pindostan has begun its “transition to greatness” and that’s just too bad for the rest of the world

Reports question accuracy of COVID-19 death counts in Pindostan and globally
Bryan Dyne, WSWS, May 27 2020

As countries across the world, including Brazil, India, Russia, Turkey, the UK and Pindostan, continue to force their populations back to work even as the coronavirus continues to spread, there is increasing evidence that the actual fatalities caused by the pandemic are up to three times the numbers officially reported. Data from the CDC on coronavirus cases and pneumonia cases are among the most revealing. Pneumonia kills an estimated 30k to 60k people every year in Pindostan. But from February to mid-May this year there were 89,555 recorded pneumonia deaths. Coronavirus can cause debilitating pneumonia in severe cases and many of the deaths attributed to pneumonia most likely are COVID-19 related. A similar effect can be seen in the death counts of individual states. In Illinois, the CDC reports 4,856 COVID-19 deaths while reporting 2,149 pneumonia deaths, more than five times the five-year average. In Ohio, the coronavirus has caused 1,969 deaths and pneumonia has killed 2,327, which is 1,507 higher than the five-year average. And in Florida, which recently fired a state employee who developed its coronavirus tracking database, the number of COVID-19 deaths stands at 1,762, while pneumonia deaths are currently 5,185. The five-year average deaths over the same time period are only 918. If the excess pneumonia deaths are in fact deaths caused by the coronavirus, it suggests that the actual death toll from the pandemic in Pindostan is at least double the reported rate. The pandemic is also spreading to the more rural areas of the country. According to data from the NYT, the number of cases in Fayetteville-Springdale, Arkansas is doubling every 6.2 days. The number of deaths in Milledgeville, