Jumping from animal to human, Novel Coronavirus (nCorona) is testing not only the immune system of human beings but also the immunity of the system they are living in. It jumped into a world riven by deep contradictions of the imperialist system.
Govts, though slowly, are waking up to the challenge posed by nCorona. Prime Minister Modi has announced lockdown in the country for three weeks from 24th April midnight. On 19th he had called for one day lockdown on March 22 (Janata Curfew). Before that, the Govt. was not serious about realizing the challenge posed by the outbreak of nCorona. How serious this lapse of the Govt. is, will be shown by the trajectory of the disease (COVID19). The ruled as always, will pay for the follies of the rulers.
When the outbreak occurred in November 2019 it took some time for it to be recognized as an outbreak of a new variant (a mutant) of the Coronavirus. Some of this delay was due to time taken in recognizing that the symptoms complained of by the patients are due to a new pathogen. Science can and has minimized it, but has not altogether eliminated it. Some delay was definitely due to the commercial considerations of the Govt. of China, as the city initially affected, Wuhan, is a Centre of international trade. This delay was not inevitable but a product of the conditions of international trade and intense inter-imperialist rivalry. Worse, the doctors who initially raised questions about the new infection were prosecuted and one of them subsequently died due to this infection.
While some delay was attributable to the ruling establishment of China, the Govts. of most of the countries, particularly western countries did not take any measures. Rather they gloated in the discomfiture of their rival- China, enjoyed lecturing to it, pointing out the weakness of its state-controlled system, thinking it was the end of the challenge posed by China to their domination of the world economy.
Western media launched a campaign that the virus had leaked out of a biological weapon laboratory of China situated near the fish market in Wuhan. Trump insisted in calling it Wuhan virus despite World Health Organization’s (WHO) prescription not to name pathogenic agents after a country or region. The implication was that it was a lab made virus. China responded with allegations that the virus was brought to Wuhan by a US Army contingent which had come to Wuhan in October 2019 to participate in military games. China also referred to a statement of Director of Disease Control Department in a Congressional Enquiry that some of the deaths in US due to Influenza last year could be due to Coronavirus. There followed a free for all for a few weeks. nCorona did not like it and put an end to it by a vicious outbreak in West European countries and US itself.
Propaganda apart, the speculation on whether nCorona could be a lab construct, a bio-weapon whether of China or US, was dispelled by a paper published in March 17 issue of reputed Nature Medicine magazine. The paper’s lead author is Kristian Anderson. In this paper, the authors concluded that nCorona was not a lab made virus but a natural mutant which had jumped from animals (probably bats and pangolins) to human beings. They gave a number of scientific arguments to substantiate their argument. This paper and more importantly the outbreak in western countries stopped the campaigns of mutual incrimination. Big money sharks have respect for science only if and to the extent it helps their profits. Who does not know of billions being poured into spreading obscurantism and anti-science beliefs among the people?
To briefly recapitulate, the first case reportedly presented itself in Wuhan on November 17, 2019. It did take some days to recognize that it was not any of the earlier existing Coronavirus. Moreover, many more cases came to hospitals with similar symptoms and similar course of disease. By mid-December 2019, 60 confirmed cases were there in Wuhan. On December 5, 2019 WHO China sounded an international alert concerning the situation of “44 patients with pneumonia of unknown etiology.” On December 31, China officially informed the World Health Organization of pneumonia like symptoms of unknown origin. On January 7, 2020 China’s central television telecast a report confirming the novel coronavirus. On 20 January, human to human transmission was confirmed. Around the same time, Chinese scientists made the genome of nCorona available for scientific study to many laboratories across the world. On January 23, China began lockdown of Wuhan.
From the above time line it is clear that by the end of the first week of January 2020, the breakout of an epidemic was well known through the acknowledgement of Chinese authorities and WHO guidelines. WHO termed this later as a Global Health Emergency.
It should be emphasized that this nCorona is a new virus for which there is no vaccine available. It will take some time before the vaccine for this gets prepared and sanctioned for human use. Experts agree that the virulence of this Virus is not particularly high as compared to other recent outbreaks of Virus epidemics. Mortality due to the infection of this virus is high among the elderly with existing health issues i.e. already having medical problems. However, according to experts nCorona is highly infectious, its rate of infection is particularly high as compared to some recent epidemics caused by viruses. This poses a particularly tough problem for containing the spread of this Virus among the population. nCorona spread through cough/sneeze etc. i.e. coming out as aerosols, droplets etc. which contain virus. The Virus settles on surfaces and survives there for varying period ranging from a few hours to a few days.
