of all parties. Thatcher may have introduced “internal competition” in the NHS, but Blair expanded it, and got rid of a further 32,000 beds. Overall spending in the NHS fell by £12 per person in the first few years of the coalition headed by Cameron and Clegg. Another 13,681 beds went under the austerity regime between 2011 and 2017. All through these cuts the average age of the population rose and thus the need for health and social care. Small wonder then, that the debts of various National Health trusts already saddled with massive loans to cover funding gaps, are on the rise. Unsurprisingly too, despite being the most popular institution in all opinion polls, the NHS does not compare that well with the health performance of other European countries. Even before the pandemic the average life expectancy of UK citizens had fallen for the first time since the Second World War. Only Malta has a worse record on child mortality (under 5s) than the UK, which is among the worst performers on a whole range of other health issues, from breast and cervical cancer to strokes and the suicide rate of the mentally ill.(5) As the Nuffield Trust put it in one report, the NHS is a middling performer because it gets middling finance. More crudely, you get what you pay for.

Entering the COVID crisis the NHS was still 84,000 staff short, despite the closure of so many units over the last few decades.(6) The pandemic has so far claimed the lives of over 1,500 NHS staff,(7) with even more rendered incapable of work due to “long COVID”. Many others have just been drained by the intensity of the work, and witnessing the loss of so many lives. “Clap for the NHS” may have been intended to give a boost to morale at a critical time, but giving the service the George Medal on its 73rd birthday, whilst giving the staff a pay cut in real terms (which is what a 3% rise is) can only be labelled “crap for carers”. It must have been very consoling for exhausted staff to hear that everyone else in the public sector (after years of a pay freeze) won’t get even that. Consultants, and some nurses, have threatened to strike so hopefully this kick in the teeth will not go unanswered, and not just by workers in the NHS alone.

Indeed, from the start, the way the pandemic has been handled has thrown dramatic light on the social, economic and political bankruptcy of the system which puts profits before people. The lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start had GPs buying equipment on eBay and some hospital staff using bin bags as substitutes. This was scandal enough, but the return of 30,000 elderly people to care homes to free up beds for the pandemic turned out to be a real killer. Untested, these patients went back to care homes where there was a lack of PPE, despite repeated pleas from care workers and their bosses. The Health Ministry was only good at supplying the care homes one resource – thousands of “do not resuscitate” notices.(8)

It was the attempt to address the lack of PPE around that time which threw the clearest light on the failings of the system as a whole. The solution of Hapless Hancock’s Ministry of Health was to hand out contracts to friends and Tory donors, some of whom have no health expertise whatsoever. Others were hired as “consultants” or “non-executive directors” who actually delivered nothing. What they did have in common was their connection to members of the government or the Conservative Party to which they were hefty donors. More significantly, the wife of a Tory MP, was tasked with running the miserable and useless Track and Trace programme. Next, Lord Feldman, a Tory donor, was brought in by junior health minister Lord Bethell, as an unpaid “adviser”. One of his corporate clients was then awarded a £22.6 million COVID contract. It was not the last such contract. According to Transparency International, PPE contracts worth £1.6 billion were handed out to firms with political connections to the Conservatives.(9) One went to a pal of Dominic Cummings, and another to the firm owned by Matt Hancock’s sister and brother-in-law (in which he has shares). This raised few eyebrows. Hancock was only forced to resign after being caught on camera kissing his lover, Gina Coladangelo. The outrage only came over his breach of his own COVID restrictions which, after Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle last summer, only triggered politically dangerous accusations of “one rule for them, another for the rest of us”. However, less has been made of the other issue, which is that Coladangelo, a marketing executive for her own fashion firm, was employed by Hancock as an adviser in the NHS. She only worked 15 days a year but got £1,000 for every day she worked (at what, we have not been told). Hancock himself was always a liability as Health Minister given that he is linked to British American Tobacco and other anti-health lobbies, via the ultra-right think tank, the Institute for Economic Affairs. This wants to replace the NHS with a US-style medical insurance scheme, and abolish the free at the point of delivery nature of the NHS. The Independent told us in 2019 that:

