In late December, news broke from Wuhan China that a new virus was making its way through the population. Covid-19 was spreading through the country of 1.3 billion people, forcing them into a total lockdown for two months. At the time of writing this, the World Health Organization reports that China has seen 82,985 cases, and 4,634 deaths. When the disease first broke out in Wuhan, doctors did not know what to make of it, initially labeling the virus as Pneumonia. This misdiagnosis allowed the virus, which often doesn’t show symptoms until days after contraction, to spread from the travel hub of Wuhan, to the rest of China, and eventually the world. Eight months later the United States leads the world in with cases with 5.64 million, as well as deaths with 175K, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Claims of the virus being a hoax, or some sort of biological weapon created by the Chinese have perpetrated the American consciousness. President Trump has labeled the virus “Kung Flu” in an attempt to push blame for the virus onto the Chinese. Now that we are months into the virus, we have a chance to reflect on how Governing bodies around the world have handled the virus response, and what the results have been. This article will objectively analyze the Government responses of China, Japan, Sweden, Cuba, and the United States, in terms of lockdown protocol, economic relief policy, and healthcare sector response.
Population: 1.3 Billion
Let us begin where the Virus started, in China. The response to COVID-19 fell on the shoulders of the Chinese Communist Party, headed by Xi Xingping. Despite claims that China attempted to hide the Virus from the world, Xi Xingping was issuing warnings to other countries to “take the virus seriously” in late December. UFC women’s Strawweight Champion Zhang Weili, the first Chinese champion in UFC history, spoke about Covid-19 in her post fight speech on March 7th, 2020. Although China originally misdiagnosed the virus, claims that they tried to hide it from the world appear fraudulent. The slogan “China lied people died” seems less based on reality, and more in an attempt to place blame for the Virus on a nefarious other.
On the 23rd of January China closed all public transportation and banned citizens from leaving Wuhan. China continued to lock down cities until over 780 million people in total were under strict lockdown, only being allowed to leave to purchase provisions twice a week.
Financially China’s banks and financial institutions have propped up both large and small businesses, in order to help them sustain themselves during the virus and recover when it has run its course. In addition, individuals received payments to support themselves while being unable to work during quarantine. This has allowed them to avoid the financial instability and unrest felt by other countries around the world.
China also began producing for the sake of protecting their population, which may appear as a foreign concept to many countries where production is only carried out for the sake of profit. China began by producing 1.6 million test kits per week in order to track and trace the virus. In addition, China built multiple hospitals within two weeks in order to treat those who contracted the virus. This was vitally important in containing the virus, as 16% of people who contract Covid require hospitalization. For reference, only 0.2% of influenza patients are admitted to a hospital.
The response of the Chinese Healthcare system was to quickly mobilize doctors and health experts; 1,800 epidemiologists were tasked with tracing those who had been exposed to the virus. 20,000 doctors were brought from outside providences, into Hubei where the outbreak was at its worst.
These tracing methods, and mobilization of the healthcare sector, as well as production for the sake of treating the sick were vital in China being able to contain the virus. The Chinese culture appears, from the outside looking in, to be far more concerned with the public good, and trusting of their Government than countries such as the United States. This has allowed China to keep their Covid numbers low despite being the largest, most crowded country on the planet.
Population: 126 million
Next, let us turn to the capitalist nation of Japan. The first outbreak In Japan occurred on the Daimond Princess cruise ship outside of Tokyo. (7). Passengers were quarantined on the ship itself until the virus ran its course. The Japanese Government did not originally have testing kits available to conclude whether the outbreak was in fact Covid 19.
Since the outbreak Japan moved to a regional method of addressing the virus. Rather than having their response handled by a national organization such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in America, the Japanese had smaller Public Health Centers (PHCs) focus on containing the virus in specific locations. This was an attempt to allow health officials to focus on specific regions, which may have different factors at play when it comes to containing the spread of Covid.
Any Japanese citizens with symptoms have been encouraged to call in to a PHC. Health experts then determine whether the caller should be tested or treated for the virus.
After spread of the virus increased, Japan chose to declare a national state of Emergency. This strengthened the existing healthcare infrastructure, with measures such as converting hotels into makeshift hospitals.
The strategy has allowed Japan to flatten the curve, doing so better than countries of similar size, such as Italy. PHCs regional sphere of influence allowed them to make specific adjustments when the country suffered from a second wave of outbreak.
