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Hard truths and the Covid crisis

As millions become aware that capitalism cannot of itself generate the impulse to solve the problems posed by pandemic, then the drive to find an alternative grows stronger, argues NICK WRIGHT

IF NOTHING else the precipitous fall in share prices might concentrate the minds of our ruling class on the growing dangers that a new and more deadly mutant virus presents.

South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana and Eswatini have been added to Britain’s red list, in the hope that the omicron Covid strain can be shut out. 

People from these states are compelled to quarantine for 10 days and flights into Britain from these places are now banned.

Britain’s partly privatised, underfunded, overworked and heroically staffed National Health Service has performed wonders in ensuring that a substantial proportion of the population is double and triple vaccinated.

The urgency and effectiveness of the vaccination programme — startling in its efficiency as compared to to the shambolic functioning of the hastily constructed private enterprise vehicles created to harvest government contracts, and created principally, it seems, to benefit the extended social networks of ministers — has held the crisis at barely manageable proportions.

But the essential characteristic of viruses — their inherent tendency to mutate when presented with optimum conditions for extensive spread — means that the increased potency and destructive power of new variants holds out the threat that the vaccine programme may not hold the line.

The omicron variant’s arrival here is down to the reality that so long as vaccination rates are skewed to disadvantage the developing world, and the drive to profit ensures that the global poor remain unvaccinated, then we are all at risk.

The two aspects to the uneven rates of vaccination add up to a serious threat.

The great majority of people who finish up in hospital Covid wards are unvaccinated. Whatever the social, cultural or plain stupid reasons for people to resist vaccination, this drain on already stretched NHS facilities is creating a long-term health crisis with extended waiting times for routine procedures.

The second feature is that so long as millions of people in the world remain unvaccinated and the optimum conditions for further mutations exist we are all at risk: no-one is safe until we are all safe.

The defining features of 21st-century capitalism are the unconstrained movement of capital and the flow of super-profits to the metropolitan centres of capital.

If this global health crisis is to be halted, vaccination must become a collective responsibility and the most developed economies with the greatest resources that accumulate precisely because capitalism is the dominant social system in the world must face up to this responsibility.

Like the climate crisis, the unprecedented speed with which the health crisis is developing represents a new threat to the dominance of capitalist ideology.

As millions become aware that capitalism cannot of itself generate the impulse to solve these problems — and in fact its routine operation generates many of them — then the drive to find an alternative grows stronger.

Developed capitalist countries have the technological and scientific capacity to generate new medical procedures and new vaccination solutions.

But the Covid crisis means that even states with highly developed capitalist economies like Germany and Austria, with highly sophisticated health services, are compelled to introduce new lockdown regimes.

The experience of the last two years shows that countries as diverse as China, with its huge state-directed social and economic mechanisms and impressive social discipline, or tiny creative Cuba constrained by the US blockade, are capable of innovative science. 

Their successes in managing the health crisis in their own domestic spheres is matched by impressive programmes of international solidarity which are socialist in character.

The truth embodied in the cry heard on the streets — socialism or extinction — must be heeded.

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