By Carlton Joseph
CORVID-19 is like a hurricane wreaking havoc globally and forcing us to significantly change the way we go about our daily lives.
In Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau announced financial incentives for companies that join the fight against the global pandemic, saying that government cash will be available to businesses that shift their practices to produce more goods needed for the ongoing COVID-19 containment effort. In addition, businesses already producing items such as masks and hand sanitizer will also receive support as they ramp up their operations.
In the United States, President Trump and his advisers are resisting calls from congressional Democrats and a growing number of governors to use a federal law, the Defense Production Act, to mobilize industry to provide badly needed resources to help halt the spread of COVID-19.
Armed with their conservatism and capitalist ideology, the administration is endangering the lives of millions of Americans by not taking action to slow the spread of the virus. Trump and his advisers see the role of the federal government as a facilitator, as opposed to the chief executive officer. They have told the states to get by with what they can, and that support from the federal government should not be the first option. These morons believe that the “market” will determine production and distribution.
As a result, everything is in short supply: including chemical components, basic swabs needed to collect patient samples, and supplies needed to do tests. Shortages are so acute that some public health organizations have recommended that testing be scaled back. Clearly, this is unacceptable since testing is critical in determining the number of COVID-19 cases and the ability to perform contact tracing.
While the U.S., the world’s richest and most powerful country, play politics with this global crisis in order to create opportunities for businesses to profit, by forcing states to compete with each other to buy scarce supplies, at higher prices, Cuba, the most maligned nation in the Caribbean, is taking positive action to assist countries fighting the pandemic.
Cuba dispatched a brigade of doctors and nurses to Italy last weekend to help in the fight against the virus at the request of the worst affected region, Lombardy. Cuba also dispatched a team of 140 medical personnel to Jamaica. And, Britain also thanked Cuba last week for allowing a British cruise ship that had been turned away by several Caribbean ports to dock on the island, and for enabling the evacuation of the more than 600 passengers onboard.
In contrast, the Trump administration, during this time of unprecedented global turmoil, decided to impose additional sanctions on Iran. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the new measures, targeting individuals and businesses allegedly engaged in circumventing the US oil embargo, showed Washington’s determination to maintain its “maximum pressure” campaign.
The U.S sanctions have shrunk Iran’s economy, destroyed jobs and depressed living standards.
Although the U.S claims that it is a caring nation, it is blocking bilateral medical aid to citizens of Iran where it has been reported that the virus is killing one person every ten minutes. Is this cruel, callous disregard for Iran’s COVID-19 emergency the action of a caring nation? It is obvious that Trump is not interested in peace but wants total domination of Iran or would be ecstatic if millions of Iranians die from the virus. Don’t they realize that if the virus gets out of control in Iran, it will eventually affect the world population?
The US administration’s response to this pandemic is not surprising, because the total focus of the capitalist system is making money and profits. Implementing the Defense Production Act allows government to channel supplies to areas that need it most and force companies to act quickly and without regard for their profits. Conservative business leaders, who totally oppose government intervention, have said invoking it is not necessary.
John Murphy, the senior vice president for international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that corporate executives were already working “hand in glove” with the government on production challenges. “Then, why do we have acute shortages?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifying at a House hearing, said, “the current system of making coronavirus testing available in the U.S. is not set up in a way that we need it to be.
The system is not really geared to what we need right now, what you are asking for. That is a failing. The idea of anybody getting it easily the way people in other countries are doing it — we’re not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes. But we’re not.”
This is an honest admission that the capitalist market system is not designed for a pandemic. For example, computerization has enabled businesses to function without inventory; products are made when the orders are received. Demand and supply is closely monitored to eliminate waste, and to reduce the need for excess labor. The result is an extraordinary fragile system that is unable to meet the extreme spike in demand.
Let us look at the difference between the testing situation in South Korea and the U.S. South Korea, like European countries and Canada, has universal single-payer insurance. This means that it’s easier to mobilize their efforts the U.S. with its patchwork of countless different systems make it impossible to operate.
The U.S. is now in a phase of intervention labeled “suppression” by the infectious-disease expert Michael Osterholm: identifying infected people, isolating them, tracing contacts and asking contacts to self-quarantine. But suppression has no chance of succeeding unless cases are identified. The U.S. has tested only about 40,000 of its nearly 330 million people, the worst record in the developed world. We don’t have enough testing swabs, medical masks, and gloves. Is this a “Third World” nation?
Amazingly, the Federal government has not purchased testing swab kits, or other protective gear that health care workers need, from China. America purchases numerous consumer goods from this country. Why is this purchase any different? Why don’t U.S. private companies just purchase these supplies while they mobilize to produce their own products? Do they not value American lives?
Persons with the coronavirus in China are already being treated with the Cuban antiviral Interferón Alpha 2B Recombinant (IFNrec). This pharmaceutical is being produced at the Chinese-Cuban ChangHeber factory in China’s Jilin province since January 25.
In Seville, Spain, Cuban interferón combined with protease inhibitors (lopinavir/ritonavir) was included in the treatment of a COVID-19 patient. Four days later, the health authorities announced that the patient tested negative for the illness for the first time. Though the news is hopeful, more cases are necessary in order to consider it a clinical success.
We live in a globalized world now and need to address these threats in a global manner – free of ideological differences of capitalism, socialism or any other isms.
Viruses do not care about borders, race, religion or economic systems.
(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington DC, is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)