Sajid Javid’s bluster is the exact opposite of reality. The UK is 25th in the world in death rates. 182 other countries have done better in keeping their people safe – the first duty of government they used to say – and only 24 have done worse. So, perhaps, leading the world in dying with the virus might be a better way to put it.
Diane Abbot’s article in Labour Outlook pointed out that, when compared with the death rates in countries with an active covid suppression strategy, the UK has done spectacularly badly.
The UK has had a death rate of 2,274 per million.
Australia’s death rate is 112 per million.
New Zealand, just 10.6.
China, a minds bogglingly small 3.47.
In the press here, this is used as evidence that these countries have been quite mad in not letting their people die in numbers comparable to ours, with headlines like “China’s Zero Covid Tyranny” in the Daily Telegraph.
The single minded ferocity of this line is explained by a simple calculation that they really don’t want people to do, or think through.
If you multiply the per million death rate for these countries by 65, for the 65 million people who live in the UK, you get some very startling figures for how many people would have died had we adopted their policies and had a comparable death rate.
A comparable death rate to Australia would have meant that 7,280 people would have died here.
A comparable death rate to New Zealand would have meant 687 deaths.
A comparable death rate to China would have kept deaths to just 226 during the whole pandemic so far.
That looks like this.
This policy, that we have to “live with the virus” means an acceptance that we will continue to die from it in large numbers. It invites us all to participate in a gigantic piece of disavowal: to look straight at the reality that this virus is ten times as deadly and infectious as the flu and continuing to evolve, and pretend that it isn’t.
The Labour and trade union movement – despite the line of the leadership (Wes Streeting’s surreal “plan to live well with Covid”) should resist going along with delusions of a “return to normalcy.” There are always elephants in the room, but with this policy, there will be viruses too.
This is why the comments from Sajid Javid and others that “We need to learn to live with” the virus because “sadly, people die of flu as well” are so light minded and not comparing like with like.
Javid says that “in a bad flu year you can sadly lose about 20,000 lives but we don’t shut down our entire country and put in place lots of restrictions to deal with it.” In a good flu year, however, you can lose a few hundred, as we can see here.
The worst years for flu are far less lethal than any year we have had so far with Covid.
Given that it is
there is no reason to believe that the casualty rates “for many, many years, perhaps forever,” will be lower than they have been in recent months, during which the UK has, in Sajid Javid world, been “leading the way in showing the world how you can live with Covid”. Every one of the average of 359 people who have died every day in the last week lies in their graves as a rebuke to this vainglorious cynicism.
The notion of “endemic”, ie ever present, disease that the government presents is that it will be faded into the background, not too serious, predictable and fairly regular. The wild roller coaster of the successive waves we have seen, and will continue to see, is nothing like that. His remark that we will have to continue to employ “measures”, however “sensible, appropriate and proportionate” is a backhanded admission of that.
His comment yesterday in scrapping the Plan B safeguards that “We cannot eradicate this virus” (my emphasis) is an abject admission of failure. The ruling class in the West can no longer even claim to lead humanity.
They can’t eliminate it, because they are not willing to. China keeps managing to do it. Only 2 people died of Covid there last year and they have no intention of following the pressure from the US to abandon their zero Covid policy. If they did, between 3 and 4 million people would die. No doubt Javid would consider that a small price to pay.
The effect of letting the genie back out of the bottle as soon as possible will be seen soon enough. It will slow the downward trajectory in cases, hospitalisations and lead to more people dying than need to. Keir Starmer has called for the data on which this is based to be released. This is beside the point, as the overall data is available. More widely, the pretence that acting as though we are back to normal means that we are back to normal is simply deluded. Labour should break its complicity with this approach, which bakes in permanent crisis from here on.
Boris Johnson’s game plan is quite clear. Brass it out. Throw as many underlings under the bus as possible. Try to appease his Party’s right wing – who are the force behind trying to defenestrate him now with a series of increasingly wild policy pronouncements.
Go to war with Radio 4. As if the BBC weren’t right wing enough, with their long succession of lead political commentators who either were or might as well have been Conservative activists (Nick Robinson was in FCS in the 80s at the time they demonstrated in support of Nicaraguan terrorists and sported Hang Nelson Mandela T shirts; Laura Kuenssberg has often seemed to act as a straight conduit for the latest line from Tory central office). Perhaps the success of GB News is what they have in mind. A channel with very little appeal outside the Alt Right bubble.
