Only internationalism can beat Covid-19

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Competition kills. We must save lives with international action and solidarity, writes Vanessa Baird


A family shelters from the sun in Bangui, Central African Republic, a nation with only three ventilators. Feb. 2017. (Z. Baddorf/VOA)

This is a war. We can fight and win. Our country, our people... etcetera...

Our politicians shout this all the time.

The number of deaths from coronavirus rises. Real people, old and young, sick and healthy are losing their lives because of this. Nationalism is increasing.

But it’s not what we need. It’s a big part of the problem. We need international action and solidarity for these reasons:

• To increase sharing of scientific research, resources and information on how to treat and protect ourselves from this deadly virus.

• To learn from others who have had more success in measuring and restricting the epidemic.

• To listen to the international experts of the WHO, not to local people who want to promote their ideas or companies.

• To get from the private sector what we need to fight the pandemic. Not to invite them politely, as is normal in business.

• To tell businesses that could make ventilators or personal protective equipment to start producing them.

• To stop big pharmaceutical companies and other private companies from making a profit from the crisis - to get them to work for the public good and all humanity.

• But most of all, to share resources fairly, so that it doesn’t depend on how much each country has to spend on health if someone lives or dies. The Central African Republic has only three ventilators.

We are only as safe as our most vulnerable neighbour – who could be a homeless person, a refugee, or one of millions of people who have no access to the basics they need to survive the crisis.

This last point is the most important. Not only because it makes people more equal, but for practical reasons too. If we don’t have a universal, equal approach to the virus, it will come back again. We must help the weakest.

Indian president Narendra Modi will soon learn this. Arundhati Roy (writer) said that it shows that Modi does not even see millions of people in his country because he suddenly ordered a lockdown. Only the people who live in comfortable housing can obey this lockdown.

Because of neoliberal ideas and nationalist populism, words like ‘universal’ and ‘equitable’ are now unfashionable. But that has to change.

Competition is very dangerous with Covid-19; it can kill.

People said it was ‘piracy’ when President Trump, ordered the masks (made by a US company in Thailand) going to Germany to go to the US. And inside the United States there is a lot of capitalist competition for essential medical equipment. The supplies go the state that can pay most money.

Angela Merkel told Trump he could not buy the patent for a vaccine from the German company CureVac so that it be used only in the US. She said that the vaccine, if successful, would be for all humanity – and the EU then gave more funding to the company.

The America of Trump is quickly producing a lot of anti-China conspiracy theories. But Cuba is quietly sending doctors to Italy – to help.

Other ways

There are other ways – internationalist ways – that are for the benefit of all humans.

Activists and progressives want an internationalist response. In lockdown, groups like The Transnational Institute and Another Europe is Possible have had virtual conferences and webinars. They want international co-operation.

Campaigners say new vaccines must be released on open licence. They also want the pharmaceutical industry to change completely and be owned by the public. And they want countries to share resources across borders. Another Europe is Possible says Britain must stay a member of the European Medical Agency. John McDonnell (Labour MP) said in their webinar that countries are not working together well enough.

In March, Gordon Brown (ex UK Labour Prime Minister) called for a new ‘global government’ to deal with the crisis. There have only been a few virtual meetings of the G20 finance ministers. They did not include the UN Security Council – they have not met about the topic at all. The World Health Organization (WHO) has played an international role in a way. They have given out sensible (but limited) advice, but rightwing, populist and libertarian governments have often ignored this. WHO chief Tedros Addanom Ghebreyesus said countries must ‘Test, test, test.’ But the UK, the US and France (but not in Germany or South Korea) did not follow this.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres has spoken. He said the fighting must stop in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, because war has destroyed the health facilities there.

But internationalists also want responsible and humane immigration policies, and no more rightwing hostility to refugees and asylum seekers. People seeking asylum or living in refugee camps are very vulnerable to infection and the effect of government lockdowns. They are more likely to have weaker immunity, have less options for work, don’t have basic sanitation and find it more difficult to be socially distant.

And when it's all over?

One day the pandemic will end. Maybe people in power are thinking about how they can keep the new powers of control.

So progressives have to come together (virtually if not physically) to campaign not only for the right to life now but also for the civil liberties and social justice of the future.

A little more than ten years ago we had another crisis – the global financial crisis. We decided that crisis was because neoliberal globalized capitalism had failed. Today, this epidemic is so much worse because of privatization of public services and global supply chains.

At the time of the 2008 crisis we said everything would need to be different now – we must not return to ‘business as usual’. We are saying the same now. But after the financial crash, the governments put a lot of money into the banks, and a lot of money was transferred from public to private. Then we had 10 years of austerity (cuts) that damaged and weakened public services, including health.

We must not let the same thing happen again.

Covid-19 is terrible and terrifying. We are all experiencing it. But it is also a wake-up call.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)