"The IEA has been an outspoken critic of public health measures for tackling smoking, obesity and harmful drinking, and past funders include organisations affiliated with gambling, alcohol, sugar and soft drinks industries. It has close links to the Conservative Party and the chair of its board of trustees, Neil Record donated to health secretary Matt Hancock between 2010 and 2018. While Mr Hancock is among the biggest beneficiaries, 30 Tory MPs including David Davies, Liam Fox and David Willets have received cash or hospitality from Mr Record, or fellow trustee Sir Michael Hintze."(10)

This is only the tip of the iceberg. There is some irony in the revelations about former Prime Minister Cameron’s lobbying of both the Treasury (unsuccessfully) and Health Minister Hancock (successfully) to get contracts from the state for Greensill Capital before it went bust. Just before winning the 2010 election Cameron was pontificating against “secret corporate lobbying”.(11) He should know. He was a lobbyist before he became Prime Minister and has made a fortune lobbying (including for biotech companies) since resigning. The Labour Party whine about sleaze but they are hardly in a position to criticise, since Cameron’s barb about secret lobbying was aimed at exactly the same thing going on under Labour, although Blair tended to reward his donors with peerages (of which he created over 200, known as “Tony’s cronies”). In any case, under the rules of the capitalist game this is not illegal. Which brings us to the heart of the operation.

Despite the “democratic figleaf” the pandemic has shone a light on the way the capitalists, and the machinery of profit, really manipulate the system via their political stooges in Parliament. This is not some deep hidden state. It is the real state, the dictatorship of the capitalist class, and all those social democrats and reformists who encourage the working class to participate in it by voting, are either inside the system themselves, or peddling a lie. They are disguising the fact that, as long as the current relations of production exist, voting is simply an exercise in compliance with capital. This is the democracy “for the moneybags” as Lenin put it in The State and Revolution.(12) It will have to be smashed and replaced by the direct and really accountable democracy of the workers’ councils administering an economy whose primary goal is to replace the interests of profit with the satisfaction of real human needs.

As it is, the coronavirus pandemic has also exposed the class question. Analysing figures from the Office of National Statistics, the King’s Fund(13) arrived at the unsurprising conclusion that, “in 2020 the mortality rate from COVID-19 was almost three times higher in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived decile of areas.” People of Black and Asian heritage also succumbed disproportionally but the operative factor here is the same. Low income (and thus poor diets for the most part) and/or living in constricted urban settings, make them more vulnerable to the spread of the virus, and to suffering its worst consequences. Given the appallingly low level of statutory sick pay in the UK we mentioned earlier,(14) many workers cannot afford to isolate. The UK has amongst the worst records for excess deaths due to COVID in Europe and yet, as these lines are being written, the imperative is still to get back to making profits despite a 15 fold rise in infection rates since the beginning of May. Even some of the scientific advisers who support the end to all restrictions in England are calling this “a gamble”. The new Health Minister (ominously, a former Chancellor who failed to do anything about adult social care when he was responsible for that), Sajid Javed’s mantra is that we “have got to live with COVID” which really means more of us dying unnecessarily from it. The Sage committee which advises the Government has made three models which point to hospitalisation cases rising to anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 a day, with further COVID deaths predicted at anywhere between 9,400 and 115,000 by June 2022.(15) More crap for already exhausted carers in the health service. The warnings are there. The Netherlands has had to reimpose restrictions as infections increased 20-fold in two weeks, and the incompetent way in which they are not even phasing in the removal of restrictions in a gradual way (at least in England) only adds to the danger.

Vaccine Wars and Intellectual Property Protection

Internationally, the one shining light in the COVID gloom has been the rapid discovery of vaccines. It is a great achievement but seems to have happened in spite of, rather than because of, the system itself. The real credit goes to those molecular biologists, often acting on their own with minimal support, if not outright hostility, from both the powers that be and the pharma companies. Indeed, if it were not for the independent initiative of two of them right at the start, the whole process of finding a vaccine might have taken the years that were predicted when the pandemic first went global. Professor Edward Holmes of the University of Sydney, working in a team of Chinese epidemiologists at Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre headed by Yong-Zhen Zhang, released the genome sequence on 11 January 2020 in Sydney. Holmes had asked permission from Zhang who took all of one minute to agree. In doing this, without consulting the secretive and sensitive Chinese government, Zhang was taking a considerable personal risk.(16) Six days earlier he had informed the Chinese government that his team had cracked the code, but had not heard back. He already knew the fate of Li Wenliang. He was the first doctor to blog that there was a serious new virus in Wuhan’s Huanan wet market in December 2019. In January 2020 he was arrested and forced by police to sign a paper retracting his spread of “false rumours”. A few days later he tested positive for the virus and died on 6 February 2020.(17) They are not the only heroes.