Deploy the Royal Navy in the Channel against refugees seeking safety. This is either bluff – sounds decisive, means nothing – or murderous. What are they going to do? Heroically open fire on dinghies full of desperate people? Or ram them? Leave people to drown or save their lives?
Lift Covid safety measures early. Having learned nothing from every other time they’ve done this in the pandemic. Latest government measures have all had this finely tuned “not quite just in time” quality. Cutting the isolation period down to five days from seven means that a third of the people concerned could still be infectious. But, what the hell, it gets more people back to work. Being “past the peak” is not the same thing as being in a sufficiently safe space to open up. Just as “endemic” does not mean that an epidemic is any less lethal – its just means you’ve given up on trying to control it. Current safety measures – however half baked – have case numbers and hospitalisations going down. Deaths are a lagging indicator and still going up (38% up from the previous week on Sunday). Letting them go early means that they will have less effect, which means that the rate of decline will slow and more people will die. A small price to pay for the PM’s political career.
Push a Red Scare. The bizarre allegation’s from MI5 that Christine Lee has been conducting “illegal” attempts to “influence” legislators in the interests of the Chinese Communist Party – coming from the team that brought us the Zinoviev Letter, Spycatcher and Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq – without specifying what she did that was “illegal” nor charging her with anything. In fact, Priti Patel has admitted that Lee’s behaviour is currently below the criminal threshold to be prosecuted. In other words, what she is supposed to have done was not, in fact, illegal, as claimed by MI5. How it differs from lobbying by other countries, some of them supposed to be allies, has not been defined. Nor why this sort of thing is illegitimate in this case, but not in theirs. All part of developing a Cold War politics of paranoia. Yvette Cooper has, of course, gone along with the government’s approach. Priti Patel has warned that we can expect more of these announcements and floated a change in the law. I doubt any of this will target attempts to “advance the interests” of the United States which are part of the warp and weft of the UK establishment – from the Trilateral Commission to the 5 Eyes Intelligence alliance – which makes the UK security services a local auxiliary of those of the USA – to the Henry Jackson Society and Uncle Sam Cobbly and all. This appears to be an attempt to make it impossible for anyone in politics, academia or the media to suggest that maybe China gets some things right, without being accused of being an agent or a spy; thereby closing down the range of debate and setting up anyone raising awkward facts to be howled down by enraged mobs rather than acknowledge them. The decline of once unchallengeable US dominance really sets us up for a delirious period of irrational politics.
It also beggars belief that, at precisely this point, Keir Starmer and Wes Streeting think that the thing to do is to ride to Johnson’s rescue on Covid.
Streeting – in an article on Labour List – put forward “Labour’s Plan to live well with Covid”. Yes. he really did write that. A real contender for the backdrop for Party Conference, or billboards at the next election. Possibly more memorable than Starmer’s latest “This, That and The other”. The irony of this is that Streeting is putting this forward as part of a plan to show that Labour aims to win the next election on its own merits, not simply be the lucky beneficiary of the Tories falling apart. Clearly, the statesmanlike thing is to show how fit we are for government by being as much like them as possible.
At the same time Starmer’s speech to the Fabian Society echoed the government line. “We need to learn to live with Covid. He went on “I don’t want a government ever again to have to place tough restrictions on our lives, our livelihoods and our liberties.” Ever again. From here. Regardless of what happens? Close your eyes and it could be the Covid Recovery Group speaking. Restrictions (which might also be called safeguards) only have to be put in place when the virus is left to run riot). An active Covid suppression policy saves lives and allows economic recovery. Let the virus evolve into a new variant – as it will – and we’ll once again have picked up the card marked “Return to Hospital. Do not pass Go. Do not collect an economic recovery”.
To be fair to Streeting, his proposals actually spell out that constant safeguards (restrictions) are the price of accepting that “the virus is here to stay”. Some of this proposes a sensible wholesale roll out of a serious testing and tracing system, ventilation systems in schools, support for worldwide vaccination, proper sick pay for those having to isolate – which concedes that people will have to – and but also requires a permanent volunteer “jabs army” to relieve pressure on Health Service workers – instead of recruiting workers that will have to be paid (?!). All of this concedes that pressure will be constant from here, as will waves of jabs.
