Centre as well as State governments have severely restricted and rationed the Covid testing in India, to the extent that even many of the doctors, nurses and paramedical staff working in Covid care are not being allowed to get themselves tested in their own hospitals despite exhibiting visible symptoms of infection. All this to report lower number of infected patients to prove success of the government strategy of a complete lockdown enforced by brutal police power and resulting in huge distress, hunger, diseases and death for crores of working class people especially the migrant workers and their families living in cramped rented accommodation in industrial areas, who were forced to resort to even walking with their children thousands of kilometers in summer heat in search of shelters and food in the very villages which they had left behind earlier because of acute poverty and exploitation. However, despite all attempts to hide the extent of pandemic even the government declared numbers have now reached nearly 6 lakhs infections and 20 thousand deaths, though most public health experts and epidemiologists think these are highly under reported numbers. Still India is expected to move ahead of Russia in a few days to become 3rd in world in number of people becoming sick from Corona infection.
Public Healthcare Collapses – Private Robs Dead & Sick
This is resulting in complete collapse of a highly underfunded and neglected public health care system and super profits driven hospital businesses cum robbery operations run by private sector capitalists. In the last few weeks we have all heard and seen so many horror stories about patients dying in ambulances or even on roads and hospital gates without getting any treatment while running from one choc-a-bloc hospital to another all over cities with no beds available anywhere. On the other hand private hospitals have been demanding advances of up to 5-6 lakh rupees just to get a bed with daily expenses in the range of 30 thousand for plain general ward beds to more than a lakh rupees per day for ventilator support, though all these private hospitals have been built on public land given almost free and many more financial and tax concessions from public budgets and all of them committed free or concessional treatment for needy. But the crisis now reached such proportions that, what to say of poor working class people, even many well to do upper class people found themselves crying hoarse as they found their ‘health insurance’ insufficient and unable to provide them required healthcare in time of need, though this was the very selfish class which had been the core supporters of the demolition of the concept of universal public healthcare and education for all in favour of the ‘quality’ private healthcare and education businesses catering only to the rich and wealthy.
Even worse is the misery of the people in need of usual regular healthcare support like pregnant women due for childbirth, kidney patients needing regular dialysis, TB patients requiring regular care, cancer patients due for their surgeries and other therapies, etc. On the one hand many have been deprived of the required care as many hospitals have simply been closed down or not conducting Outpatient procedures. On the other hand, private hospitals demanding Covid test costing Rs 4500/- for every single visit and charging astronomical amounts in the name of using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by doctors and other staff, while the same hospitals have been reported as making huge cuts in salary of their workers with the excuse of lower profits because of Covid. Large number of unreckoned tragic deaths have occurred for this reason of not getting medical care in time, like the case of Delhi women who, in labour pain, was turned away from 9 hospitals resulting in the death of both mother and child.
In a capitalist system chasing super profits, every calamity becomes opportunity to commit robbery in the name of profitability. Covid pandemic demonstrates same tendency. Pricing of the Covid testing in India is a glaring example. RT-PCR test being done for this is nothing new being an established technology and already used in biological research and testing for other viral diseases like HIV. Hence, machines were already available, and reagents are in regular supply. Existing cost is in the range Rs 500-600 without profits. However, in present case of mass use the cost is bound to further reduce because of law of scales of economy. Hence, in pandemic situation government could have brought down the per test cost to around Rs.400/- and conducted mass scale testing as a strategy to contain Covid. However, government consulted private industrialists like Kiran Majumdar-Shaw of Biocon and Sangitha Reddy of Apollo Hospitals and more such health robbers. On their recommendation the price was fixed at Rs 4500/- per test to allow large scale profits to private capital. After lot of hue and cry in last 2 months now it has been reduced to Rs 2400/- by some states, which is astronomical even now. Similar is the case of ventilators where we are seeing simple mechanized ambu-bags being passed off as ventilators and several times the usual price of ventilators being paid by government hospitals for these.
While we have already mentioned the astronomical hospital rates, the launch of new ‘medicines’ for Covid is another example of the same. First the government Ayush ministry itself declared Homeopathy ‘medicine’ Arsenica-30 as an immunity booster to prevent Covid and huge sales of this unknown ‘medicine’ at high prices took place. Then HCQ was declared an effective prophylactic (preventive) despite known serious side effects. As a result, lot of gullible people purchased it like anything, to the extent that it was not even available in the market with much suffering for the really critical patients who actually need this medicine. The sales increased to such an extent that the pharma companies manufacturing this drug had to ramp up their production. Then Glenmark, Hetero Pharma and Cipla were given emergency licenses without any trials for Remdesivir and Favipiravir. These companies are now selling it at sky high prices though these drugs, no longer under patent, are generic. While an American researcher Andrew Hill had shown long back that Remdesivir should not cost more than a Dollar a day, Indian companies Hetero Pharma and Cipla are now selling it at around Rs 5000/- a vial which when administered in a private hospital might cost the patient even Rs 20000/-. Glenmark is also selling generic Favipiravir at Rs 3500/- per strip. Latest is Lala Ramdev who didn’t even need a sham license to launch his wonder drug with support of all TV channels in a massive fraud committed on people.
Is Lockdown Correct Strategy?
