How many more waves must we suffer?
Statement on Covid via Keep Left/Socialism from below
Covid is on the rampage in South Africa. The country has recorded more than 1.4 million cases of coronavirus cases and at least 40 574 deaths at the time of writing. The world figure is passing the 1.5million mark, just one year after the WHO declared a pandemic.
The ANC government has failed to combat the crisis. Public health services are almost collapsing and unable to provide enough emergency care beds and scores of health workers have died in hospitals that were already understaffed before the pandemic. Despite 15 million people in the country with no steady income, there are already plans to halt the meagerly Social Relief of Stress grant of R350 at the end of January this year.
Working people and their poor relatives are disproportionately bearing the real burden of the Covid virus alongside the effects of a system in economic and climate crisis. In poorer areas of Cape Town, close to five out of a hundred people with Covid are dying, compared to two or three per hundred nationally.
The responsibility for this lies with capitalism and its governments across the world.
With so many Covid deaths recorded, the need for vaccination of the population cannot be ignored.
At the moment, there is little hope of vaccination for the majority of South Africans, and for Africans in the rest of the continent it is even worse. There is a racist division in access to the world’s stocks of existing vaccines against Covid. Countries such as Canada paid for and claimed enough to vaccinate their whole population three times over. Our government continually says they are short of money, but we cannot accept this as they have failed to tax the rich to get the resources needed for a comprehensive, safe vaccine program.
But even if vaccines arrive, it will be years, if ever, before the pandemic is under control as long as society does not change.
The vaccine is seen as a ‘miracle intervention’ that will return everything to normal again, but ‘normal’ was riches for the few and a mess for the majority. Keep Left notes how everything has been assimilated to pharmaceutical interventions as the Holy solution to the pandemic, social and economic crisis.
If government could not organize a hand out of food parcels or social grants during lockdowns, where is its capacity to roll out vaccines while health workers are under such relentless pressure? The most likely outcome of a vaccine rollout with the current social order will be an apartheid of the vaccinated of those who have access to private healthcare and those workers deemed essential to the economy. But a slow, incremental roll out of the vaccine will only create conditions for new variants of the virus, which in turn may undermine the efficiency of the vaccines.
The ‘silver bullet’ approach neglects social inequalities such as water, housing, health and land as big contributors towards the spread and deadliness of Covid within working class communities. South Africa is plagued by the highest levels of inequality globally – caused by unequal income distribution, rising unemployment, the state’s failure to distribute land, and unequal access to basic services for the majority.
The Covid crisis in South Africa has overtly exposed the polarized conditions of the elite compared to the working class. The persistence of this social and economic crisis has been abetted by the state’s commitment to neoliberal policy, while the social conditions of the working class continues to deteriorate even further.
We therefore strongly believe that the struggle for water, land, housing, living wage and improved public health should be intensified with the struggle for equal access to safe vaccines, the responsibility for which is the government’s. Capitalism’s genetic components are as a system based on exploitation, competitive accumulation of profits and the destruction of the ecological system. Therefore, under capitalism it impossible to achieve such demands and thus there is a high need for a total change in our political system.
We need to stand with the struggle against the present privatisation of vaccine development. International trade agreements make it difficult for scientists to share knowledge and for countries to develop their own vaccine production facilities. The world’s elite stand to benefit more from existing laws and will be first in the queue to be vaccinated; the rest of us will be at the back. We have already witnessed the battle for scarce resources with respect to PPE (personal protective equipment) and testing kits.
Pharmaceutical industries continue to put profit before people’s lives. The ‘vaccine-race’ is about kick-starting national economies and getting back into global competition rather than to save humanity. At present pharmaceutical companies are demanding indemnity against any adverse side effects that their vaccines may cause. This is ridiculous: how can they be held accountable for applying proper safety standards if they are indemnified?
The production and distribution of the vaccine should not be left in the hands of the private sector but instead must be administered by the public health system for the benefit of everyone. This will require huge resources to be pumped into public health.
We should be aware that the same forces distorting the vaccine’s development and roll out apply to all the medical ‘miracles’ that may emerge in response to Covid. Trump in the USA plugged hydroxychloroquine and “Bolsonaro” in Brazil plugged Ivermectin, both to excuse their failure to contain the pandemic, long before any real scientific testing and verification.
Hydroxychoroquine was quickly exposed as ineffective and even dangerous. Although Brazil is still being decimated by the virus, many in our movements have seized hold of the fact that about 18 small trials of the hitherto cheap drug Ivermectin showed positive results.
The pressure on doctors to save lives is understandable, but we need to apply the same standards of safety and effectiveness testing to BRICS-pharma as we do to the vaccine manufacturers, and it is too soon to be sure of Ivermectin’s safety or efficacy.
We should not be stampeded into expanding the profits of any manufacturer before a drug is properly validated, nor into mass self-experimentation, which can only obscure whether it really works or not. And within the present setup, we should not expect Ivermectin to remain cheap if it proves effective, so trialing this drug is no substitute for the social upheaval required to deal with this pandemic.
We have to, respectfully, question the wisdom of throwing our movements into the clamour for the SA government to register human-grade Ivermectin when the most basic measures to curb the pandemic. Measures which would also improve life beyond the pandemic – are not in place, paying people to stay home when they are sick, bigger social grants, a tap in every household, more and better paid health workers.
Greatly expanded testing and monitoring and additional resources pumped into covid ‘hotspots’ to help people isolate and survive infections, let alone the most basic medical resources such as sufficient oxygen and people to carry it in every hospital.
We must reject all cures that have not been rigorously verified by credible laboratories and at the same time reject all the conspiracy theories floating around about vaccines at present. The science about the vaccines should be made transparently accessible to everyone and vaccine literacy should be a part of any vaccine programme.
- Capitalism is unable to solve this crisis- the vaccine should not be deemed as a silver bullet to solve the underlying social and economic crisis. This medical view approach neglects the class division and risks deepening it further. Tuberculosis is one practical example that today has become a poor man’s disease even though the medical and social cure has been known for a very long time.
- There is an urgent need for housing, land, sanitation and equal access to public health. The pandemic has exposed that it is impossible for working-class communities to adhere to social distancing because of the congested conditions they are induced to live in. Empty buildings in accessible areas should be properly converted to residential areas for those in need of houses and land should be made available for those who need land.
- Public health institutions should be prioritized and its infrastructures improved. All private health profits should be diverted towards improving public health. Moreover, all health institutions should be administered by the public to give access to universal health for all.
- Public health workers should be provided with adequate PPEs to protect themselves. Nurses should be paid properly.
- Jobs should be protected and retrenchment halted. Wages must not be reduced – in fact they must be increased. Workers should not be made to carry the burden of the crisis and a living income grant should be given to all those without a decent income.
We need more than just safe vaccine. A vaccine has to go alongside a radical struggle for democratic control of the system by the working class and their poor relatives to ensure the eradication of the virus. Capitalism as a system is our greatest threat; it has killed countless millions since its birth in its ruthless pursuit of profits and now threatens our very existence.
Socialism is the answer, struggle is the way to achieve it.