Pandemics are a force of nature with potentially devastating consequences. No one can prevent them from starting, but we can exercise some control over their spread and impact. That won't be done by market forces, the supposed panacea for all economic and social ills. On the contrary, the situation imposes on all a recognition that the state does matter, that there is such a thing as society. Social-ism, if not socialism itself.
It's not the first time that humanity has encountered a danger as serious as Covid-19. Humanity owes its existence to one of its greatest achievements: the continued development of a deep understanding of the material world. Reason and scientific thinking are two of the most effective means of combating such threats. An optimum response requires a central government planning for the whole of Britain. Devolution, with its EU-inspired regional assemblies, creates the potential for administrative chaos, hampering efforts to bring this pathogen under control now – and in the future, when pandemics are bound to reoccur.
The market is part of the problem. Even former health secretary Jeremy Hunt alluded recently to some of the problems created by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, which split responsibilities in the NHS, enabling increasing privatisation, and broke up the central and strategic planning system. He also said that we should have been training more doctors and nurses (although he failed to do so when he was health secretary). Indeed. Given the present incomplete knowledge of the virus itself, and how it will spread and develop, it is not surprising that there is fear and panic. This is fertile ground for conspiracy theories, the spread of ignorance and misinformation, readily seized on by those who wish to obstruct our liberation from the EU. Our advice – forget social media. Instead, watch the official briefings from the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Advisor. Read the science, the proper science – like the 16 March paper from the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team – Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce Covid-19 mortality and healthcare demand.
An uninterrupted supply of human labour is vital to the life of capitalism. Without it there is no commodity production, no surplus value, and no circulation of capital, no profit. It's in capitalism's own interest to prevent and mitigate the effects of this worldwide health crisis. It is not in the interests of the parasite to have its host killed off. This health emergency has taken attention away from our struggle to free ourselves from the clutches of the EU, although there are obvious lessons in how we can do much better in an independent Britain. But to imply that the government has somehow orchestrated an overreaction in order to divert our attention invites ridicule.
Capitalism has left our country with too few hospital beds, dependent on imported ventilators, imported vaccines and imported medical staff. There will have to be a reckoning, when this is over. But for now, we need unity based on the scientific advice we are getting.