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Coronavirus Lies and Half-truths

2020-03-10 | Spain

In a televised message yesterday on Italian national TV, Conte ended the split between the "red zones" and the rest of the country. All of Italy is now an epidemic "special zone" where 60 million people are advised to stay at home. In Spain, meanwhile, the number of cases was rising exponentially. Madrid and the Basque Country were recognized as "uncontrolled" hotspots by the health authorities. The regional government of Madrid closed all educational centers, recommended teleworking and not to leave home for the elderly and people with illnesses. This morning the waiting lines in the supermarkets and the exhaustion of stocks announced that those who can, are ready to go to self-imprisonment. However, contradictory policies and messages "to keep our peace of mind" have created a cloud of confusion. Today we will discuss some lies and half-truths about the coronavirus that we have all heard these days on the streets, in the media and among our co-workers.

"From demonstrating on the streets to confinement the next day? It' s not that big a deal."

Madrid this Sunday: «The only dangerous virus is your male chovinism», says the text.

The March 8 demonstration has become an official liturgy in Spain, a way of implementing a new state ideology to which Sánchez's "feminist government" is particularly committed. Last week it became obvious that the government's so-called "containment phase" no longer contained anything, but they prioritized the demonstration over safety. The Health Minister urged the sick (!!) not to go to the demonstration. And the public television headlined the news with a triumphalist and ridiculous "Feminism resists the Coronavirus on the streets", as if gathering masses of people in the middle of an airborne virus epidemic was nothing but recklessness.

The state, with the government at its head, set its priorities as expected in the face of the epidemic: "tranquility", that is to say, in the first place giving media prominence to feminism and its pitiful petty fights imported from Yankee university debates, and once the state ritual was completed, keeping the productive apparatus up and running at all costs by minimizing losses, if necessary by increasing the budget and increasing the very deficit normally invoked to cut health spending.

"There' s nothing to worry about: our health care system is one of the best in the world."


This is the same thing we heard in Italy before Conte himself began to lay the blame on individual hospitals and regions. In Italy, as in Spain, the public health system is suffering from decades of cuts that are now being paid for... something governments are not going to do anything to correct.

Since the beginning of the epidemic in Spain, there have been complaints about the lack of basic materials and the lack of protocols, but above all the lack of personnel. With the first significant increase in the number of infections and hospitalizations, it became evident that the system was already overloaded and overwhelmed before the emergency. And the "private" sector is not helping: pandemics are not covered by private insurance.

We reach today, when the government has already allocated resources so that the balance sheet of the big companies does not suffer too much, with the newspapers telling us that the doctors "store the material so that it is not stolen and try to adapt to the new situation with the same resources" that they had until now and that the Madrid hospital system is already "in collapse".

And yes, obviously countries like the USA with precarious and insufficient public health systems are going to suffer more than European ones. But this is no competition, one has to be a genocidal nationalist to find comfort in the fact that the situation is even worse elsewhere. In Italy, the system has not only collapsed, but has degenerated into a regional battle in which, faced with the fear of hospital collapse, the saturated regions increasingly find the doors of the hospitals closed elsewhere. The dismantling of public health services now puts us all, and especially workers, at risk.

"Let's not exaggerate, it's like the flu"

In our news channel we continue to tag news about the epidemic by the name by which it was originally known: Wuhan Pneumonia. If only to keep in mind that it is a pneumonia, that is, it is a severe illness in itself.

The media and official messages during these weeks have tried to tone the danger down by telling us that for most of the population it was not fatal, but "something more like a flu" and that "only" the elderly were at risk - of death. In the graph above we see the comparisons of mortality by age from the 1918 epidemic - the famous and terrible "Spanish flu" -, the flu of recent years and the coronavirus (data from Wuhan's CDC). As can be seen, mortality among the elderly far exceeds not only normal influenza but also that of the worst epidemic suffered by Europe in the last century. Moreover, it is a tremendously contagious and disabling disease, it is after all a pneumonia.

In a society like Spain's, with one of the highest life expectancies in Europe, the impact of the virus is likely to be high. In fact, in Italy, another so-called "aging" society, the mortality rate is exceptionally high, at 5% compared to the world average of 3.5%, and doctors warn that lack of beds in overcrowded hospitals may make it worse.

"This time they won't leave us stranded, this disease is "democratic" and attacks all social classes equally"

In the United States, we have already seen that this is not true: Hundreds of thousands of workers have been unable to afford not to work in order to quarantine themselves or to go to the doctor. The "remote working solution" only deepens the class divide. And it is the favorite solution of the companies, of course. This is how the San Francisco correspondent of Die Spiegel described it:

The platform economy can't stay at home: the tens of thousands of low-cost drivers from Uber and Lyft, the food handlers from DoorDash, and the parcel carriers from Amazon. The precarious workers of Silicon Valley. While the driverless car and the drone-driven mass mailing system still don't exist, the beautiful digital world of remote work depends on the analog water carriers. The home office becomes a status symbol, a matter of class: whoever can stay at home is sovereign. It is quite possible that the Coronavirus will make this new divide more visible and deepen it in the world of work.

In Europe the "platform economy", which Sánchez wants to normalize at all costs in the Workers' Statute, is not yet as developed as in the United States, but in Italy these days the same divide between those who could work from home and those who could not has been clearly seen. The government maintains internal transportation for them, regardless of whether they live at home with high-risk populations, like their parents. Priorities are priorities and for European governments they are measured in economic terms.


Sánchez with his Health Minister and the manager of the Health Alert System.

As workers, the main lesson to be learned from the development of the epidemic is that the threats we face as a class are global, the virus, like the crisis, knows no borders, and what happens in one place affects the rest. There are simply no national solutions. Moreover, the interests of individual national capitals prevent the ruling classes from providing truly global solutions. They will always have an incentive to "wait a little longer", to call us to "get on with life" beyond what is sensible... as long as national capital does not lose its competitive edge. This is what happened in China at the beginning of the epidemic, then in Korea, Italy, France, Germany... and Spain.

The "serenity" and "tranquility" to which governments from Trump to Sánchez call us is that of the "sacred anti-viral union" formed with the same class that dismantles and erodes the Health systems, the same ones who prioritize "economic impact" over health risk and over the needs of people... who do not have resources to go into luxury quarantines. Of course, all governments have said "it's not that bad". Of course they have tried to "de-dramatize". Their priorities, beyond themselves, are focused on maintaining social order, preventing their national capital from devaluing too much and trying to keep "normality" by inertia. Their ideal is that we should uncritically obey the slogans of each moment and not worry or complain. We cannot accept this. Keeping silent and blindly trusting the same people who are determined to maintain the conditions that make any epidemic worse are something we simply cannot afford.