The main fault with the system was an original unequal distribution of recourses. Many PHCs were heavily staffed, while others were understaffed. Declaring a state of emergency and creating a communication network between the PHCs was vital to distributing recourses where they were most needed.
As far as lockdown protocol, the Japanese government simply made a mask mandate for anyone going outside. Part of Japanese culture is wearing a mask when you are sick with the flu or cold. This made it easy for the Japanese public to adjust to wearing masks in public until Covid had passed. New York Times author Motoko Rich writes that during her time in Tokyo when there was no pandemic, she had grown accustomed to seeing people where masks in public.
Economically Japan has enacted an almost trillion-dollar bailout to protect their economy during the pandemic. Billions of dollars will go to cash handouts for individuals, and bailouts for small business owners. Although the government did not force firms to shut down, many shops chose to close, and many workers have been telecommuting to work. Although the Japanese economy has dipped slightly, it shows impressive resilience to the virus. Another factor in this could be the Japanese culture of hard work, which discourages staying home unless entirely necessary.
Japan managed to flatten the curve through an innovative healthcare infrastructure, as well as a culture which had no problem accepting a mask mandate.
Population: 10 million
Many Covid sceptics have pointed to Sweden as a country who were able to flatten the curve without a government mandated lockdown.
While most of Europe and Sweden’s Scandanavian neighbors have shut down their economies and mandated quarantine, Sweden chose to forgo a lock down in favor of “herd immunity.” The idea that young people will get the virus, and make a full recovery, while also developing immunity to the virus.
There is no mask mandate, gatherings of 50 or more people are banned, and residents are encouraged but not mandated to work from home. Instead the Swedish government launched a massive information campaign to warn people about the danger of the virus, as well as how to avoid contracting it. Swedish Epidemiologist Mozhu Ding says Sweden’s ability to flatten the curve is “likely a combination of measures taken by individuals, businesses, and a widespread information campaign”. Sweden experienced lower levels of both cases, and deaths, when compared to European countries such as Spain and Britain.
Many Swedish Academics have been critical of the response; however, 25 Swedish academics published an op ed in USA today titled “Sweden hoped herd immunity would curb Covid-19. Don’t do what we did. It’s not working.”
The academics argue that Sweden has a death toll “nearly five times greater than that of the other Scandanavian countries combine” Sweden has the highest population of the Scandinavian countries, and so they should be expected to have higher numbers. However, both the percentage of contracted cases by population, and per capita cases have been much higher in Sweden than their neighbors.
Sweden hoped that the herd immunity would allow their economy to thrive while the rest of the world was stagnant. However, the global economic slowdown caused by the pandemic has also affected the Swedes. The Swedish Central Bank announced that the GDP is down 4.5% from last year.
The Swedish strategy has received much praise from Americans, but has also come under fire from experts, including those within the country. In April 2,000 Swedish scientists signed an open letter urging the Government to reconsider their strategy and issue a nationwide lockdown.
The Swedish Prime Minister has defended the decision to forgo lockdown, arguing that his strategy both protects individuals, and limits the spread of infection. Sweden is committed to continue with a policy of testing and tracing the virus while encouraging individuals to take precautions. There is no plan to enact a lockdown at this point.
Population: 11 million
Since the 1959 Revolution led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, Cuba has been an incredibly important geopolitical player. The country has found themselves under economic embargo from the United States and has suffered greatly from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, who were the main trading partners of Cuba. During this time period many Cubans fled the country to settle in Miami, Florida. Since the 90s however, Cuba has made a recovery, and now trains more doctors than any other country in the world in free government funded universities.
Even Western media, which is notoriously hostile towards the Cuban Government, admits that Cuba is a success story in their response to Covid-19. The Guardian released a stunning article titled “Cuba sets example with successful programme to contain Corona Virus.” Although the article takes many pot shots at the Cuban Government, they admit that even despite Latin America being a hot spot for Covid at the time the article was published, Cuba’s numbers remain incredibly low in comparison.
Although Cuba is reliant on the tourism industry, they chose to close their borders until the pandemic has passed. This has disallowed new cases from coming into the country via tourist.
Cuba has mobilized its vast number of doctors to walk the streets and screen every house in the country on a nearly daily basis. American University Professor William Leogrande says, “There is no country in the hemisphere that does anything approaching this” In reality there is no country in the world who has taken the same precautions as Cuba. Even the hyper intense Chinese response simply did not have the ability to screen every home, due to the population of 1.3 billion. Any Cuban who tests positive for the virus is immediately hospitalized, and those in contact are placed in 14-day isolation centers.