For years medical practitioners and biologists have been warning time and again of a coming pandemic. In 2008 scientists published an article in Nature identifying 335 outbreaks of EIDs (emerging infectious disease) and found that these were rising significantly.(18) All of these were the result of pathogens passing from wild animals to humans. Most of this is due to the fact that deforestation has destroyed the habitats of animals which tolerate the diseases. Destruction of the environment thus made its own contribution to the coronavirus causal chain. Species’ loss of habitat means they move closer to humans (or the domesticated animals they eat), with the consequences the world is now experiencing. There were plenty of precedents. The most famous and dramatic was HIV, which emerged in the 1980s, but the list also includes the Nipah virus in Malaysia (1998), West Nile virus (1999), Ebola (2014 and later), Zika (2015), then Sars-CoV-1 in 2002, and Mers in 2012, not to mention a series of more deadly influenza variants. The warnings were ignored. Plagues were either history or marginal, found only in the poorest countries. After all, modern medicine could end smallpox after 3,000 years of pestilence, so what was there to fear? A system based on profit, which has been systematically devastating the planet as well as impoverishing larger and larger sections of the world population, had no interest in the issue until it began to overwhelm the hospitals of the richest countries in the world. Even then it was only the persistence of some scientists who had pursued vaccines for both flu and HIV that contributed to the next stage in the rapid discovery of both the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines.

Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology at the Jenner Institute, Oxford and lead scientist on the AstraZeneca vaccine project, persuaded the Medical Research Council to switch the funding for flu research to coronavirus as soon as the genome sequence was made available by Professor Zhang. Saying she was “lucky” to get the money, she was politically astute enough not to criticise past funding failures, but instead called for better funding to meet the next pandemic.(19) Katalin Karikó was less “lucky”. After getting sacked by her university in Hungary in the 1980s, she left for the USA, where she found it hard to get a professorial post, and even ended up getting demoted. She nevertheless persisted in researching how mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid), the strand of the double helix of the DNA molecule that passes on the genetic code to the body’s cells, could be used immunologically. Most scientists rubbished her obsession, because attempts to synthesise mRNA triggered an immune response which destroyed it before it became active. However she persisted for 40 years. A chance meeting with Drew Weissman who was looking for an HIV vaccine in 1997, led to a collaboration which eventually resulted in the discovery of a way to allow the immune system to accept the synthetic mRNA. That was fifteen years ago, but more recently her work was recognised by Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci, the founders of BioNTech in Germany. It ultimately became the basis of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and Kariko (at age 65), now has a senior post at BioNTech.(20)

The BioNTech and Oxford vaccine discoveries were soon followed by others. Capitalism, and those states that gambled on contracting to buy the vaccine, got lucky. Dr Zhang’s early publication of the coronavirus genome had opened the door for one of the most rapid vaccine developments in history. It was, however, one thing to discover a vaccine and another to manufacture it in sufficient quantity, and “get it into people’s arms” as the cliché of the time goes. This puts the fate of the world in the hands of the big pharmaceutical companies. Here the system, once again, has revealed all its weaknesses.

As we go to press, in July 2021, over 3 billion vaccines have been manufactured and distributed. This is enough to vaccinate all the vulnerable people and key health workers around the world. However, despite the pious words of politicians in the richer nations, this has not happened. Instead, some wealthy states like the US and UK who financed the likes of Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca also signed secretive contracts which bound the manufacturers to supply their countries first. It was a gamble which paid off for them, at least in the short term, but it has also replicated the logic and inequalities of the capitalist system itself. Whilst the richer states have generally vaccinated at least a third of their populations (with smaller ones like Iceland and Israel reaching over 60%), most states in West Africa have only vaccinated 0.1% (Nigeria being the leader with 0.6%). This situation is unlikely to change any time soon. According to the Financial Times:

"The world’s richest economies have secured enough planned deliveries of approved doses to cover their populations more than four and a half times over, but the poorest have only procured enough for 10 per cent of theirs, according to Barclays analysts. Sub-Saharan African countries have procured just over one in 10 of the world’s roughly 8bn doses of approved vaccines on order, according to Barclays, largely through an African Union initiative. Countries from Malawi to Rwanda are reaching the end of supplies they have received from Covax, the global vaccine procurement body that has shipped just under 90m doses worldwide so far."(21)

Covax (the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Initiative) was set up by the WHO, in partnership with “big pharma” to ensure poorer countries would get the vaccine. It is failing miserably, and will only reach 20% of its target for 2021.(22) Meanwhile the third COVID wave is really hitting Africa which, due to the comparative youth of its population, had largely been spared in the earlier waves. Tunisia, a relatively affluent state in African terms, has vaccinated 4% of its population (the African average is 1%) but is now undergoing its fourth wave. The consequences are devastating:

"Coroners in Tunisia ... have run out of space, meaning the dead are often left in crowded hospital rooms alongside still suffering patients for 24 hours. The morgues are full, the health ministry says. Even the dead, it seems, are suffering. “We are in a catastrophic situation … the boat is sinking,” Tunisia’s health ministry spokesperson Nisaf Ben Alaya told reporters this week. “The health system collapsed, we can only find a bed in hospitals with great difficulty. We are struggling to provide oxygen… Doctors are suffering from unprecedented fatigue.”"(23)

Vaccine access is limited for the very same underlying capitalist reasons: markets, patents and the nation-state. These reasons are deeply rooted in a world order that prioritises protecting property, in this case intellectual property, even in a time of a grave global public health crisis. “Vaccine nationalism” works hand in glove with the interests of “Big Pharma” and we have seen its operation before. In the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s antiretroviral drugs were available which could have saved lives. But, thanks to the way intellectual property rights are protected, the pharmaceutical companies can basically charge what they like. In the 1990s the pharmaceutical monopolies could initially set a price of over $7,000 for every dose of its HIV drug. This ensured that the place where it was needed most — Africa — was the place that could least afford it. It took years of campaigning and pressure of the WHO before a kind of deal was reached where the pharmaceutical companies agreed to a partial relaxation of patents for “undeveloped countries” so that “generic” forms of the drug could be produced there at a fraction of the cost. Thus in South Africa treatment costs about $12 a month, whereas the pharmaceutical giants continue to make big profits by charging around $240 a month for HIV patients in the USA.(24)

Intellectual property rights and patents on COVID vaccines and medicines have been a key battleground worldwide since early in the pandemic. Trump kicked it off with his announcement that his administration would try to acquire German pharmaceutical companies to monopolise supplies. The boss of Sanofi, the French pharmaceutical firm, was soon warning the EU that if they did not act all their vaccines would end up in the US. The EU response sought to occupy the moral high ground. Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, herself a doctor of medicine, stated in April 2020: “This vaccine will be our universal, common good”. Despite the hyperbole the Commission was already engaged in a struggle with the pharmaceutical lobby behind the scenes. The latter typically carry out negotiations with each country individually and contracts are secret. European countries had been burned in the past by these companies playing them off one against another to make them pay more. When the pandemic first hit Europe there was an undignified scramble to get PPE and ventilators which pitted one state against another. In order to avoid a repetition, the health ministers of the 27 EU states agreed in June 2020 to let the European Commission handle vaccine procurement on behalf of the whole EU.(25)

The European Commission is often criticised for not being “democratic”, as it is chosen by appointment (as a result of back stage horse trading between states) and not directly elected. This might be true but, as the experience of the UK shows, nothing reveals the emptiness of an electoral system more than the lobbying “industry”. In Europe the main lobby group for the pharmaceutical giants is the EFPIA (the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations). It employs 25 lobbyists with a budget of €5.5 million to campaign for its interests and especially the protection of its “intellectual property”. The EFPIA actually sits on 8 of the European Commission’s advisory groups giving it an extraordinary power to influence EU decision-making. This usually involves arguing that patent protection and even the extension of monopoly pricing in such devices as an SPC (supplementary protection certificate) are the only ways to protect future research.(26) How successful they have been was demonstrated in October 2020, when the Indian and South African government proposed to the World Trade Organisation that it should waive intellectual property rights to allow countries to produce more vaccines themselves, and thus increase the supply more quickly. The European Commission along with other organisations in the richer countries rejected it. The EU can afford the pharmaceutical giants monopoly protectionism, and by playing along with them they can ensure their own supplies, whilst boosting their own economy at the same time. It is just one more example of protecting profits before saving lives(27) underlining for the Nth time the system’s incapacity to put social needs first.