While rulers in many countries were indulging in their routine work of exploiting and oppressing the people, the Virus continued its march. It reached a number of countries, turning their laughter into despair. The rulers- for example Trump and Johnson- who had been trashing the threat of spread posed by nCorona were soon to bite their words. More importantly, they had to swallow their words trashing the public health system and stop praising privatization of health services. Boris Johnson, who himself tested positive, was saved following the advice of National Health Scheme (NHS) doctors though he had left no stone unturned to undermine the NHS. What years of struggle against privatization of health services could not achieve was accomplished in a few weeks. The Capitalist system once again turned to public funds to meet the emergency created by nCorona outbreak. The praise of privatization has been temporarily postponed though not abandoned for good. Trump, who had long been ridiculing free health care, even trashing its truncated version called as Obamacare by him and his friends, is now talking about spending public funds on this health emergency. This is no exception and no revival of socialism, though revisionists and reformists of different hues and colours are peddling this non-sense. The pandemic offers little profits and hence no role for the private sector but the latter will be handed parts of the scheme for money making. Capitalism has always summoned public funds to tide over crisis; who can forget large scale bailouts during 2008 recession, they were no retreat to socialism! This moreover is a health emergency and rulers fear losing all standing among the people and hence all chances of fooling the people. Hence they must act lest the people’s anger topples them and the system nurturing them and served by them. And how best to do this except with people’s money, not bothering capitalists to bear the burden but confining them to voluntary contributions to show their concern to the people and whitewash their crimes of undermining the public health system over the decades. None of them now talks of the superiority of the private health providers over public health system but that is because no profit is to accrue. These private players have overnight become experts onpublic health!
In India, the Govt. had a lot of time to prepare to check the spread of nCorona which would have definitely knocked at our door. But our rulers were busy in other urgent matters. When nCorona was undertaking its silent journey through air and sea, our rulers at home (RSS-BJP) were busy spreading the Virus they had prepared in their Nagpur laboratory- the Cinana (CAA-NRC-NPR) virus. When the whole world was waking up to the danger posed by nCorona spread, RSS-BJP leaders were trying to send shock waves to Shaheen Bagh. While nCorona outbreak was getting ready to test the strength of the health care system in the country, RSS-BJP leaders were busy undermining the Constitutional framework of the country.
And they were not alone. Their friends / mentors abroad were with them in this foolhardy approach. The rulers, particularly those of US and UK were in denial mode more concerned with attacking the people than to care for the threat of spread of Corona. During Trump’s visit to India ( Last week of February 2019) no heed was paid to the threat of spread of Corona virus. Rather a large public assembly was held to welcome Trump.
India had a lot of time to prepare to face the nCorona pandemic. The first case in India was reported on January 30, well after WHO had sounded a global alarm. However, as noted above Indian rulers took no notice of it, they were engaged in unleashing another deadly virus on the Indian people. Not only that, no attempt was made even to stock supplies. Export of vital equipment continued upto third week of March when reportedly ventilators were exported to Israel. Supplies to Serbia have also been in the news even while health personnel in India are struggling with shortage of equipment. Conduct of Indian rulers has been grossly callous towards the looming epidemic.
The biggest lapse if the Central Govt., if it can be called a lapse, was not to attend to arrivals from abroad. This virus came to India from abroad, through travellers from China, from European countries, South East Asian Countries, USA and others. The most efficient and inexpensive way would have been to compulsorily quarantine these arrivals after WHO had given the warning and particularly after cases started being reported from India. But even after the Govt. belatedly woke up to it, it left it to those arriving from abroad to self-quarantine themselves. What a callous, casual and criminal approach to the looming pandemic! With health services in India being in the state they are in, it was all the more vital to take this simple step if the Govt. had minimum concern about the people it is ruling over. However, this simple logical step was not taken.
After swearing in of RSS-BJP Govt. in Madhya Pradesh on March 23 evening, Prime Minister Modi declared a complete lock down in the whole of the country. There was no preparation for it. Even while the Prime Minister was speaking there were chaotic scenes outside grocery shops and people were seen running behind pheriwallas. There does not seem to have been any preparation for providing food to the people who are dependent on daily earnings to get their daily food. It will be tested in the days to come but whatever news is coming in does not show any advanced preparation. Lockdowns are indeed recommended to contain the spread but unplanned lockdown are not! Compare this with other countries, where all necessities are arranged for the people. Here people are left to their own devices and to braving the lockdown! This is Tughlaq without his vision! His laudable steps were out of step with existing reality but here steps are out of tune with the lives of the people and with nothing laudable about them. The claps with which medical personnel were cheered in Italy were not called by those in power; this was mechanically mandated by those in power in India, orchestrating what was spontaneous. Only thalis were added to talis.
A very telling omission was no provision for physical distancing. It is broadly agreed that physical distancing prevents or at least contains human to human transmission. But where is the scope of physical distancing in urban areas where a large majority of people live in small tenements with six to seven persons sharing a small room of almost no size. May be the foot path dwelllers are better off for this purpose! Prime Minister’s address did not even touch this subject. There was no announcement of Govt. buildings, schools, colleges, stadia and other vacant govt. buildings being opened for that purpose. There was no announcement of acquiring and making available for the period of Corona spread, a large number of buildings of the builders lying unoccupied, unsold. There was no announcement of making available large spaces in Lutyen’sDelhi lying vacant in every bungalow allotted to the political elite or occupied by the economic elite. How were the unfortunate working masses of large cities to maintain physical distancing? Corporate friends of RSS-BJP did not volunteer to open their vast buildings for this purpose. Police has been reportedly harassing the people on the streets but not telling them the place where they can get food and shelter, save themselves from Corona and hunger. This was one of the most glaring omissions of the Govt.