The same government, which in March imposed a lockdown considered to be the most stringent and brutally enforced in the world despite low number of infections reported, has now lifted most restrictions while the infections are spreading exponentially as the capitalist class found that they could not generate any profits as the profits come only from surplus value appropriated from workers and no surplus value could be appropriated if no value was being generated by workers driven away from their jobs in industry shuttered up in lock down. Hence the industrialists now vociferously demanded the unlocking. Besides, the same simpleton and naïve middle class ‘bhakts’ who initially applauded when, instead of deploying the strategy suggested by medical science, extensive screening and testing with quarantining and isolation of infected in massive public healthcare facilities to be urgently created for this purpose, complete and forced lockdown was imposed by the central government as the primary method to deal with Covid-19 pandemic, now demanded to be unlocked as they found their jobs to be in danger of layoffs in a locked down economy. Those participating in the then comic applause and beating of pots and pans imagining themselves to be safe, behind the high walls of their gated colonies and apartment ‘societies’, from the danger of Corona infection that will now feed only on the working-class multitudes in the filthy congested urban slums, now found that capitalist class would not deprive only the ‘filthy’ workers of their wages but also start retrenching or reducing salaries of the middle class managers. Hence, they have now become fanatics for unlocking.
But why did the lockdown fail to contain the pandemic? Was lockdown the wrong approach to fight pandemic? No, lockdown and physical distancing along with extensive testing and hospitalisation/isolation of infected is the only logical and correct strategy from medical science point of view for containing the fast spreading Corona Virus infection in a scenario where neither a vaccine is available for prevention nor a tested and proved medicine for effective cure, as the breaking of chain of infections remains the only effective mechanism for containing the disease. Hence there is nothing wrong, in itself, with the strategy of lockdown in case of such pandemics when millions of lives are at stake. However, even the logical and scientifically proven measures cannot be implemented without considering the socio-economic structure in place in any society.
Lockdown can only be effectively implemented in a just and humane society that is, a planned socialised production-based economy of the socialist system where production and distribution can be effectively aligned to fulfil collective social needs of the populace. In such a society, where economy and production are not driven by maximising profits for private property owners all means and resources of the society can be mobilised in a planned manner for the immediate needs of all members of the society. Buffer food stocks in reserve can be made available to the workers even though the factories are closed. Milk, vegetables and fruits will not be thrown away by the growers not being able to sell these but can be supplied to all. Healthcare can be available even though cars or TVs are not being produced, rather car and other such factories can be quickly repurposed to manufacture ventilators and oxygen cylinders, because that equipment is the primary requirement of society at that moment. Child and elderly care can be managed in such a way that elder people and children can be kept as much away from the danger of getting infected as practically and technically possible. All such things can be done in a socialist society as everything is socially owned and production is organised to fulfil collective social needs of the whole society. In such a just and humane social system lockdown can be effectively implemented if suggested by the epidemiologists, public health experts and medical practitioners to be the best option to deal with the pandemic and there will be no need to use brutal force to do that as society will do it voluntarily as such a society does not alienate people from social needs and tasks.
Why Lockdown Can’t Work In Capitalism?
But lockdown is bound to fail in a class divided unjust capitalist socio-economic system where anarchy in production driven by lust of the private property owner capitalists’ profits rules the roost instead of the planned socialised production based economy of the socialist system where production and distribution can be effectively aligned to fulfil collective social needs of the populace. In capitalism, production does not take place because products are needed by society. Production takes place because owner capitalist can sell these and get profit. Hence, if something cannot be sold, though there are many in need of it, it will not be produced. The workers will be laid off and driven away forcibly. The workers are paid the minimum required so that they can live and sell their labour power to capitalists who get all the surplus generated beyond this minimum paid to workers. This becomes the profit of the whole capitalist class. If the profit cannot be generated production will stop and workers will not be paid. However, since the workers only gets the minimum to live and sell their labour power, they never have any ‘saving’ to use if they are unemployed, so they are bound to starve with their families. Hence a lockdown was bound to cause starvation and homelessness as rent could not be paid for their cramped dwellings.
We live in a system where Food Corporation of India has stocks of 10.40 crore tonnes of food grains as on June 1 as the new harvest has come in over and above the old stocks of more than 7 crore tonnes. Much of this is going to rot in coming rains as there is no proper covered storage for this. But in capitalist system it can be allowed to be wasted but cannot be distributed to unemployed workers going hungry in both urban and rural areas. We live in a system where dairy owners are spilling thousands and thousands of litres of milk and farm growers throw or plough over ripe fruits and vegetables while children go hungry without milk and crores are forced to eat bare rotis with water not able to afford vegetables, fruits, pulses or just plain potato. All this because motive force of production is profit and not fulfilment of social human needs. We live in a system where lakhs and lakhs of houses and apartments are vacant in all cities while poor workers had to lie down to sleep on roadside as having been thrown out of employment they couldn’t pay rent. We live in a system driven by profit so that on the one hand beds remain unoccupied in hospitals, on the other poor people die on the roads and footpaths outside these very hospitals. We live in so perverted and convoluted a system where majority of the people are unable to afford simple eatables and demand for these has gone down while there is ample production and supply. Still the prices are going up! We live in a system where transport demand has reduced because of lockdown and international prices for crude have gone down sharply but prices for petroleum products are being raised every day by government further appreciating the cost of living for common people.
Hence, it is not Covid or lockdown per se but the exploitative capitalist system which has failed to effectively deal with the pandemic and caused humongous but completely avoidable misery of hunger, sickness and deaths in the life of a billion people. It is capitalism and not Covid which has caused the real crisis. Covid will go in time but till capitalism remains it will continue to beget many more such crises and immense suffering in the life of working people. Hence it is capitalism which is the most dangerous disease for humanity and needs to be wiped off the face of earth for all other crises and diseases to be mitigated.
Originally published as Editorial in The Truth: Platform for Radical Voices of The Working Class (Issue 3/ July ’20)