Since the last four months, the whole world has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and all the countries are making plans and preparations to fight it and to keep the death toll from rising. Originating from a central city of China, Wuhan, the virus has now gripped the whole world and has brought it to a standstill. The global death toll has now risen up to more than 1,65,058 and a total of 210 countries of the world have been affected by this pandemic and has a total number of 24,06,905 confirmed cases around the globe (the data is accurate as on 20th April, 7 am). To fight this pandemic, all the nations are busy formulating and executing plans as to decelerate the transmission rate and thus controlling the death toll. The spreading of the virus has resulted in most of the governments imposing lockdowns and suggesting the citizens to maintain certain protocols such as social distancing and more. The coronavirus pandemic has also affected the economies of even the mightiest of nations putting immense pressure on the governments. Almost all the countries of the world except a few like Cuba, a ‘socialist’ country of its own type, have a healthcare policy based on privatisation and where the hospitals and the pharma companies are under the control of the big capitalists and hence are having a hard time dealing with the havoc brought upon by the Corona virus. Governments are worried about the falling rate of profits for their masters to the extent that they have stopped thinking about human life and about what would happen to the common people amidst the corona virus pandemic. USA has halted its funding to the WHO during the time of a worldwide pandemic, whereas Cuba is sending its teams of doctors based on its own exchequer to other countries. Even after the death toll reaching lakhs, Governments are still not ready to put the lives of people as their first priority. In India, instead of actually providing for proper safety equipment for healthcare professionals and arranging for enough testing kits, the prime minister is asking the citizens to clap and light diyas for their services.
Experience Of Cuba In Dealing With The Pandemic
Cuba, a small Latin-American developing country that adopted a pro-people centralized social system other than conventional capitalism, has set an example before the world in spite of her meager resources just by their way of dealing with the corona virus pandemic. Not only did she contain the virus and minimize the panic in the society by adequately providing for everyone’s needs but is now also helping other nations by sending their team of doctors and medical personnel and providing medical help all around the world. Cuba has protected its citizens from this deadly pandemic and from this, other countries ought of have learnt, had their governments not been serving big bourgeois interests through aggressive neo-liberal policies.
The facts are before us: Cuba has 8.2 doctors per thousand people which is much more than the USA (2.8), Italy (4.1) and India (0.8). Many nationalised factories of Cuba, like the one which used to make school uniforms, were repurposed to mass produce and increase the supply of masks. After containing the spread of virus at 515 (as of 10th April) cases of infected patients and 15 deceased, Cuba dispatched multiple teams of a total of 850 health professionals across the world to countries like Italy, Jamaica and other poor countries in Latin America to help fight the pandemic. On 16th march, MS Braemar, a cruise ship was denied docking in the Bahamas as multiple passengers had tested positive for the virus. Later, the cruise ship was allowed entry at the Cuban docks and the passengers were evacuated and deported safely, which gives an idea of the internationalist attitude of Cuba. Cuba’s healthcare policies during the Corona virus pandemic has given us an idea of how these calamities can be fought, and the biggest take away of this is that Capitalism and Imperialism with the US as their masters have proved itself to be a complete failure in fighting such a pandemic which is proving to be a big threat to human existence.
Vietnam, another country based on a pro-people and non-capitalist model of a social system similar to Cuba, has also now successfully gained control over the spread of virus as there have been no deaths at all and a total of 267 cases surfaced as on till 15th April.
The example of revisionist-turned capitalist China can also be well taken, even if we mind calling it pro-people regime, with the view point of understanding or grasping the role of state controlled intervention in effectively dealing with health care in the times of a pandemic. The epicenter of the corona virus outbreak was China and it was rightly expected to see a wide outbreak. Now, when countries like America and Italy are facing a massive outbreak, China has brought itself on top of the situation by minimizing the death rates as well as new cases. Now her citizens are slowly returning to their normal lives. The government-controlled healthcare system in China enabled it to effectively maintain the flow of resources to the hotspot areas. People also didn’t have to die of hunger and lack of shelter as compared to what we saw happen in India and other capitalist countries.
How The Policy Of Privatisation Lost In The Battle Against Coronavirus Globally
Since the initial stages of the pandemic, facts indicate the failures of the capitalist order in dealing with the crisis, be it denying help to other countries, safeguarding their own doctors and medical staff, failure in carrying out the tests and treatments in sufficient numbers, proper analysis of the threat, or even taking care of their most vulnerable citizens. To fight the coronavirus pandemic, the profit-driven healthcare systems across capitalist world order did not come up with a concrete plan of action, as a result of which ‘advanced’ countries like the USA and those of Europe among others seem to be losing the battle against Corona. As of now these countries are at the top of the list of world’s worst hit countries by the corona virus.
The US, in its war with the corona virus, doesn’t seem to be handling the situation well from the very start. The largest economy in the world is now the world’s worst hit country by Covid 19 pandemic, with the number of cases close to reaching 8 lakh and a death toll of more than 40,000 with no indications of slowing down. The Corona Virus has brought forth to us, the loopholes and defects in the US healthcare system driven on profit-making, putting a strain even on the wealthier parts of the fragmented American healthcare system, with not enough beds, not enough ventilators, not enough protective equipment. While in rural areas, which have been left to their fate, run the risk of closing down soon due to shortage of capacity. These are only some of the problems of the highly ineffective, inadequate and incompetent healthcare system of the US.
