As the number of cases of the corona virus around the world continues to grow, more and more countries are starting to see immense pressure on their health systems. This is no more evident than in Italy and Spain, where the number of deaths are horrifying. It is worth noting here why these two countries in particular have seen their hospitals so overwhelmed.
Once the envy of much of the world, Spain’s health system budget was slashed in 2013 by the neo-liberal government of Mariano Rajoy, with 75% of the budget for professional training cut, along with 45% of public health funds. This was all part of the shift towards privatisation seen across much of Europe and indeed the world. Within the same time frame, Italy’s public health service has cut 46,000 health professionals, and lost 70,000 beds. Is it any wonder that their hospitals are completely overrun, and thousands are dying from a treatable illness? Contrast this with Germany, which while having a large number of cases of the virus, has a drastically higher recovery rate, as they have kept their health service intact. Iran, in contrast, being crippled by US-led international sanctions, has the highest death rate from the virus. So much for the world banding together to combat the crisis.
Ireland has been shifting towards privatisation too. And the underfunded public hospitals have been the reason for so many doctors, nurses, and others working the field of medicine to seek work abroad. Now the government that has been largely responsible for this has the audacity to put out an appeal to Irish medical staff around the world to ‘come home’ to help out. So, abandon the hospitals in Toronto and Dubai and Wellington that gave you a decent job and conditions and respect, and abandon your patients there amid a pandemic, to go back to the country that drove you out? How disingenuous of the Irish Tories.
Their whole philosophy has created a system in which a health crisis can happen so easily. Understaffed and overcrowded hospitals are only part of it. This government has also let opportunistic parasitic landlords and investment trusts drive a housing crisis for profit, leading to massive homelessness, and tenement housing. Migrant workers and international students are squeezed into ramshackle houses, sleeping in bunkbeds 10 or 12 per room. While we are all being told to stay home and self-isolate. How can you self-isolate if you share a room with 11 others?
This is only a microcosm of the entire global profit-driven economic system. Neoliberalism is destroying the physical planet as well as the societal structures on it. Ecologists have been warning for decades about how our continued disruption and destruction of the remote parts of the world such as the rainforests could well lead to previously unknown pathogens being unleashed on humanity. In the grand scheme of things, terrible as it is now, the corona virus will go away. But what if the next pandemic, perhaps unleashed from the Amazon being cleared for cattle farming, is far more contageous and deadly? We are already destroying the environment with emissions, when are humans going to learn that we can’t keep fucking up the planet, or it will fuck us right back, sooner rather than later.
10 years left to drastically turn round our entire attitude towards the environment, or it’ll be too late, according to the UN. And seeing as most of the world’s resources and attention are now focused on the pandemic, we can probably make that 9 years. There won’t be a lot of progress made on critical environmental policy in the next few months.
Not that this virus has stemmed capitalist opportunism. President Dump himself has been trying to get German pharmaceutical company CureVac to move their base of operations to the US, with the aims of having exclusivity on Covid treatments and vaccines being developed by the company. No doubt the orange gremlin would paint himself as a saviour and distribute any developed medication to (white) Americans, and then attempt to profit massively from it by exporting it. In the meantime, probably not content with the USA not being number 1, the white-supremacyst-in-chief’s impotence towards and ignorance of the pandemic has seen the number of cases in the US surge over the last two days to now have the highest number of total cases in the world. USA number 1…
In terms of stats, we have data from most of the world, which has allowed for the study of the spread of the virus, and helped put systems in place to try to contain it. But I say most of the world. What about all those people who have been geopolitical pawns in proxy wars around the world? How much has the virus spread in Syria, or Libya? Or what about what was already the worst humanitarian disaster on the planet, in Yemen? How are any of those people going to cope?
All this – the wars, the environmental destruction, the unbridled capitalism – cannot continue. If nothing else, isn’t this an opportunity to reevaluate how our entire society is structured? When even Boris fucking Johnson is (belatedly) implementing a small measure of socialist policy, and his counterpart here is arranging financial support for small businesses and their employees, we should be seizing this opportunity to make sure nobody falls through the cracks. It’s all well and good offering people who have been laid off work because of the virus €350 a week, but that doesn’t help much when they have to hand over €1000 to their landlord every month, as is the case in much of Dublin. These measures are nowhere near enough.
The fact that such panicked measures have been brought in shows how precarious people’s incomes really are. I’ll be unemployed soon. I’m probably lucky that I haven’t been laid off yet. Maybe I will have been by the time you read this. We need more protections for people. A guaranteed, universal basic income. Regulation on renting, no more unfettered free market price-gouging. We need essential services nationalised. The state has already started using private hospitals during this crisis, let’s not stop there. Put compulsory purchase orders on them. End the two-tier health system for the haves and have-nots. Make the state part-owners in the businesses they are giving financial support to during this. Bring everything into the public domain. We can’t rely on ‘market forces’ in this uncertain world. All they create is vast inequality.
This can also be a chance to reassess our critical relationship with the planet. Suddenly, the air is clearer and there are much fewer emissions in general. Flying has been massively curtailed. People are staying at home, there are fewer cars on the street. Massively polluted cities such as New Delhi are suddenly having blue skies and breathable air.
Out of all this, a new world, a new society, is possible. Let the pandemic be a massive wake up call to us all.
“We are now on the threshold of a newer movement, with a newer hope and a new inspiration.” – Jim Larkin – Irish Trade Unionist
“We will not return to normal, because normal was the problem.” – Marco Bersani – Italian activist and journalist