Instead the pharmaceutical companies go to great lengths to avoid being seen as profiting from the pandemic. Take Pfizer for example. They were able to take advantage of BioNTech’s licence from the German government (which had funded its research) to get into production first. However to this day:

"Pfizer has provided minimal help to the world’s poorest countries. The company pledged to contribute up to 40 million doses to Covax, a multilateral partnership aimed at supplying vaccines to poor countries. That represents less than 2 percent of the 2.5 billion doses that Pfizer and its development partner, BioNTech, aim to produce this year."(28)

Nevertheless they employ an army of advertising agents and PR specialists to highlight the vaccines they have sent to poorer countries. Currently, as a result of Pfizer’s failure, AstraZeneca has become the main vaccine provider for the Covax programme.(29) However it has run into trouble too. Under pressure from its Oxford research partner, AstraZeneca agreed to sell the vaccines at cost. However the contract stipulates that this is only until “the pandemic is over”, or July 2021 so now AstraZeneca have the freedom to charge what they like. They have made no announcement thus far. Another problem is that AstraZeneca’s Covax supply is manufactured in a single factory, the family-owned Serum Institute of India (SII) in Pune. SII claim to be able to produce 70 million doses a month,

"but so far the contract with AstraZeneca has unleashed a dogfight over the products, with the UK claiming 10 million doses, the EU asking for a further 10 million and finally the Indian government stepping in and stopping all exports until June 2021 to secure supply from SII to India itself."(30)

The Modi Government had announced the pandemic defeated months ago, only for the Delta variant to sweep the country — hence the demand to retain all the SII’s production. It is the perfect illustration of what Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the WHO, has repeatedly denounced as “vaccine nationalism”. The fact that a handful of states have taken the lion’s share of the vaccines was, he said, not only “morally indefensible” but also “an ineffective public health strategy” which was behind the “wave of death” now engulfing Africa.(31)

As the Director-General pointed out, "vaccine nationalism" makes no sense in a globalised world of international supply chains. Real global “herd immunity” can only be achieved when 85%(32) have immunity (either via recovery from the actual virus, or through vaccination). This is a race against time. The longer most of the population remains unvaccinated, the greater the chance of new variants appearing. At the start of July 2021 only 11% of the world’s populations have received two shots of the vaccine while new variants (currently epsilon and lambda) are already appearing which could mutate beyond the reach of the vaccines. Studies in Israel show that even doubly vaccinated people (in Israel the government paid Pfizer $30 a shot to get the vaccine early — the cost in the US is $19.50) have less immunity against the Delta variant.(33) In other words, even with the vaccines that exist, the crisis is not over. Even now scientists don’t yet have enough evidence to give a precise evaluation of the protection offered by the current vaccines, and have had even less chance to understand the nature of the new variants. We have also seen that places which fought the virus most effectively to begin with have been hit harder by later waves, when social distancing measures and other precautions were relaxed. The Delta variant thus overwhelmed India and the lambda variant which started in Peru is now doing something similar in South America. How long will it before Africa develops another which could then sweep the world again?

All this at a time the WHO calculates that 50% of all vaccines manufactured go to waste(34) because they are left to go out of date in rich countries before they can even be sent to those who need them most. Some waste is inevitable in any programme but, given the extremity of the need, the continued insistence on protecting intellectual property rights (i.e. corporate profits) rather than people makes the current figure a real scandal. The problems are not technical. Capitalism has at its disposal all the technical requirements to contain the pandemic and save lives. Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust told the Financial Times:

"We have the tools we need to end this pandemic — vaccines, treatments and tests — but this will only work when they’re available to everyone, everywhere."