Another glaring example of the ineffectiveness of the bourgeois state in allocation of resources, even when human lives are at stake, is the case of the workers of General Electric, a manufacturer of jet engines in Massachusetts, who protested in the last week of March, demanding to use their production line to manufacture ventilators to help the country fulfill its ventilator shortage. The protests followed a layoff of 2600 workers and the US President Donald Trump supported the layoff.
Italy is also one of the worst hit countries, being on top of charts until a few weeks ago, with now the second highest death toll reaching 24,000, boasting of having the second-best healthcare system in the world.
Chile, led by the right-wing government of President Sebastian Pinera, entered the 4th stage of the virus outbreak within 2 weeks of the appearance of the first case. As on 20th April, the country has more than 10,000 cases 133 have died on a population of less than just 19 million. Even after its first corona virus death on 21st March, Chile’s health minister ruled out imposing a total quarantine as a measure to avoid the spread of the virus on 2nd April, and when they did implement the quarantine, its far-right government shamelessly decreed measures to favour corporates at the cost of the lives of its citizens, like denying any obligation on employers to offer work or pay wages to their workers. In addition to this, there are thousands of people across the country, who continue to suffer extreme poverty and homelessness, and the national government has not yet taken any measure to ensure the safety of these sections of the society.
India’s scenario is not far from its abovementioned counterparts.
India’s Fight Against Coronavirus
India recorded its first case of coronavirus on 30th January 2020. With the second highest population in the world, of which a vast majority of it belongs to the working class, the government declared a 21-day lockdown on 24th March, almost 2 months after the first case was discovered and that too with just 4 hours’ time for preparations. Absolutely no thought was given to the tens of crores of rural and informal sector workers, especially the migrant workers. These poor toilers were left to their fate, with no jobs and meagre ration and savings running low. When they were faced with the choice of dying of hunger or of the disease, they chose the latter as the lesser of two evils and hence decided to walk back to their homes, hundreds of kilometers away, with their children on one shoulder and their luggage on the other, facing police brutalities, hunger and exhaustion on their way. But their peril was far from over, many workers died during their journey, others who made it were faced with sealed borders and were “quarantined” and forced to live in inhuman conditions with no food or water and cramped up in small dingy quarters for days. Even doctors, medical personnel and cleaning staff who are continuously deployed on the front lines fighting with the coronavirus pandemic, are being exposed to the virus due to lack of PPE, masks and other medical gear. The country is manufacturing about 1.25 lakhs N-95 masks, which needs to go up to 2.7 crores. The doctors and other medical support staff, despite protesting relentlessly for basic safety equipment, are being ignored by the government and instead being threatened. India does not yet have a segregated facility of hospitalizing severe and mild symptomatic cases of the corona virus, albeit states like Kerala have succeeded in creating different care centers of treatment for severe cases from outside the state, COVID hospitals for severe and serious cases and first line treatment centers for mild and preliminary symptomatic cases. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare acknowledged that 70% cases were of patients showing mild and moderate symptoms but the guidelines issued on 7th April stated that these cases do not require hospitalisation. Not segregating the cases on the basis of severity increases the pressure on our healthcare system and also endanger the health care professionals. But since a majority of Indians live in cramped up spaces with very low hygiene standards, home isolation might not be as fruitful as expected. Even in hotspots, where the suspected patients are kept under requisitioned quarantine spots, there have been reports of patients fleeing the centers, as they were made to use stained bed sheets in dirty rooms and share clogged toilets with dozens of other patients. With more than 17,000 cases and 559 deaths as of now, India is still on the upstream of the virus outbreak. While the media is busy with its propaganda, lies and hate, the State has set its priority straight of ignoring the vulnerable masses and serving the corporates through stimulus packages, allowing expensive tests by private labs, terming wages payment during this period as a ‘moral obligation’ and leaving the private sector untouched even in a situation of severe lack of resources.
The Way Forward In The Fight Against Corona
In the middle of a worldwide pandemic created by the corona virus, capitalism has brought forth new, yet not the last, examples that reveal how shallow and hollow it actually is. The fact that the profit-driven capitalist system and its neo-liberal policies of privatization and liberalization are incapable of even ensuring the survival of its people even in dire circumstances such as this, is clear as day. Even with an abundance of resources, the world capitalist order finds itself lagging in the battle against Covid-19. Similarly, in India, people have been left to die of hunger when three years’ worth of grains are lying idle in godowns as buffer stock and other produce is going to sheer waste. More than sufficient housing apartments and buildings are left unoccupied while toiling masses are forced to adjust themselves either in 6 by 8 quarters or on the roads. The automobile industry stands still with all capabilities of production while shortage of ventilators emerges.
All these facts direct us towards the only solution to these problems, which is that all the hospitals, factories, lands and residential complexes and other means of productions must be engaged in serving the needs of the masses, not only in emergencies like this, but even in normal times, instead of serving the greed of a handful. A capitalist society based on exploitation and inequalities, based on private appropriation of the fruits of labour, will and have led to the deaths and desolation of the innocent masses all over the world. For the human race to survive such pandemics and other havocs that may befall upon it, the first and foremost task is to build a society based on socialization of production and all the means of production and productive forces. Our society is receiving the death call of the pandemic only because of a system that promotes it. Let us fight so that it is freed from the death grip of capitalism, the mother of all the pandemics including those of hunger, unemployment and ruin.
Originally published in Scientific Socialism: PRC’s Theoretical & Political Weekly Commentary on Current Issues (Issue 1 / 15-21 April ’20)