The virus was first detected in Hubei Province, China. Bats were probably the original reservoir. Because humans don't have much close contact with these mammals, it is likely that the virus first jumped the interspecies barrier to another animal, perhaps pangolins, then crossed the barrier again, to humans, in a “wet-market”. Live animal markets house dozens of different species in close proximity in a warm, humid environment. This is the ideal breeding ground for infection. Captive animals are especially susceptible because they are stressed, compromising their immune systems.
To some of us keeping other creatures in cages is inherently cruel and undesirable, so it is important to point out that the trappers and hunters behind it are forced by need. They have no other means of making a living. Many of them were once peasant farmers who have been driven out of business by large companies practising industrialised farming – the farmers have no way of competing with the economies of scale involved.
People who are being left behind by the market economy are taking ever greater risks to survive. As the crisis of capitalism deepens, more people are being pushed further into the bush to earn their keep – through illegal logging, mining or hunting. Covid-19 is not the first virus to jump the interspecies barrier because of it. Ebola and the Marburg virus both came from a similar source: displaced peasants turning to the bushmeat trade to stay alive. Inequality is the reason behind these diseases, and as inequality grows we can expect to see more like them in the future.
It is a sad fact that poor people are disproportionally affected by disasters and catastrophes. Today the pandemic is affecting working class people more often than the rich and, as a group, can count on worse results once infected.
There are systemic reasons behind this. Capitalists are able to isolate themselves effectively by holing up in their mansions or holiday homes, even middle class people can often work from home and can afford to have supplies delivered. The cruel irony is that the people who pick, pack and deliver the groceries are at a higher risk of infection.
Working class people are more likely to have jobs that cannot be done remotely, like stocking shelves or building maintenance and cleaning, for example. Members of the burgeoning “precariat' are in an even more delicate position. They often live paycheque to paycheque, meaning they can't take time off, and work jobs like being rideshare drivers which force them to interact in close proximity to people for prolonged periods of time.
There are more reasons behind the disparity in the aftereffects. People in lower socio-economic groups are more likey to have underlying health conditions, like compromised immune systems, liver disease, cancer, kidney disease, heart disease and diabetes mellitus. Another contributing factor is “weathering”; financial anxiety, discrimination* (POC are over-represented in low-income jobs and neighbourhoods) and an unhealthy diet are chronic stressors that effectively age someone before their time. Add these together with substandard healthcare in working-class areas and it is easy to see why workers are dying at a faster rate than the well off:
Working class people are more likely to delay seeking medical attention, and are less likey to get tested for coronavirus in a timely manner. Early diagnosis is one of the main things that determines a positive outcome. The inadequate healthcare provided to workers, including below average nutritional information, is just one of the ways the ruling class lets us down.
The Labour government's spending package is, on the face of it, very generous. Billions of dollars are being handed out. Ostensibly the money is supposed to help people pay their bills while under lockdown, but it remains to be seen if that will the case. There have been instances of casual DHB healthcare workers, including nurses, who have had their hours cut, ignoring States Services Commission guidelines. The Prime Minister had to intervene and explicitly say that these people need to be paid.
With government departments trying to shirk their responsibilities towards some of their most important workers, it is hard to believe that the private sector will do any better. There have been rumours of employers withholding wage subsidy funds to pay rents, mortgages, and other business expenses. The website for reporting this kind of fraud is here.
By and large the Labour government's response to the pandemic has been exemplary compared to other governments overseas, however, the easy going way it has dealt with Air New Zealand leaves a lot to be desired. Up to June 30th 2019 Air New Zealand posted a $270 million profit citing 5.35% growth offset by a $200 million price increase in the cost of fuel. It posted a $101 million profit for the six months leading up to December 2019.