Cuba has survived economically, as they are not a country reliant on exporting goods. Rationing food and supplies in time of Crisis is nothing new for the Cuban people who have long lived under a 60-year embargo from the world’s largest economic superpower.
After containing the Virus in their own country, Cuba has begun exporting their surplus of doctors in order to assist in other countries. Holding true to Fidel Castro’s famous line “medicos y no bombas” in which he claimed that while other countries export bombs, Cuba will instead export doctors.
The United States has urged countries to reject Cuban medical support, claiming that the doctors are unpaid, and are simply part of a geopolitical ploy to gain the goodwill and financial support of other countries.
Right Wing Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro expelled 10,000 Cuban doctors upon taking office, claiming that they are “terrorists disguised in Uniforms.” Recently as Brazil struggles to contain the spread of Covid, Bolsonaro has requested Cuba return the 10,000 doctors to Brazil in order to help the now overcrowded hospitals.
Although some criticize Cuba’s “isolation camps” as coercive, there can be no denying that the small communist run island is a success story when it comes to fighting the global Pandemic.
The United States of America
Population: 328 million
The United States currently stands as the world leader in both cases and deaths related to the Covid-19 virus. During the Pandemic, the United States has seen mass protests demanding racial justice, after the police murder of George Floyd. One of the most politically polarized nations in the world has become even more divided over issues of police brutality, as well as the Government response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Democrats have accused President Trump of calling the virus a hoax, however, this is false, as Trump never claimed the virus was a hoax, but rather said the Democrats criticisms of how Trump handled the Pandemic were a “hoax.” This serves as an example of how hyper politicized the Corona Virus has become, as the US approaches the 2020 election.
Elected Democrats have rushed to attack Trump over his handling of Covid, while providing little in the way of substantive alternatives to the Trump administration’s response. Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic majority caucus have continually failed to push through a second $1,200 stimulus check, as 40 million Americans now risk eviction, while 26 million adults say they have struggled to afford food during the pandemic.
President Trump has repeatedly stated his opposition to any kind of lockdown. The brash US President has repeatedly looked to blame China for the Virus, which has now taken over 150,000 American lives. Trump drew backlash at a campaign event earlier this year, when he referred to the virus as “kung flu.” He can also be seen on Twitter referring to the pandemic as the “china virus”, a term which his supporters have eagerly adopted. As many states and localities now issue mask mandates, herds Trump supporters can often be seen protesting, claiming that the mandate in an infringement on their civil liberties.
Leading up to the pandemic the US economy was in a 12-year period of expansion since the housing crises of 2008. Those who study economics will know the capitalist mode of production is prone to crises, which in modern times occur every 6-12 years. Libertarian economist Peter Schiff argues “The economy is a bubble; corona virus is the pin.” Meaning that the US economy was ready for a collapse, and Corona virus is simply what will spur the newest recession.
As has been the policy of the US government for years in times of recession, the federal reserve has injected over $6 million of liquidity into the stock market, in order to prevent a complete collapse. This has increased the US debt to $26 trillion. Much to the dismay of any remaining principled conservatives who believed Trump’s campaign promise to eliminate the debt within 8 years.
Given that 84% of stock is held by the richest 10% of Americans, this most recent bailout is sure to increase the ever-expanding wealth inequality between workers and owners in the United States.
Whereas other countries have locked down their borders or had those entering the country quarantine for two weeks in hotels, the United States continues the border policy of capturing asylum seekers and keeping them in closed quarter detention centers. Many refugees have tested positive for the virus, and rather than be quarantined, they are kept in tight quarters, which of course increases the spread of the virus.
In terms of foreign policy, the United States has taken the opposite approach to Cuba, using the virus as an opportunity to heighten attacks on geopolitical rivals. As the Venezuelan Government struggles to handle the Covid pandemic at a time when the oil dependent nation is already deeply impoverished, the US has added to the already existing 144 economic sanctions on Venezuela. The US has sanctioned both Iran and Russia for trading oil with Venezuela, whose economy is entirely dependent on revenue from oil exports. The US no doubt hopes that Covid will add to the destabilization of Venezuela and prompt an overthrow of President Nicolas Maduro.
