Correspondence: The Corona Virus, Not just A Moral Panic
14 March 2020
When social and political commentators first began to take notice of the Covid 19 viral infection the typical response was that it was no more than another 'moral panic' brought on by social media and the fake news and rumour that is part and parcel of the internet. The typical 'sophisticate' scorned the medical scare mongers. I thought this too but changed my mind a couple of months back when I came across a few serious minded you tube bloggers who specialised in raising awareness about medical issues. One of the first of these was a retired doctor living in the north of England called John Campbell who had been raising the alarm for more than two months, looking through his other videos I could see he was a serious and careful elaborator of medical knowledge. It soon came to me that sounding an alarm about Covid 19 was necessary and justified, it could not be dismissed as just a 'moral panic'.
Yesterday (13/03/2020) the British Government belatedly let the sleepy public know what was coming their way over the next six to nine months. The scant facts were presented without much 'emotion' and the usual club of loquacious press journalists seemed jolted into near silence. In a nutshell up to 80 percent of the British population would likely be infected by the start of Autumn, late September 2020. The estimated population of England is 55 million and 80 percent of that is 44 million, so sometime over the next six months 44 million people will experience either a mild or severe form of sickness, not great for a capitalist economy to have such a monstrous sickness rate. Most of the workers though it was claimed would only experience a mild illness and could get back to work within seven to ten days. If around 80 percent of the workforce will be able to get back to work none the worse for the experience what of the other 20 percent who will likely experience a more serious illness?
In truth it has been known for a month or so that about 15 percent of the infected population would require 'medical intervention', some 12 percent of the sick would need what medical professions call Intensive Care. Then the senior science adviser to the Government announced, rather too easily, that about 1 percent of the patients would die. It did not take a genius to work out the number of the likely dead for England would be 440,000. Just to be clear, the more typical death rate for flu in England is on average around 17,000. Indeed the Covid 19 virus is about 30 times busier in killing folk than the typical flu.
No surprise then that some people began to wonder if the British Government had a winning strategy for stopping the march of the virus. The real news is that they donít have a winning strategy, for after 'taking the best scientific advice available' they think it best that only the speed of the infection rate be slowed down, this way a 'herd immunity' can develop to the point when the majority of the population have been infected so it becomes less of a threat to the 'vulnerable groups'. This strategy fits in so nicely with free market ideology that it can justly be said to be a 'laissez faire' approach to Government disease control. Maybe it remindsyou of something from our past, namely the Irish Famine, when it was decided that a laissez faire approach to human welfare was best in keeping with 'British values'.
What was acceptable in the nineteenth century you might think is hardly excusable today, the British Values seem more like contemporary social Darwinism, the survival of the fittest and all of that reactionary naturalist ideological baggage, you must know that Nature has no moral purpose and is often cruel and will often get the better of our best culture and high minded morals.
It remains to be seen if the British Tories can get away with this laissez faire approach, other free market Governments around the world would like to follow suit but are afraid of a popular backlash against it, the Irish Government for one started out like it was going to behave in the same way, but has backed down or maybe lost its nerve knowing the example of the Irish Famine, it has made a partial retreat from just letting things rip.
The main concern for the various shades of capitalist rule across the globe to the shock of the pandemic has been to 'support the economy' first and worry about the health of the workers asan afterthought, if the first priority is to avoid a potential recession then the workers must be kept at work for as long as possible and forced back to work as soon as possible. The laissez faire approach of the Tory Government requires an extraordinary knack for political braggadocio well suited to the politicians of our unique time; like Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron who think they can treat people like they are no better than turnips strewn on a muddy field. Surely the working class must revolt against putting the health and life of their own families above the capitalist desire for profit?
If the working class donít revolt sections of the educated middle class certainly will not least because the facts presented by the British Government as 'the science' are not definitive, there is no such thing as 'the' science when it comes to Covid 19, the World Health Organisation hold the view that the 1 percent fatality rate is 'contentious', at times looking more like 3 or 4 percent. The fatality rate of course will depend on the quality of the medical intervention available. What is also contentious is the claim that those who contact the virus will acquire lasting immunity and will not be subject to another infection. Then there is the question of mutation, there is some evidence that there are already two strains called S and L, some scientists think that Italy has been hit with an evolved more lethal strain. Then there is the potential for the infection to become seasonal without a vaccine being ready anytime soon. And then there is the realisation that people who have recoverd from the infection may be subject to lasting lung damage. In short the British Government and not just they alone are gambling with the very limited scientific knowledge so far available to them. It resembles a laboratory experiment applied to a complaint population. As one political commentator said on a BBC current affairs programme Ďthe British Government can best be described as an outlier on this one.í This story is only on the first page with a lot more to come.