by John Ward
The future envisaged by the 3% may yet condemn the 97% to death
A “novel coronavirus” dubbed 2019-nCoV belonging to the same family as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) has, over the last six weeks, taken China by storm, and spread to Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan and now the US.
There is no need – yet – to turn this drama into a crisis: the mutation is nowhere near as deadly as SARS: the outbreak began at the Huanan Seafood Market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and it took scientists only a couple of weeks to identify it, once Chinese authorities had handed over the genome sequence to the international community. So it seems highly unlikely there’ll be a UK soap opera called Coronavirus Street any time soon.
At the other extreme, this is not something we can rest on laurels about: calling it a “novel” virus is something of a giveaway, because it shows that it’s yet another species-derived mutation. For whereas SARS is thought to have started in cats and MERS in camels, 2019-nCoV is another leap, and probably passed on from seafood given its starting point. So what started out a decade ago as an Avian virus has, we can now suspect, been repeated on land and sea.
But really, the new Coronavirus is an alarm call for the neoliberal orthodoxy in which most of us live these days. And it is fundamentally to do with the nature of epidemiology.
Once an epidemic turns into a potential pandemic, there are four factors that can enable its rapid spread: cuts in public health budgets, lax standards due to deregulation, secrecy and easy human access to international travel.
I hope, having read that sentence, you can see where I’m going with this. The Friedmanite >> monetarist >> neoliberal >> globalist >> corporacratic axis of bonkers ideology is every germ’s wet dream…if that isn’t too unspeakable an idiom.
Having spent a fair amount of time during 2012 in Athens observing the social consequences of selfishly hypocritical Brussels-induced austerity, I posted at the time about fears of some rejuvenation of plague in one form or another. Health and welfare sectors were subjected to severe austerity measures, which endangered provision of – as well as access to – services, thus widening the health inequality gap. The EU’s own statistics on Income and Living Conditions data showed how the proportion of individuals on low incomes reporting inability to meet medical costs doubled from 2008 to 2013.
Those stats were issued in 2016 – why the delay, we wonder? – but by 2018, a study by dozens of researchers from the University of Washington and around the worldfound that Greece’s population health declined markedly ‘and death rates rose sharply after harsh austerity measures were imposed on Greece‘ by the European Union and the International Money Fund after 2010. The death-rate increases were more marked among the elderly – that is, those most likely to die from cross-species infection.
Although the Beijing régime is quick to deny this, local knowledge used by a number of Western media correspondents also suggests lax health regulations in the Wuhan market. Since the outbreak, rigid stifling of any media reportage has been apparent, such that Chinese citizens were getting word-of-mouth accounts about hundreds of confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV in Hong Kong and Thailand, but nothing at all from their own tightly-controlled media set.
This is not me blamestorming and China-bashing: on the contrary, out of the public eye, Beijing’s science community alerted its neighbours with all speed – and gained widespread praise for so doing from the likes of even CNN and Time magazine. My point is that – say, under a “liberal” US Presidency – I could easily see the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post and all the rest of the Establishment goons downplaying the dangers from a viral outbreak….in precisely the same way as, at the moment, those US MSM titles flatly refuse to acknowledge a terrible econo-fiscal mess created in large part by previous Democrat administrations.
Secrecy-obsessed corporatocracy can damage your health. Discuss.
Perhaps more important than any other factor is the globalism-derived need to travel – either in the shape of migration by the poor, or the explosion in air travel by corporate executives.
Here too, my purpose is not to demonise those migrants genuinely escaping from political oppression or poverty in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. But we must face facts and prepare – not just yell “Willkommen in Deutschland” and hope for the best.
The fact is that the Ebola virus, MERS, and hepatitis B&D are endemic in huge areas of Africa, but barely exist at all in Europe and the US. However, there is nothing at all to stop any of those appalling diseases from taking hold further north and west.
Nobody has yet firmly establised exactly why Brussels, Merkel, Macron and Draghi took such a blasé verging on positive view of migration – legal or otherwise – into the European Union from Africa. But over the last three years, there has been ample evidence suggesting that the relaxed attitudes of the EUnatics had a lot to do with a desire to cut European production costs by crushing wages.
The potential consequences of that in health terms should be a matter of concern to public officials in Spain, Italy and Greece – all of whom have borne the brunt of an unparalleled influx of cultural and potential public health dangers into their countries.
It would be ridiculous to suggest that monetarist corporacratic mercantile globalism is a cause of viral pandemic threats. But it is certainly a catalyst in that process.
I should prefer it if everyone reading this post took a far more broad conclusion away with them – viz: dictatorial élite driven societies of every ideo-religious persuasion are a boon for viral pandemics.
Good health practices as a civil right, regulated socio-economic provision, a real level of glasnost in government and a return to devolved self-sufficiency are, by contrast, the best tools we have to combat pandemic disaster.
In 1665, the Derbyshire village of Eyam sealed itself off from intercourse with the outside world after five cases of bubonic plague had been imported from London, 150 miles further south. Eyam’s self-imposed quarantine halted the spread of the deadly disease
It’s hard to imagine 21st century people doing the same. And even if they did, the 24/7 movement of citizens and their wares would probably make any such sacrifice futile.
We would all do well to remember that when signalling ideological virtue.