For useful context, see updated visualistions of the statistics of the Covid-19 virus on the Information is Beautiful website.
A well-established feature of the influenza virus is that it mutates, and that its mutations sometimes enable it to leap from one species to another. This is something humanity has always lived with, cursed at the inconvenience, mourned the victims who die before their time and struggled manfully to find a cure for.
Until a few years ago, this was all done without panic. And until this year it was done without resorting to sheer hysteria. But times, it seems, have now changed.
Everybody is going around in facemasks, if indeed they go out at all. Shops have run out of sanitising hand gel. Schools have closed. Public gatherings, festivals and events of every kind have been cancelled, as well as people’s weddings and family holidays.
The distribution of commodities has been seriously hampered. Stock exchanges have plummeted. Businesses have gone bankrupt and their workers been made redundant. And so on and so forth.
In other words, the effects of the panic have had severe further consequences, which for very many people are far worse than catching the disease, whose death rate has been calculated at around 2 percent. The black death it is not.
For those who do catch the virus, death rates are very much lower among the healthy young and middle-aged, as the graph above shows.
Looked at soberly, one has to conclude that even of those aged 80+ who catch the disease, the overwhelming majority, 85 percent, will survive the experience.
There is, therefore, really no cause for panic. Professor Michel Chossudovsky has crunched the numbers:
“The world population is of the order of 7.8 billion.
“The population of China is of the order of 1.4 billion.
“The world population minus China is of the order of 6.4 billion.
“4,691 confirmed cases and 67 reported deaths (outside China) out of a population of 6.4 billion does not constitute a pandemic. 4,691/6,400,000,000 = 0.00000073 = 0.000073 percent.
“64 cases in the US, which has a population of approximately 330 million is not a pandemic. (Feb 28 data): 64/330,000,000 = 0.00000019 = 0.000019 percent.” (Covid-19 coronavirus: a fake pandemic? Who’s behind it? Global economic, social and geopolitical destabilisation, Global Research, 1 March 2020)
It has to be admitted that each of the confirmed cases is likely to have infected other people, who in turn will infect others, so that, just as is the case with every flu outbreak, a whole lot of people will be ill – but the vast majority will recover and, as with other types of flu, most will not require any medical treatment, except perhaps paracetamol to reduce their temperature, and will sit at home for a week or two at most to sweat it out.
However, as with other types of flu, some people will be more seriously affected and will require medical intervention, even hospitalisation. These are likely to be fewer in number than those requiring medical intervention as a result of having caught the ordinary seasonal flu – but they will of course put pressure on hospitals whose budgets have been slashed to the bone, as is the case with the NHS hospitals in Britain.
Statistics from 72,000 cases in China indicate that there is “a spectrum of disease among those infected with 14 percent severe, and 5 percent who are critically ill and need intensive care and usually mechanical ventilation.
“We have no reason to think it will be different from China in western countries.”
But the Sunday Times of 1 March 2020 which supplies these figures then goes on to add its tuppence-worth to the atmosphere of panic: “If 14 percent of those infected here develop severe disease and 5 percent of them have critical illness, this is a massive threat.” (Will I die from coronavirus?)
Of course, this depends on how many people do catch the disease, and the figures from China suggest, for example, that only 2 percent of persons aged under 40 do so. If most under-40s are not susceptible, it does indicate that even those older than that will not necessarily catch the disease, or will not catch it noticeably, even if they do come into contact with it.
In fact, in Hubei, China, where the outbreak started and is far worse than anywhere else, only one person in every 1,000 has so far caught the virus, despite the fact that it obviously emerged before any precautionary measures could be put in place.
If one person in a thousand in Britain caught it, that would amount to 60,000. Fourteen percent of these would be an extra 8,400 above the norm who would need hospital treatment.
Of course, they would not all be ill at the same time, nor would they all present themselves at the same hospital, but it is nevertheless somewhat worrying that, because of the cuts to the NHS’s clinical budget, there is a danger there will be a shortage of equipment, beds and staff to assist those who will need them.
The data from China has not prevented British health secretary Matt Hancock leaping on the scaremongers’ bandwagon and estimating, off the top of his head no doubt, that up to 80 percent of the British population could become infected! (Coronavirus updates: Infections approach 90,000 as US scrambles to slow spread, New York Times, 2 March 2020)
What could be his motivation?
In Wuhan in China, where the outbreak started, two new hospitals with 2,500 beds between them were erected from scratch in a matter of days, and army doctors were rushed in to help out the overworked locals. Unfortunately, it is difficult to imagine any country outside China, even the rich imperialist countries, being able, or even willing, to respond with the same admirable efficiency to such an emergency, were it to arise.
Understanding the problems of dealing with a sudden onrush of flu cases requiring medical attention and hospitalisation, China has taken the most drastic steps to contain the epidemic, all of which has bought time for preparations to be made to deal with the problem as and when it arises.
China has gone well above and beyond the call of duty in this respect, in particular by putting the city of Wuhan under lockdown, cancelling Chinese New Year celebrations, cutting back flights to and from Wuhan, and publishing the full genome of the new virus online to help scientists from around the world should they wish to work on developing a vaccine.
None of this can stop the virus spreading, but it can, and it has, slow down the process. The number of new cases in China has been falling steadily since mid-February.
The scaremongering is all the more incomprehensible when one considers the high number of casualties of seasonal flu that arise every winter without exciting the least interest, let alone sign of panic, in the media.
Michaela Fleming of ContagionLive.com notes: “The US centres for disease control and prevention (CDC) estimates that there have been 29 million influenza cases in the United States in the 2019-20 season …
“According to the latest FluView data, there have been 280,000 hospitalisations for influenza recorded as of 15 February 2020. This figure is consistent with hospitalisation rates at this point in time during recent seasons; however, hospitalisation rates among children and young adults are considered higher than in recent seasons.