It can also not be ignored that the United States remains as the only developed country on the globe who does not guarantee healthcare to its citizens as a right. Therefore, there are many uninsured Americans who would be denied treatment after contracting the disease, or who would be treated, but would then leave the hospital under the massive burden of medical debt.
Finally, it must be noted that 36.5% of the American population is Obese. The CDC warns that obese individuals face a much higher likelihood of losing their fight with covid-19.
The Covid-19 pandemic in many ways shines a light on what many have criticized about the American system for years. Polarization, lack of healthcare, wealth inequality, rampant imperialism, and total and absolute distrust of the Government, have all taken shape in new ways during the Global Pandemic. It remains to be seen how this will affect the 2020 election cycle.
The Covid pandemic gives us a deeper glimpse into the nature of capitalism and US imperialism. The United States is a country which generally only carries out large scale production for the sake of profit. Not since World War 2 has the US seen a mass mobilization of industry for the sake of human good. During the war, the government demanded that private firms began producing weapons to aid in the fight against the Nazi death machine. Now after nearly 40 years of neoliberal hegemony, with the United States as the world's largest imperial superpower, the country no longer has the power to mobilize production for the sake of fighting the enemy that is Covid-19.
Covid has enhanced the contradictions which are inherent in the Capitalist system. Those who own stock have massively increased their wealth, while workers struggle to buy food, and are threatened with eviction by their profiteering landlords. Once again, the Federal Reserve has bailed out the richest in society as the economy threatens to tank. Neoliberal news outlets praise the countries so called “economic experts” for managing to save the stock market. It is entirely irrational to praise the economic response of an administration, at a time when record numbers of people are facing the prospect of being thrown out of their homes.
Imperialism has not diminished, or been put on hold during the pandemic, but has instead increased. The US has increased public pressure and economic sanctions on State enemies Iran and Venezuela. In addition, China, the number two economy in the world, and sole competitor to US global domination, has seen wide scale attacks from the Trump Administration, the private US media, and the Biden campaign, which promises to be tougher on China than Trump. This shows the sheer brutality of imperialism, that even in a time of Global Pandemic which threatens the whole of human society, the United States chooses to increase their efforts to starve out and destabilize countries like Venezuela. The US will stop at nothing to obtain the world's largest oil reserves, which remain in the possession of the Venezuelan Government.
The response of the US populace is perhaps the most telling phenomenon of all. Rather than organize to demand change to the systemic issues which have plagued our country for years, Americans have become even more polarized. While racial justice protests are welcome, they have made no effort to demand the US prison system be radically reformed. Even though this system holds 25% of the world’s prison population; many for nonviolent drug offenses with a disproportionate amount of these being people of color. There is also the less welcomed Anti Mask protest, who either believe the virus is a hoax, or that a mask mandate infringes on their freedom. Clearly there is no left-wing vehicle or organization which people can throw their effort into, that threatens the current power structure, or gets to the root of the systemic issues plaguing the country.
Rioting, looting, and mask protests may be seen on the surface as responses to the George Floyd killing, or the mask mandates. However, I would argue that we must make a deeper analysis. Capitalism is not broken, it is working exactly how it is supposed to; leaving workers in poverty, while a few elite Americans acquire incomprehensible amounts of wealth. Imperialism, which is the highest stage of capitalism, continues to increase, as the US war machine continues to expand, and tactics such as sanctions are used to destabilize foreign countries.
It is these contradictions which are leaving the American people angry with seemingly no solution for their problems. Therefore, the burden falls on us to show Americans the systemic issues within the society they live in. We must create a left-wing vehicle against wealth inequality, imperialism, and production only for the sake of profit. People are enraged but have few productive places to use their rage as a force for good. In addition, our society lacks the ability at this point to see the systemic issues which exist within it. A hegemonic corporate media keeps people blind to the real systemic issues which have always existed. Let's organize, let’s read, and let’s fight. The contradictions of capitalism are becoming greater and greater. It is well past time that we organize and fight for a new system that focuses development in terms of humanity and not profit.
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*Additional thanks to Logan Moore for aiding with research means.
9/13/2020 07:47:43 pm
Thank you for an insightful article - the US seems to have trouble learning from other countries. I read that Taiwan has an infectious disease physician as Vice President who led their effective containment of the virus. A shame we cannot work together for the common good - both in public health and economic justice. An ongoing struggle and we need to encourage one another.
9/24/2020 12:45:04 am
Another well written article.
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