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Spread of coronavirus reveals fatal flaws in global health care

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As the deadly disease spreads to new countries, Socialist Worker investigates why health care systems and pharmaceutical companies run for profit fail those most in need of help
Issue 2694
The gloomy situation we face today was not inevitable (Pic: Studio Incendo/Flickr)

Coronavirus spread to new countries this week and swelled in those places where it had already been detected.

At the start of this week there were over 90,000 confirmed cases globally with over 3,000 deaths. The large majority of those who have died are in China’s Hubei province.

But there are also new confirmed cases in many other parts of the world.

The World Health Organisation has warned that many health systems are not prepared to control infections if the disease hits.

That will be particularly true in poorer countries.

And in Britain, with at least 36 confirmed cases, the government is torn between threatening to lockdown cities and Boris Johnson’s complacency.

Public Health England’s medical director, Paul Cosford, said this week that Britain can expect to see widespread infection “fairly soon”.

Coronavirus is a real threat, although the large majority of people seem to make a full recovery from it.


But the illness still has a higher chance of leading to serious respiratory symptoms than seasonal flu.

The spread of the virus must not be used to shut down the right to meet and protest.

It must not be used to block migrants and refugees or to stoke up hatred of people from abroad.

It must not be used as an excuse to slash jobs or to cut wages or to reduce pensions because of the fluctuations of the stock market.

Our rulers are usually more concerned about trying to maintain confidence in the health of the economy—and corporations’ profits—than in the health of billions across the world.

The search for a vaccine is again underlining capitalism’s failures.

As with all new drugs, vaccinations and medication need a long testing process.


Hundreds of small firms are involved in research into a vaccination for the newest viruses.

Stock markets are eagerly eyeing up which of them might make the breakthrough that leads to a cure—and the vast profits that could follow.

Most of the small companies and university labs doing coronavirus research will not be “winners”.

The huge sums invested in their work will be lost, and often their results are not shared.

As a consequence most of the giant pharmaceutical companies are staying well clear of the coronavirus.

The gloomy situation we face today was not inevitable.

Sars was another form of coronavirus that caused a pandemic in 2002-3.

If all those working on treatment for Sars had remained commissioned for the past 18 years we might be further down the road towards a cure for this latest manifestation.

But our world rulers are so committed to the free market that the idea of such research, without the potential for profit, is nothing but waste.

NHS funding cuts exposed

The huge danger of years of NHS underfunding is being revealed by the threat of the coronavirus.

Even a small number of serious cases could easily push the critically understaffed health service into collapse.

Cuts forced Tory health secretary Matt Hancock to make a desperate appeal to retired doctors and nurses to return to work to combat the spread of the virus.

Over the last ten years government policy has served to create the current crisis in the NHS.

In a bid to deflect attention Hancock has been making a series of alarming scaremongering statements.

Helping spread panic might help detract from the Tories’ sickening record on health.

But it does nothing to halt the virus.

In fact, it will only make people more fearful about coming forward if they have symptoms and will aid its spread.

Don’t make workers pay for sickness

The government has said that any worker who is required to go into self-isolation or quarantine, or who falls ill, will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

But because two million of the lowest paid workers in Britain don’t currently have the right to SSP, many may find themselves struggling to make ends meet.

Some of those will be workers in our hospitals, particularly in cleaning, catering and security roles. By staying in work they could be putting their own, their colleagues and their families’ lives at risk.

Even for those who are eligible, the payment is still too low at just £94.25 a week. Wetherspoon bosses have told workers that the normal rules for SSP will apply even if they are ordered into quarantine by the government.

All workers—regardless of income or contract—should get adequate sick pay from the first day of absence.


Health workers in Oxfordshire are so concerned about the way even NHS employers are responding that their Unison union has passed a motion demanding workers’ rights are protected.

It insists on mass training for NHS staff in how to prevent infections from spreading.

And the union also demands that any illness related to the virus is not counted as part of normal sickness absence.

They also demand that staff who have to leave work to care for children if schools are closed by the virus continue to receive their normal pay.

Every worker should take action to win such demands.

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