“The CDC also indicates that mortality related to pneumonia and influenza has been low during this respiratory virus season. So far, there have been 16,000 flu-related deaths documented during the US influenza season. Of these, there have been 105 influenza-associated deaths among children.”
Sixteen thousand flu related deaths is considered ‘low’, yet there is a major panic over 67 coronavirus deaths, even though the coronavirus appears mostly to be attacking the elderly and leaving children alone.
The major reason for the scaremongering is the opportunity it affords to imperialism to demonise China.
In spite of China’s heroic efforts to halt the spread of the virus, all the bourgeois media are unanimous in condemning China for the very fact that it has arisen in that country. It is all because they eat wild animals, we are told – but the Chinese have been doing this for years and it has not previously had the effect of releasing mutated viruses.
Then it is claimed the Wuhan authorities failed to act promptly when warned by one doctor that an epidemic could ensue. This may possibly be true, but any authority anywhere in the world would take a cautious approach before taking the radical steps that were in the event taken very shortly afterwards.
When steps were taken, however, they were much more radical than would have been taken anywhere else in the world.
However, the imperialist countries of the US, the European Union and Japan, buffeted by a general crisis of overproduction that periodically breaks out into catastrophic financial crises, desperately want to suppress the rise of China, which is threatening to defeat them in the battle of competition as a result of their having for decades, in pursuit of maximum profit, exported so much of their capital to low-cost countries and allowed their own productive economies to be neglected.
China’s competitiveness is a severe threat to what remains of the imperialists’ home industry, and to maintain their domination and privilege in the world it is becoming more and more urgent that China should be quashed.
Hence the rush to take advantage of the golden opportunity offered by the happenstance of a new flu virus emerging in China.
Hence the complete lack of any gratitude for the huge sacrifices China has made and continues to make to try to contain the virus as much as possible and limit its spread out of the country.
Making a killing
Meanwhile, the billionaires are minting it.
Michel Chossudovsky considers that not only is coronavirus being used as an instrument for China-bashing, but also that it is being deliberately played up in order to manipulate investment markets in such a way as to enable the rich and powerful to enrich themselves further at the expense of smaller investors and pension funds.
He has drawn attention to some very curious facts.
“On 18 October 2019, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Baltimore undertook a carefully designed simulation of a coronavirus epidemic entitled nCoV-2019 …
“In the Event 201 Simulation of a Coronavirus Pandemic, a 15 percent collapse of financial markets had been ‘simulated’. It was not ‘predicted’ according to the organisers and sponsors of the event, which included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the World Economic Forum.
“The simulation conducted in October entitled nCoV-2019 was undertaken barely two months before the outbreak of Covid-19.
“The John Hopkins pandemic exercise simulated a stock market decline of ‘15 percent or more’ … which largely corresponds to the real market decline registered in late February 2020.
“Many features of the ‘simulation exercise’ do in fact correspond to what actually happened when the World Health Organisation (WHO) director general launched a global public health emergency on 30 January 2020.
“What must be understood is that the sponsors of the John Hopkins ‘simulation exercise’ are powerful and knowledgeable actors respectively in the areas of ‘global health’ (B and M Gates Foundation) and ‘global economy’ (WEF).
“Forearmed with the knowledge of the outcome of the ‘simulation’, the hedge funds in the know are in a position to make some real money:
“It’s a bonanza for institutional speculators, including corporate hedge funds. The financial meltdown has led to sizeable transfers of money wealth into the pockets of a handful of financial institutions …
“The market was carefully manipulated by powerful actors using speculative instruments in the market for derivatives, including ‘short-selling’.
“The unspoken objective is the concentration of wealth. It was a financial bonanza for those who had ‘inside information’ or ‘foreknowledge’.” (Op cit)
In the meantime, although panic should be avoided, it is undoubtedly the case that the new coronavirus is more dangerous than normal seasonal flu, and it makes sense to take reasonable precautions to limit its spread, such as frequent handwashing and avoiding touching one’s face.
People who have cold or flu-like symptoms that would not normally have prevented them from going to work should stay at home to avoid sharing their germs with others as they might have done in the past, as also should the people who share their home.
This will mean quite severe economic dislocation, meaning that there will be a slowdown in the production and distribution of commodities, including the most necessary ones, and no doubt price rises all round.
However, this economic dislocation will obviously be infinitely worse if perfectly healthy people are too frightened to go to work as a result of exaggerated panic.
Therefore, in the interests of society at large, people should Keep Calm and Carry On in accordance with the best British tradition, and rally around to use their best endeavours to ensure that as far as possible Britain remains open for business as usual.
However, they are bound to take account of certain lessons that are screaming out loud as a result of this experience.
The first is to note how the creeping privatisation of the National Health Service is putting lives at risk.
The second is how a country like China, which still maintains a powerful public sector despite the plethora of privatisations associated with ‘reform and opening up’, is able to take timely and sweeping measures to protect the public, including the building and staffing of two huge hospitals in the space of a fortnight.
The third is how contrary to the public interest are the privatisations taking place in capitalist countries like Britain, which benefit billionaires at the expense of ordinary people.
The drive towards privatisation of public services in capitalist countries is the result of the generalised crisis of capitalism, in which those who control capital find it difficult to find profitable avenues of investment and therefore demand the opening up to their depredations of services that are more effectively provided by the public sector.
All this amounts to a call to the workers of every country to fulfil their historic mission of overthrowing the capitalist system so that a rational system of central economic planning for the maximisation of benefit to the masses of the people can take over at long last.