By contrast, a serious position that rejects complicity with the government and sets a course towards active Covid suppression has now been adopted by the Socialist Health Association, and this should be discussed up and down the Party and through the unions too to push a change of course and defy this fatal fatalism.
We note that:
1. The Tory Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to one of the highest per capita death tolls in the world, as well as causing thousands to suffer with long term health problems.
2. Its incompetence, corruption, repeated failure to take timely decisions, reliance on just vaccines and herd immunity, on top of its ideological neo-liberalism mean that it has utterly failed to protect the health and well-being of the people of the UK.
3. In October 2021, Parliament’s Health & Social Care and Science & Technology Committees’ joint report on the lessons learnt from the UK’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic described it as one of “the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”; and the Public Accounts Committee report on the government’s flagship test-and-trace system said that it had failed to achieve “its main objective” to cut infection levels and help Britain return to normal despite beinghanded an “eye-watering” £37bn in taxpayers’ cash.
4. The Government continues to delay its promised independent public enquiry.
We recognise that:
1. Vaccination, while essential, can be only one tool in the struggle to control Covid-19.
2. Those countries which have aimed at maximum suppression of the virus have the lowest death tolls and are suffering the least negative economic consequences.
3. There is no reliable evidence that it is possible to live safely with this virus as it mutates, and more dangerous variants emerge.
We call on the SHA and Labour Party at all levels to:
1. Reject the Tories’ ‘living with the virus’ approach, and instead support a comprehensive strategy to keep community transmission of the virus as close to zero as possible and ultimately to eliminate it entirely from particular geographic areas, based on tried and tested public health principles, including: An effective public sector local and fully-funded Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support (FFTIS) operation run by the NHS and local authorities, providing comprehensive financial, psychological, social and health care support and practical assistance to all required to self-isolate or shield. Continuing personal protection and mitigation measures including social distancing, handwashing, mask-wearing and good ventilation. An obligation for workplaces, educational places, hospitality, venues and other indoor public spaces to adhere to and publicly display Covid protection standards (especially for ventilation).Vaccine passes where appropriate. The right to work and study from home where possible and no requirement to attend the workplace unless strictly necessary.
2. Actively support campaigns and international efforts to tackle the pandemic on a global level through facilitating speedy vaccine deployment and production in all parts of the world In order to effectively campaign for this essential life-saving elimination strategy, we resolve to support Independent SAGE, to affiliate to the Zero Covid UK campaign, and to work with those campaigns.
The latest figures on UK cases, hospitalisations and deaths- released for 1 January – make sobering reading for all of us; but appear not to be giving pause to the Secretary of State for Health, who is doubling down on arguing that we have to “live with” the virus (forever) and the select breed of scientists in his camp, who argue that Omicron is a step towards COVID evolving into a “mostly harmless” “endemic” infection like the common cold.
The figures are stark – and do not support either that hypothesis or the government’s policies. The Omicron variant is now considered as infectious as measles, and it is capable of infecting people who have been vaccinated or who have contracted it before. And “endemic” does not mean “harmless”.
In the week up to 1 January there were an average of 162,000 verified new cases every day for England alone. This was a 47.9% increase on the previous week and is rising sharply.
Hospitalisations similarly rose by 49.9%, with an average of 1,915 new admissions a day, again on a sharply rising curve.
Deaths, a lagging indicator, were up by 31.1%, with an average of 151 people dying every day – again on a rising curve.
It is important to bear in mind that these new cases, which have baked in a following wave of hospitalisations and deaths, were picked up during the Xmas week after a significant additional wave of people getting their third vaccination.
Relatively few people have been at work.
No schools or colleges are open.
Relatively few journeys will have been taken on public transport.
There has also been an 8% decline in the number of tests that have been carried out during this week – largely due to shortages of kit.
Projecting forward we can sketch out the likely impact in two weeks time. If 2% of identified cases end up in hospital, we’ll be looking at 3,251 daily admissions in England by mid January, just from the cases already identified (2% of 162,000).
With a sharp increase in social interactions coming from a large scale return to work from Tuesday, and schools beginning to reopen, with no further safeguards put in place, we should expect the upward spike to jag even more sharply upwards.
On 31 December there were 154 deaths and 1,915 admissions, giving a deaths to admission ratio of 1:12. Extrapolating this to the 3,251 admissions expected by mid January gives a death rate of around 270 a day (or 1,890 a week); and rising.
There is an expectation that this wave will decline again once it has infected all the people that it can. But, as it seems able to infect vaccinated people, and people who have recovered from previous variants, it has a very large pool of potential victims.
By February we will know if this wave has receded, and to what extent, or if it keeps on going.
Allowing a virus like this to become endemic and not stamping it out is a catastrophic strategic choice that means that, so far, the UK has suffered 30 times the number of deaths as Zero Covid China in absolute terms, and 629 times as many people per capita – and will suffer many more, with no prospect of an end to it.
The argument a week ago was that Ministers wanted “more evidence” before taking further safety precautions. The evidence seems to be in. How much more do they need?
A narrative in the media today that seeks to pre-emptively point the finger of blame at four of the G20 countries – Brazil, China, Russia and Australia – for a global failure to meet carbon reduction targets is coming from countries that have no leg to stand on.
While all countries need to sharply increase their commitments, and actions, they are not all starting from the same place.
People in China and Brazil might feel aggrieved to be lectured by the UK, which has a worse per capita emissions figure than them; and even the Australians might feel a bit piqued if criticised by the USA.
It should be noted that these are carbon emissions by domestic production. Countries like the UK which have offshored a significant slice of manufacturing have a significantly higher global impact. In 2016, only 54% of the UK’s carbon footprint was domestically sourced with the remaining 46% coming from emissions released overseas to satisfy UK consumption. Ministers tend to be very quiet about that. While China, which has a lot of manufacturing, has a lower footprint through consumption.
In his friendly review of Bill Gates’s How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown argues that the 2010 Copenhagen summit failed to lead to the breakthrough we needed because of both “the reluctance of the US to make legally binding commitments, and the deep suspicion of China, India and the emerging economies of any obligations that they believed might threaten their development”. (1) He then anecdotally glosses over the former and emphasises the latter by recounting the rather startling image of “Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd” having to be “physically restrained from punching the Chinese negotiator.” What an unreconstructed colonial incident that would have been. (2)
It might seem odd that the man who, as Chancellor in 2005, campaigned to “Make Poverty History” should put an equals sign between the refusal of the US – the worlds heaviest emitter per capita and the country with the biggest global legacy of carbon emissions – to see world leadership as anything other than getting away with the most it could, at the expense of those less powerful than itself – and the desire of the developing world not to stay poor; let alone foreground the latter. The way that he does this – possibly unconsciously – could stand as a warning that this attitude – that seeks a global division of labour in which the worse off and worst hit parts of the world do the heavy lifting, and restrain their development in the common interest, while the wealthiest countries try to make only those moves that maintain existing patterns of wealth, power and ways of life – is likely to find expression again and again in the run up to, at, and beyond the COP in November. There is already a significant effort going in to paint the more industrialised parts of the developing world in general – and China in particular – as the flies in the global ointment.
A recent report from US Researchers shows how much more work every country has to do if we are to hit the Paris target of keeping the global temperature rise within 1.5C – beyond which we are likely to be in danger of feedback loops that will make it incredibly difficult for us to control. (1) The additional effort needed for a selection of key countries looks like this.
So, China has to do 41% more, just under half as much again as its already doing, while the UK has to almost double its efforts (97%) and the USA, India and Japan roughly quadruple theirs (203%, 190%, 229% respectively) and South Korea almost nine times as much. So, while John Kerry’s argument that China “isn’t doing enough” is true, nobody is, and the Washington has far more to do than Beijing; so a little humility might be in order. Closer to home, the frequent trope from UK Ministers that we “lead the world” on this are neither true – we are well behind the Chinese – nor relevant. It doesn’t matter if you are leading a pack of slower runners, if you are not going to get to the finish line before nature calls time on the race.
This blog is the first in a short series.
1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s43247-021-00097-8#Tab1 The worrying thing about this Report is that it puts a lot of emphasis that only an 80% increase in global effort would be needed to stay within 2C, as if it would not be extremely damaging and dangerous for us to end up there and it is just too much to expect that we could do what we need to if it was remotely inconvenient in the short term.
The Guardian reports a new “surge” in cases in Hebei Province in China. This amounted to 33 people on 10 January and led to an immediate city wide lockdown and quarantine to eliminate further domestic infections. Because China has the virus under control, this can be done.
The comparable figures for new cases in the UK and USA were 59,937 and 313,516 respectively, because our governments have not got the virus under control. That looks like this.
The use of the term “surge” is clearly designed to reinforced the UK government’s defeatist narrative that the virus cannot be defeated, even in places where it has been.
The importance of consciously examining the language we are reading to see how our responses are being manipulated is made clear by this example.
“I tremble for my country, when I reflect that God is just.” Thomas Jefferson.
In Monday’s Commons debate on scrapping the Hong Kong extradition treaty, Conservative MP and former Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood said the following, ” For decades now, we have turned a blind eye to China’s democratic deficit and human rights violations, in the hope that it would mature into a global responsible citizen. That clearly hasn’t happened. Is this now the turning point where we drop the pretence that China shares our values?”
The accusations made against China are grim ones which they strongly deny, but coming from the countries that brought you – just in recent years – waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Special Rendition, the Fallujah Free Fire Zone and extra judicial drone assassinations (with 601 casualties in Yemen alone between 2011 and 2017) (1) you have to wonder what human rights values “we” have been modelling; and how China has supposedly diverged from them, by allegedly doing what we have done in plain sight for so many years.
It has to be said that it is a strange sort of “genocide” in which the ethnic group supposedly being targeted is rapidly growing in numbers and proportion of the population, and an odd kind of “cultural/religious suppression” in which the number of Mosques has increased by a factor of ten in the last thirty years. Just over 2000 Mosques in Xinjiang in 1989, over 24 000 now.
Does Mr Ellwood mean that a tough line with street protests to “dominate the streets or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks”, is way out of line with anything a Western power would contemplate or carry out? (2) If so, he hasn’t been paying much attention lately or, indeed, ever.
Does he mean that mass incarceration is unacceptable? This would be odd, because the USA currently locks up 2.1 million people, 25% of the total global prison population; way above any other country and far more per head than China does; while England and Wales, with 145 prisoners per hundred thousand people, have the highest per capita prison population in Western Europe and Scotland is not far below; all well above China’s 118 per hundred thousand (3).
Can he mean the exploitation of free, or ludicrously cheap, prison labour to produce goods for well known companies? Again, this would be odd because that’s what US prisons do. McDonalds, Wendys, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Verizon, Sprint, Victoria’s Secret, JC Penney, KMart, American Airlines and Avis are documented beneficiaries. (4)
He can’t mean interning people without trial who are in rebellion against the state, because that’s what the UK did in Kenya, Malaya, Cyprus and the North of Ireland and the US did with its “strategic hamlets” programme in Vietnam. So, that would be completely in line with “our values”, wouldn’t it?
Nor can he mean that sterilising ethnic minorities is out of line with “our values” , because that’s what the US did throughout the twentieth century at home- 25-50% of native American women in the 1970s, a third of the female population of Puerto Rico between 1938 and 1970, countless Black women given unnecessary and involuntary hysterectomies (Mississippi appendectomies), 150 prisoners in California as recently as 2010 – and to many more abroad throughout Latin America and beyond, including up to 200 000 indigenous women in Peru in the 1990s. (5)
He can’t mean disregarding local democratic rights and imposing an unwanted regime from the outside, because that’s what the United States has done 20 times by invasion and another 56 times by interventions short of that since 1949. Some of these have been very bloody. Two million Vietnamese killed, half a million Indonesian Leftists massacred in 1965, thousands and thousands throughout Latin America for decades. Whatever you think of China, it would take them a long time to catch up with a record like that.
