Pitogyroofficial, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

A Christmas to die for?

Yesterday Sunak announced a £1 billion package to help the hospitality industry as bars and restaurants struggle to cope in the wake of the surge in Covid cases, fuelled by the Omicron variant. In what should be their busiest time of the year, working from home and cancelled office parties mean that takings are down by as much as 50% in some cases.

While Johnson does not hesitate to hesitate, scientists like Jeremy Farrar from the Wellcome Trust say he has a day in which to act. If new data confirms our fears and he does not act, a fresh lockdown after Christmas will last longer, be less effective and cost the economy even more.

While I was writing this Johnson announced no further Covid restrictions in England before December 25th, but refused to be drawn further, other than to say his government was ‘monitoring the data,’ in a subtle shift from ‘following the science.’

Financial Cost

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) the financial cost to the world already stands at $11 trillion or $1,375 per person. Compare this to the worldwide cost of pandemic preparedness: $40 billon or only $5 per person. That is what it would cost to develop vaccine production centres around the world; have healthy stockpiles of vaccines, anti viral drugs and PPE; build public health infrastructures that really could test, trace and isolate in the best traditions of infection control.

So it is no surprise that bodies like the WEF and WHO are calling for much closer cooperation between nations, and a commitment to turn fine words into actions which have been sorely lacking since WHO attempted to kickstart preparations for a new pandemic in 2018. That initiative did result in a Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, a joint endeavour between WHO and the World Bank to break the ‘cycle of panic and neglect’ on pandemics.

17 million dead

Its latest report clearly identifies many of the causes of failure which have led to seventeen million deaths worldwide during the pandemic. They are right to point out our interconnectedness and the need for a world health emergency eco-system. It sounds remarkably like the pronouncements at COP26. But we are so connected because of market dynamics of unfettered global capitalism, which is the cause of so many problems and the biggest obstacle to change. The unwillingness to confront this makes their solutions seem more like pious hopes than a plan for action.

To move from words to action, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB)
calls for immediate action on the six most critical solutions for reform. They are:
• Strengthen global governance; adopt an international agreement on health
emergency preparedness and response, and convene a Summit of Heads of
State and Government, together with other stakeholders, on health emergency
preparedness and response.
• Build a strong WHO with greater resources, authority, and accountability.
• Create an agile health emergency system that can deliver on equity through better
information sharing and an end-to-end mechanism for research, development
and equitable access to common goods.
• Establish a collective financing mechanism for preparedness to ensure more
sustainable, predictable, flexible, and scalable financing.
• Empower communities and ensure engagement of civil society and the private
sector.
• Strengthen independent monitoring and mutual accountability.

gpmb-annual-report-execsummary-2021.pdf

Fine words. But they won’t butter my parsnips this Christmas. Instead of coming together, nations are withdrawing from each other, the wealthy hoard vaccines and turn their backs on the needs of poorer nations, which then act as reservoirs for new variants like Omicron. Governments count the cost of Covid, not in human lives, but in terms of spending and borrowing. Companies have used the pandemic to engage in fire and rehire, attacking workers conditions while strengthening their balance sheets.

Bumper Year for Capitalism

Yesterday we had the figures for global mergers and acquisitions last year. Technology and Healthcare led the way in deals worth a staggering $5.6 trillion. US corporations alone have over $2 trillion in cash sitting in their bank accounts. Set that against the $40 billion it would cost to establish health security around the world or the $175 billion a year which is needed to end world poverty or the $150 billion a year needed to provide clean water to the quarter of the world’s population who currently have no access.

In the 19th Century the socialist thinker Fourier was so convinced of the logic and justice of his ideas that he advertised for millionaire capitalists to come forward to fund the transformation of society. None did. Today well meaning foundations, think tanks and charities continue to make an impeccable case for reforms to save the planet and preserve the human race. They are just as utopian as Fourier if they believe today’s billionaire capitalists will do more than nod their heads and walk away.

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