In fact street scenes with people being thrashed by the police are a singular reminder of total powerlessness of Indian people, those called citizens. Where-else have you seen such scenes of brutal beating up, making people crawl or imprinting their bodies with designs with help of lathi brushes? Not even in countries where the pandemic has taken a heavy toll. No use of blaming individual policemen by higher officials, ruling politicians and even those in robes. It is the culture of impunity carefully cultivated and assiduously kept in place which is to blame. Videos of the policemen pouring inflammables into buses, damaging cars and windows and more importantly destroying CCTVs to wipe out the evidence of their acts have been shown a lot of indulgence by the powers that are mentioned above, which is at the root of this ill, administering verbal admonitions is only part of this indulgence. Only hearts of the Indian rulers are hardened enough not to melt at the sight of poor hungry destitutes trudging along braving hunger pangs and police batons. Some training at the feet of the erstwhile colonial masters!
The large hiatus provided by the announcement of WHO of global health emergency and its actual advent in India, was wasted by the Govt. i.e. not used to prepare to meet the danger. Not only its entry into India was not checked at the airports, no steps were taken to meet the danger. Some time was given during unfolding of this danger to streamline the health services but it was not utilized. Rather it was wasted and is being wasted in gimmicks. Health personnel, key figures in treating the ill and afflicted, do not have adequate equipment. Will silencing them solve the problem of lack of equipment? It is the common knowledge that soiled linens are left in open to dry, but our rulers and administrators want these facts to be brushed under. This will only fester the problem and make it worse. The rulers failed to take timely action, they can at least now be serious. India has the largest population of undernourished, ill and hungry people in the world, far more than our proportion in the world population entitles us to. If the pandemic breaks out in India it will take an unimaginably high toll. We should realize that nearly half of the casualties of the dreaded Spanish flu (1918-1920) which came to India through soldiers returning from World War I, were from India. Nearly 20 million Indians reportedly died of the total of 38 to 50 million casualties in the world. We in India have the potential of meeting the needs of the equipment in record time if only the Govt. forgoes the lure of profiting its friends.
There is no time to be lost in this fight. Our approach has to be firstly science based and secondly science based. There is no place for playing with fire. The stakes are just too high. There is no place for obscurantism and sycophants in science. Let the people with scientific temper and knowledge step up and neither be bullied nor cowed down by the powers of the day. Serve the people and speak up so that you can serve better! We can wage a successful battle but for that we have to shed complacence and obeisance.
The full impact of Corona pandemic is yet to unfold. In the first round, the rulers of the day have taken over unbridled power and have totally restricted people’s freedom. There was no need for that, rather the measures could have been more efficiently and effectively carried out by mobilizing the people. But the representatives of the exploiters and oppressors know no other language. Besides, they have their ulterior motive of suppressing the democratic rights of the people and doing away with democratic freedoms. In that, they find Corona an ally. They have yet not stopped arresting people on flimsy and cooked up changes. Even the elementary step of releasing the political prisoners from jails has not been taken. Round one of battle against Corona has gone the rulers’ way in restricting the democratic freedoms, all justified in the name of people who have to first live to exercise democratic rights. But Corona is a Virus and has not said the last word. As the crisis deepens, the rulers’ steps will be called into question. Cutting the salaries, wages, unemployment and all the hardships heaped on the people will be tested on the altar of rulers’ service of corporate, their divisive political games and their various acts of omission and commission in dealing with the Corona Crisis. Those who lead in the first round need not be the victors at the end. It all depends on parasite-host interaction i.e. interaction between parasitic ruling classes and overwhelming majority of the toiling people of the country.
There is much speculation about the post-Corona world. All the basic contradictions of imperialist system are playing themselves out. Western economies are wary of lockdown for the fear of losing market share. The same fear has plummeted oil prices to record lows. Major oil producers are unable to agree on production cuts despite decline in demand. Coronavirus pandemic has broken out at a time when imperialist world was undergoing serious and deepening crisis. Growth rates had plummeted in a number of countries including India where growth rates had been continuously declining and people’s condition worsening. Neoliberal model of capitalist economy which was in practice for more than last three decades was facing a serious challenge in the form of growing inequality and lack of growth of the market i.e. of purchasing power of the people. A section of the imperialist world had sought to overcome the crisis through partial roll back of globalization as was done by US, UK and a number of countries. It is to be seen what impact will Coronavirus outbreak will have on this process. But more important would be the impact on the neo-liberal model. Whether Keynesian recipes will be just for the time being to throw the burden on the people or willCapitalism undergo some more change from neo-liberal model. A lot will depend on the struggle of the working people and the toiling masses against this attempt to thrust the burden on them. The struggle of the working class and toilers will be the key to bring about basic changes in the present system. This however, does not prevent Capitalism from changing some of its forms to facilitate its survival. But Capitalism cannot make any basic concession for then it will not be Capitalism. Whether their subterfuge pulls off, will be tested in the key battlefield of class struggle.