Notes on the COVID-19 pandemic and why it’s a COVID-19 crisis

The “COVID-19 pandemic” is the spread of the infectious disease. The “COVID-19 crisis” is the situation we now face in our failure to stop the pandemic: the failure of governments, the economic and political system to protect public health, and the social and economic consequences of all this.

The COVID-19 pandemic:

As of yesterday [March 25] there were 462,684 confirmed cases of infection in 194 countries and territories, with 20,834 deaths according to the WHO. That’s an average mortality rate of 4.45%. In February the WHO described a mortality are of 2% to 4 % as “catastrophic”. We are living a catastrophe.

On March 23, the WHO expressed concerned that the pandemic is “accelerating”. What does this mean? It means that COVID-19 is not just spreading, the rate of infection is also increasing. From the first reported case to reach the first 100,000 cases it took 67 days. For the second 100,000 cases it took 11 days. For the third 100,000 cases it took 4 days. We can calculate that the fourth 100,000 cases took just 48 hours. At this stage maybe social distancing and self-isolation, combined with all the necessary precautions (hand washing) might reduce the rate of acceleration.

Our only real protection is a well funded, well equipped, well staffed public health system with public hospitals and medical workers who will treat the infected and bring the pandemic under control. Where access is free, medical staff and health workers are well equipped and well paid; and where medical experts make decisions based on science, not politicians based on Tweets. We do not have this system. It does not exist.

The COVID-19 crisis:

On March 18 the ILO released its preliminary assessment that the COVID-19 crisis will cause between 5.3 million workers and 24.7 million workers to lose their jobs. The “low scenario” of 5.3 million jobs has already been surpassed.In the hotel, restaurant, catering & tourism sector alone we are losing 1 million jobs each day. A new estimate is that we will lose 37 million jobs … only in the tourism industry.

Under 40 years of neoliberalism all public institutions, public services and public goods were seen as barriers or obstacles to individuals acting freely in a free market. Corporations too became individuals with rights. Neoliberalism broke down these barriers by privatizing public services, and just about everything became a commodity that could be bought and sold for profit.

In the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights the right to health, the right to medical care is a human right. Today, health is a commodity. Health care, aged care, medicine, medical research, all became commercial products and a source of profit. Even public hospitals that were not privatized were commercialized – they needed to be competitive, economically efficient and financially viable, like a business. This fundamentally transformed the role and conditions of medical and health workers. It changed the purpose of medical research. The government withdrew from its responsibility to ensure universal access to health care (a constitutionally guaranteed right of all citizens). Public health ceased to exist as a right and as a state obligation. Public health became a set of budgets and policies for administration, not protection.

This is what turned the COVID-19 pandemic into a crisis. The word “crisis” has its roots in the Greek, krisis, meaning “decision”. It is a decisive point – a point at which we must make decisions.

It’s time to make decisions.

27 March 2020

Published by Hidayat Greenfield

IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Secretary

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