Note: This post seriously underestimated the threat of coronavirus. It was influenced by the warnings in the past about Swine Flu, Aviary Flu, and others – none of which really became serious here in the US. I also have to admit that it was partly written out of ignorance of what is really happening at the intersection between human society and the natural world. For a much more accurate view of the threat, and one which focuses on exactly that intersection, see “Coronavirus, capitalism and the forces of nature“. We have tried to make up for this in that and other articles. I considered taking the article down, but I think it’s important for socialists to be willing to admit their mistakes. I also think it’s useful for people to see how others’ thinking evolves, so we’re leaving it up here.
March 18, 2019
What is the actual threat of the Covid 19 virus (incorrectly called “the coronavirus)? Look at the chart at the left. In China, where the virus comes from, there have been 3,120 reported deaths so far. The total population in China is 1.386 billion, so that works out as a fraction to 0.00000225 or 0.000225% of the total population. However, the disease has not totally run its course there, although the number of reported cases is now declining. So, let’s say that double the present number of deaths can be expected. In addition, many diseases and ailments like heart attacks lead to pneumonia, which is the immediate cause of death and is reported as such, rather than (in this case) covid 19 being the reported cause. So, let’s double that percentage again just to be safe. In that case, we get 0.0009%. If you calculate that as a percentage of the world population (.000009 X 7.7 billion), you get 69,330 deaths globally. (Note, according to worldometers of the reported 45,202 active cases, 39,219 are considered to have “mild” symptoms.)
Yes, for the individuals and their loved ones those deaths are a tragedy. But so are the 606,880 deaths in the US alone and 9.56 million globally who died prematurely due to cancer in 2017. Or the 17.79 million who die of cardiovascular disease. Yes, the majority of those deaths are of people older than 70, but many are of younger people. And you think the poisoning of the world’s environment isn’t a large part of the cause? Or the stress due to poverty or threatened unemployment or war?
How about hunger? According to mercycorps.org, 9 million people die from simple hunger and hunger related causes every year. Nobody worries about them either because hunger is not infectious, nor does it cause very many deaths in countries like the US. And even if it did, it wouldn’t cause deaths among “us”. Out of sight, out of mind.
Repression in china
Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting that the Chinese government is using the Covid 19 health crisis as an excuse to further crack down on the protests in Hong Kong. They write: “The pro-democracy demonstrations that rocked Hong Kong last year have lulled, in part because the city is under partial lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. You’d think Chinese Communist authorities and their hugely unpopular representatives in the city would breathe a sigh of relief and focus on keeping the population healthy. Instead, they chose last week to escalate the repression of opposition leaders.” They arrested several of the leaders for acts performed over six months ago.
Already harshly oppressed, the Uighurs in China are also being made to suffer even further. As the Washington Post reports “In late January, he said, Chinese authorities forced millions of Xinjiang residents into staying quarantined in their homes, with no advance warning and without providing access to food. In one of the videos shared widely among Uighurs, a man is yelling at authorities, “I’m starving. My wife and children are starving.” He bangs his head into a pole and shouts, “Do you want to kill me? Just kill me.”
Covid 19 used by Chilean government
And a comrade in Chile reports that “Coronavirus has been used as a political tool to try to keep us out of the streets. We don’t care. We march every single day. Pacos (the police) are still killing people, though. They are far more lethal than a virus.” He reports that on Sunday, around two million women marched in the streets of Santiago.
One would have to be the sort of conspiracy theorist who thinks that Assad is a freedom fighter to think that US capitalism dreamed up this crisis in order to repress millions. But one would also have to be highly naïve to think that some people inside the Trump administration aren’t watching this and thinking, “hmmmm…” Not even only the Trump administration – all the forces of “law and order”.