Nor can he mean communities feeling unsafe at the hands of the police force that is meant to “protect and serve” them. The chance of being shot dead in the streets by the police was approximately 2000 times greater in the US than in China in 2019. (6)
Perhaps he means having a threatening military posture to intimidate other countries? But here again the US posture is far more threatening, both in terms of military expenditure, on which the US spends $4 for every $1 spent by China…
…and even more starkly in terms of overseas military bases, of which the USA has 800 and China has 3.
Who is “A Global Responsible citizen”…?
A responsible global citizen faces up to the fundamental challenges facing humanity and seeks co-operation to solve them. The gravest threat to all of us is climate breakdown. China is committed to the Paris Agreement, has met its targets early and raised them. The United States under Trump is walking out of the Agreement on the grounds that “we believe that no country should have to sacrifice economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability,”Wells Griffith, Trump’s envoy to the Katowice COP 2018. (7) If every country adopted the US approach, we’d have no hope of avoiding the melt down of our civilisation. Its not mature and its not responsible. The unilateral, selfish action they are taking threatens all of us with catastrophe. Mr Ellwood does not appear to have noticed, or, if he has, does not think this to be of any significance.
In the immediate global crisis caused by COVID19, the records of China, the UK and US certainly show a divergence in values. China put public safety first and, despite an initial fumble by local officials, managed to crush the virus and keep domestic deaths down to just over 4600. In the UK and US, by contrast, commercial considerations and half baked libertarianism has led so far to almost twice as many deaths in the US as there were cases in China with the virus well out of control and infections rising exponentially again. The most conservative figure for UK deaths is ten times the Chinese total (and therefore 200 times the rate per capita). A little humility about this on the part of the people responsible for it might not go amiss.
The political effect of this in China has been to boost the standing and legitimacy and standing of Xi Jinping and the Communist Party. (8) This was always far stronger than Western opinion has ever been able to comprehend, but looking out from a society that has been kept largely safe – as well as having risen from extreme poverty in living memory – the mounting casualties and sheer chaos of the “West” shocks and horrifies popular opinion. The first duty of government, after all, is to keep its people safe. Job done there. Not here.
Economically, the Chinese economy is now recovering. It was already larger in purchasing parity terms than that of the United States before COVID hit. The seeming insanity of the efforts by the Trump administration to reopen their economy while cases are rising is explained by their fear of falling further behind. The IMF projects that 51% of world growth in the next two years will be in China. The US, by contrast, will account for just 3.3%.
As the virus spreads exponentially again, pushing the US proportion of global deaths back up to 15%, from a low of 9% last month, employment and economic activity have gone through the fastest collapse in history. This stokes the US political crisis and fuels the Black Lives Matter uprising. This titanic crisis of health, survival and livelihoods – and the Trump adminstration’s callous indifference, bluster, denial and authoritarian incompetence- has revealed to a popular majority that the enemy is at home and in high places.
The controlled response to the virus in China has saved the world many infections and deaths. That of the USA continues to threaten any other country that trades or deals with it.
China has put a moratorium on debt repayments from 66 struggling developing countries. The USA has imposed sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. (9)
China has pledged that any vaccine developed in the country will be a common good for the whole world. President Trump has applied “America First” even to this, cornering the market in available treatments, gazumping other countries supplies, while, with the UK, insisting on patent rights (which puts pharma profits above cheapness and availability). Clearly a divergence in “values” there.
The increasingly delirious accusations being made against China – which in the media are presented as a labyrinth of mirrors, with each story of each allegation being reported as though they were evidence of it – reflect the desperation of a US ruling class who can feel the earth falling away under their feet. The majority of the world, as reflected in UN votes, do not believe this US narrative. Twice as many countries voted with China on both Xinjiang and Hong Kong as voted for “Western” resolutions; which were supported only by wealthy close US allies, the imperial bubble that likes to think of itself as “the global community.”
And the Left?
The dominant current in the UK Labour Movement, the Labour Right, historically gives the US complete credence. Even devotees of an “ethical foreign policy” are usually highly selective about where they look to demonstrate their ethics. I hope that what is written above is enough to convince that this position doesn’t have a leg to stand on – morally or in any other respect. For the right, this is a matter of realpolitik, so whats true doesn’t really come into it. But there are also currents that identify themselves as “far left” and take a militant line on domestic politics, but never saw a US intervention they didn’t like, nor a State Department attack line they are unwilling to shout through a social media megaphone. For all the reasons above, a pro Washington line is the most reactionary position that can be taken and, in current circumstances, will lead those that espouse it down a road towards giving the USA the social support it needs to threaten a war that could kill us all.