And the same report quotes Mike Ryan, the WHO’s Executive Director for health emergencies who denounced the “colonial mindsets” of the leading capitalist powers:

"For years and years and years, many countries in the South [have been] much better than countries in the North at delivering mass population-based vaccination ... They’ve proven it again and again and again, with yellow fever, meningitis, with cholera, with Ebola, with polio, with measles."(35)

The real problem is a social one. The pandemic is revealing all the contradictions of a system which has outlived its usefulness. As we approach the COP26 meeting on climate change the same inability to put the needs of humanity before the needs of profit will be repeated. However, capitalist-created climate change and environmental disaster are not so “in your face” as a pandemic. We can thus only expect more pious promises and hot air which will not alter or reduce global warming one degree. If the potential total extinction of life on the planet is infinitely a more drastic outcome than the pandemic, what the eruption of COVID shows us is that in the face of a dire global emergency pursuing profits and the national interests only threaten us all. The crisis shows that if we really do want to deal with pandemics and environmental disaster (which are causally linked) then it is time to give the capitalist system its “do not resuscitate” notice, preferably before the next pandemic strikes.

13 July 2021

Photo from: Roo Pitt - Concrete,


(2) See and
(3) Even now, comrades in some workplaces are being pressurised to stay at work when ill, by employers who realise that the state will not come after them. One was told by her employer (in the first week of July before restrictions were lifted) after her positive COVID test that there was no reason for her to stay off as she had only had 3 days off in 17 years. “Yet the Health and Safety Executive, the UK regulator responsible for workplace safety, has not brought a single prosecution against an employer for breaking COVID-19 rules.” Sarah O’Connor
(9) As quoted by Peter Geoghegan in “Short Cuts” in London Review of Books, 6 May 2021
(11) Peter Geoghegan “Short Cuts” in London Review of Books, 6 May 2021. The article, written by an editor of Open Democracy highlights even more egregious behaviour by Cameron in his relations with Lex Greensill, the Australian con man at the heart of the scandal.
(12) "And the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the organization of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of suppressing the oppressors, cannot result merely in an expansion of democracy. Simultaneously with an immense expansion of democracy, which for the first time becomes democracy for the poor, democracy for the people, and not democracy for the money-bags, the dictatorship of the proletariat imposes a series of restrictions on the freedom of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists. We must suppress them in order to free humanity from wage slavery, their resistance must be crushed by force; it is clear that there is no freedom and no democracy where there is suppression and where there is violence."
(15) Clive Cookson “Scientists warn of rise in deaths after July 19” Financial Times, 13 July 2021
(16) Yong-Zhen Zhang, Edward C. Holmes. A Genomic Perspective on the Origin and Emergence of SARS-CoV-2. Cell, 2020 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.03.035 )
(18) See Global trends in emerging infectious diseases by Kate Jones, Nikkita G. Patel, Marc Levy, and Adam Storeygard at
(19) She also pointed out that the new UK vaccine manufacturing facility now being constructed at Harwell needed to have closer links with researchers.
(23) However the actual contract allows AstraZeneca to decide when the pandemic is over before it reverts to exercising its patent. The date mentioned in the contract is July 2021.
(26) There were other issues in the scandal of HIV treatment which we don’t have space to deal with here. The Bush government spent $4.1 billion in trying to get treatment to the 4 million infected in Sub-Saharan Africa but only 1% of them ever received any treatment. HIV denial by the likes of Thabo Mbeki the President of South Africa led to 17% of the 19-49 group ending up infected by the time his term of office ended in 2008. Other scandals surrounded the disappearance of funds in corruption and the attacks on gays and others who campaigned to get treatment. Although 85% of those with HIV were heterosexual it came to be identified as a disease of gay men whose fate was of no concern to many “traditional” and religious leaders.
(27) Jan-Werner Müller “Short Cuts” London Review of Books, 22 April 2021
(29) It also reveals starkly what we have long known that the EU project is about trying to build an imperialist bloc to challenge the hegemony of the dollar in the post-Cold War world. It is failing because the end of a cycle of accumulation (which is where we are now) brings all kinds of pressures which militate against building transnational unity. Brexit was just one of the consequences.
(30) Christina Pagel, a member of the Independent Sage group of science advisers, notes that herd immunity requires about 85 per cent of the population to be immune... Anjana Ahuja, Financial Times, 3 July 2021
(31) Rebecca Robbins and Peter S Goodman “Pfizer Reaps Hundreds of Millions in Profits From Covid Vaccine” New York Times, 4 May, 2021.
(33) and