Earlier this month the airline announced 1,460 job losses despite having cash reserves of $1 billion, and being eligible for the wage subsidy, while receiving a $900 million loan from the government at the same time. According to finance minister Grant Robertson: "Air New Zealand has a unique and critical role in our economy and society. Also, the government owns 52 percent of the company, which means we have a responsibility towards it. We have acted swiftly to put this loan agreement in place and support our national carrier."
Having a national air carrier is crucial, especially to a country as remote as New Zealand, however the Labour government should focus on keeping workers employed. There are some conditions on the loan, including paying interest and doing away with scheduled shareholder dividends for the time being. This doesn't go far enough, the government should consider fully nationalising the airline. That would ensure that the country's needs are being met.
The Air New Zealand example is all too common. The Mixed Market Model often means that shareholders reap the profits while the government - that is, working class people – picks up the tab if anything goes wrong. Another example would New Zealand Rail, which was privatised in the nineties then had to be bought back, now named Kiwirail, by the government when lack of investment left it unable to fulfill its role as part of the national infrastructure.
The Mixed Market Model doesn't work in the long run, the companies involved have a short-term outlook, frequently only planning as far ahead as the next financial year. “The owners of that capital are unwilling to make the long-term investments in useful production that society needs, and are intent on stripping revenue from those productive enterprises for the benefit of the financial elite.”
Bourgeois economists have touted a GDP recovery since the 2008 world financial crisis, the truth is that this growth has no basis on production. The growth in paper wealth is in the stockmarket and property speculation only. Workers have not seen their fair share of that growth, in fact, working conditions have deteriorated since 2008. This coupled with an intensification in austerity measures have meant a declining standard of living worldwide. This is clearly illustrated by the declining life expectancy for working class people in places like the UK and the US.
In countries across the world, from Italy to Ecuador austerity measures are to blame for a fatality rate that's much higher than needed. Cuts to the health system mean fewer doctors and hospital beds. For example, Ecuador's official death toll of 333 is a bald-faced lie, even president Moreno admitted that 100 people a day were dying in Guayaquil, the epicentre of the illness in the country. The real death toll is estimated to be over 7,600, making Ecuador's Coronavirus mortality rate higher than China's.
After the immediate crisis is over, here, we can expect to see more cuts to the welfare and public health systems. The recent 20 percent paycut for the PM, ministers and chief executives of government organisations could be used as leverage by employers who will then ask workers on low wages to follow the example set by leaders in order to keep their jobs. We will be asked to make sacrifices to keep their economy ticking over.
Another way we will have to make sacrifices is paying extortionate prices for vaccines that can be made for pennies. For example, in the US, thanks to patents held by pharmaceutical companies, a common drug used in the treatment of HIV, Truvada, costs 500 times more than the price Africans pay for it. Right now Emergent Solutions, formerly known as BioPort , has two Covid-19 vaccine candidates, as well as another treatment involving blood plasma, in development. In the past BioPort lobbied the US government to use its anthrax vaccine on the military. Due to unsanitary conditions in the manufacturing process some soldiers were left permanently disabled, this information became widely known in August 2001. The September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre shifted the country's attention away from the scandal and the company was able to continue making a profit on the backs of the working class. It is corporations like this that will be entrusted with finding a cure for the pandemic!
Other sacrifices will include selling off state assets at an unprecendented rate. These were originally built up and paid for by the working class. We can expect to see State Owned Enterprises broken up, the profitable parts will be sold off in a fire sale while the government will be stuck with the leftovers, stripped of value. Only the rich will benefit from the sale of assets that currently belong to all New Zealanders. Capitalists are hellbent on tightening their grip on the means of production. The upshot of this will be that the working class will end up paying for the pandemic crisis - both in dollar terms and in lives lost.
The only way to avoid such drastic consequences in the long run will be to get rid of the profit motive and to nationalise the major levers of the economy under the direct democratic control of the workers. Capitalism has nothing to offer but more suffering and more inequality. Now is the time for renewed militancy in pushing this issue into the public sphere and fighting for a socialist society..