Others, more on the left, will have no illusions about the messenger, but will accept part or all of the message; and will consider articles like this too uncritical. The bottom line here is, that whatever critical view is held about China, or actions it is alleged to have taken, these currents do not line up with Washington and are not willing to allow themselves to be used in giving support to the war drive that is already taking place in economic sanctions and aircraft carrier deployments.
It is stopping these that is the imperative. Arguments about other matters will only be able to continue if the gathering momentum towards war and environmental collapse are stopped and the precarious structures of global co-operation are strengthened.
The UK government’s explanation of why it has decided to stop comparing the UK’s Coronavirus infection and death rates with China’s is deeply ironic. They say that Chinese stats can’t be trusted.*
There is a more obvious explanation; that China has been very successful in keeping its death rates down while the UK has not, that this is deeply embarrassing, and becoming more so as time goes on.
This is what that looks like in deaths per million as of April 26 (1).
This is significantly worse than the previous week. The Chinese figure is unchanged (on 3.3 per million) – because the virus is under control – while the US and UK figures deteriorate (from 101 to 168 per million for the US and from 206 to 305 per million for the UK) (1). This figure means that the Chinese can now start to safely reopen their economy. It is quite clear that the UK and US cannot do so safely at this level. Denial is essential to even contemplate doing so. ** Whitewashing out the discrepancy with China, is a further aspect of playing down or ignoring their experience and any lessons that could be learned from it – could be preparing the ground to do so at an unsafe level.
The trustworthiness of UK official figures is also questionable. While the daily death rate is confined to those who have died in hospital after being tested and serves a purpose in tracking trajectory, it does not include anyone who has died anywhere else; and no one in government is keen to point out that the headline figure is not the total of people who have actually died: which is considerably larger. This may be considered a sin of omission, but it nevertheless serves a purpose in downplaying how bad things actually are; another form of denial.
A Financial Times analysis (2) incorporating the Office for National Statistics figures on all deaths concluded that the official UK figure of 17 337 deaths up to Tuesday 21 April is less than half the actual figure. That looks like this.
*This is odd, because the WHO does trust them (as does the Financial Times; whose job it is to provide accurate information for the business class). A logical next step in this trajectory will be to downgrade relations with the WHO – which also serves a purpose in that it stubbornly insists on tighter conditions for easing lockdown’s than the UK government is prepared to contemplate. See previous blog.
**It is clear that the ground is being prepared to do this. Train operating companies are preparing to open up 80% of services by May 18th. Statements by Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford on behalf of the Scottish and Welsh governments on Friday on easing the lockdown to “live with” or “live alongside” the virus indicate that a reopening is being planned that is a response to commercial, not health, pressures. When Keir Starmer says that the UK risks being “left behind” in its consideration of “exit strategy” in the context of other countries beginning to ease restrictions, this applies pressure in precisely the wrong direction. The UK has the second highest daily death rate in the world right now. As of April 25, that looks like this.
The points he – and the rest of the Labour and trade union movement should to be making are:
1. That the only safe exit is one in which the WHO ‘s 6 conditions are met in full and
2. That the current lockdown should be tightened to include ALL non essential work; as the quickest route to an exit is through cutting off all possible routes to infection.
3. We can no more “live with” the virus than we can live with climate breakdown.
The Chinese figure has been uprated from 3 to 4.5 to reflect the backdated increase in deaths in Wuhan announced yesterday. In case the figures for the USA and UK are not clear on the graph, these are; USA 101. UK 206.
While the US response is widely and rightly seen as a mess, there is a tendency in the UK to give the government far more of a benefit of the doubt than it deserves.
It should be clear from this that China’s experience should be studied and learned from, while the UK and US are not models to be followed.
The bottom line right now is that China did not end its lockdown until deaths were in single figures. The relaxation of social distancing now being contemplated in parts of Europe and being discussed in the UK will let the genie back out of the bottle. Disaster will follow if this course is pursued. The only safe path to an exit is through a tightened lockdown.