by Tim Finnigan
Chicago—Since December, nearly 3,000 cases of the new coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan have been officially recorded in mainland China; 82 people have died. Some medical researchers fear the real number could be significantly higher. Cases have also been reported in neighboring countries from South Korea to Australia, and as far away as France. Five cases have been reported in the U.S., including one in my own city.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, was first quarantined. With almost the entire province of Hubei now under quarantine, over 41 million people, this represents the biggest medical lockdown in history. Powerful and frightening video images have emerged from Wuhan’s hospitals and streets.
“Authorities” may say don’t panic. They are behind history’s curve. We have learned from AIDS and other crises to face this kind of situation with resolution and clarity, to take measures in our own defense, and to demand absolute transparency and accountability from authorities. The terrible history of such pandemics as the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed countless millions around the world, require us to take responsibility.
Many of us grew up in working-class households with memories of that Spanish flu outbreak, learning the names of young people who never lived to be old. It is possible to make a case for that pandemic, spread among the military camps and ruins of World War I, being as true a class aspect of the war as was the Russian Revolution.
It is impossible to separate these health issues from what Karl Marx called humanity’s metabolism with nature, which formed the basis of his critique of capitalism.
VIRUSES AND STATE-CAPITALISM
According to the World Health Organization, “Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning that they are transmitted between animals and people. Investigations found that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (the 2004 SARS epidemic) was transmitted from civet cats to humans and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.
“Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.”
This process of transmission is known and well documented. Still, some are speculating that this coronavirus escaped from the National Bio-safety Laboratory in Wuhan. The Chinese government’s general lack of transparency helps fuel those rumors.
To me, it is more interesting to note that such a world-class, high tech, internationally connected research facility coexists with the chaos of Wuhan’s wet market where living and dead animals and crowds of people interact with no regulations but the market price. This is state-capitalist China in a nutshell.
A CRISIS OF HISTORY AND HUMANITY
As someone with a compromised immune system, the thought of this virus spreading across borders frightens me. As bad as that thought is, the specter of the coronavirus crossing the class boundaries that have arisen since the 2004 SARS epidemic is even more terrifying.
The refugee camps and concentration camps throughout East and South Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, already lacking in health care, could become death camps. The human suffering in Syria’s Idlib, where the Bashar al-Assad regime and Russia have targeted hospitals and healthcare workers for death, is already beyond imagining. How could the children and elderly in tents, mud and cold survive a pandemic?
The teeming tent cities of America’s West Coast homeless populations are already seeing the return of diseases once thought controlled or gone. A new virus, with no human antibodies yet developed, could be devastating. Looking at the areas where the virus has been detected so far, these places seem to me to be on the front lines.
Beyond this, Africa, Latin America….The world must act together to stop this, and if hopefully we succeed, we must also think about what it all means.
Xi Jinping admits that the coronavirus outbreak is a crisis. For him, it is a crisis of his government and his power. For the rest of us, it is a crisis of the rulers’ class oppression, racist inhumanity, and religious bigotry. It is a crisis of the wrong turn history has taken.