From the March-April 2023 issue of News & Letters
by Franklin Dmitryev
“The pandemic is over. If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape.” So President Joe Biden announced in a 60 Minutes interview last September. In doing so, he was declaring defeat, not victory. He admitted that COVID-19 is still “a problem.”
TRANSFORMATION OF SOCIETY NEEDED
A pandemic is an outbreak spiking above normal levels, so declaring it over while COVID is still killing over 300 people in the U.S. each day—and over 1,000 worldwide—is to say that this level of the disease has become accepted as normal. A new normal, that is: before 2019, zero people got COVID. And yet new variants keep emerging, while huge numbers of people are not fully vaccinated and public health remains vastly underfunded.
Biden is not alone. He joins a chorus of business and political leaders, pundits and ideologues who have been trying to get back to business as usual since the pandemic was declared three years ago. At the very beginning, Donald Trump’s economic adviser announced, “America should stay at work,” rather than keep workers safe. The main reason is simple: get rid of the temporary protections and benefits accorded to workers and the unemployed, in order to end the “labor shortage” that is actually a consequence of the capitalists’ refusal to raise wages, improve safety and allow workers some control over the hours they work.
Other reasons include cutting business costs and beating the idea out of people’s heads that the correct response to the pandemic is to transform society to put power in the hands of the mass of people instead of capitalists like oil, pharmaceutical and insurance companies and their hired politicians.
BIG PHARMA HIKES PRICES WHILE PEOPLE DIE
Declaring the pandemic over was the first move in ending the associated declaration of a national emergency. Two parts of the emergency declarations will be ended in May. Tests, vaccines and COVID medications will likely become less accessible and/or more expensive for many people. Pfizer and Moderna plan to quadruple vaccine prices.
In April or soon after, millions of people will be kicked off Medicaid. The government’s monitoring of COVID is diminishing too. Testing centers and vaccination clinics have already closed, and far too many people have not received booster shots, including half of nursing home residents and a quarter of their staff. All of these retreats will hit hardest on people who are homeless, poor, disabled, elderly, or Black or Latinx.
Mask-wearing has already dwindled, as mandates have largely been lifted, and in some places mandates have been banned for political and ideological reasons. Little has been done to make workplaces, schools, nursing homes and prisons safer, including much-needed ventilation enhancements, and businesses are trying to roll back what regulations do exist. Millions of people in the U.S. alone suffer from long COVID but are largely ignored in public policies and debates.
As a result, the most vulnerable have been left to fend for themselves as the country at large abandons precautions. Many people are living in isolation and even fear. Bioethicist Nancy Berlinger summed it up: “Americans do not agree about the duty to protect others, whether it’s from a virus or gun violence.”
AN ONSLAUGHT OF DISINFORMATION
In fact, “Americans” did not make some collective agreement to toss old people and massacred schoolchildren into a ditch and pretend everything is fine. We have been assaulted by an onslaught of disinformation, scapegoating, fearmongering, demonization and manipulation. Decisions have been made in capitols and boardrooms and foisted on us as if it was our wish fulfilled.
Similar disinformation and manipulation campaigns have spread across the world. Some people got rich from them. Joseph Mercola’s business spreading disinformation is worth $100 million from selling snake oil medicines, books and food.
China’s government has its own propaganda campaign, which has swung 180 degrees from “Our controls are achieving zero COVID” to “COVID is no longer a threat because of our perfect policies, so no more controls.” It is possible to find Western leftists parroting these claims, in support of “socialism.” In reality, It was massive unrest that spurred the government’s U-turn, which was so hurried that from 1 to 1.5 million people died of COVID in China between December and Feb. 9. The official figure of 83,150 is widely discredited. Of course, many governments, from the U.S. to India, also undercounted deaths, but China outshines their efforts by an order of magnitude.
The official propaganda is only one part of a drive to return to a pretended normal, to keep anything fundamental from changing. Even if it means leaving the door wide open for the next pandemic, and the next after that.
Everything points to the need to abolish the existing power relations—which entails abolishing capitalism and revolutionizing society—so that we can transition not to a weakened shadow of the pre-pandemic world but to a new human one.
. Actually, there are five national emergency declarations surrounding the pandemic, as explained by Katelyn Jetelina and Caitlin Rivers in “What ending the emergency actually means” on the “Your Local Epidemiologist” blog, Feb. 7, 2023.
. In Feb. 2020, Xi Jinping declared the highest goal to be, rather than protecting the population, to “turn the crisis into an opportunity to restore production and social life in an orderly fashion.”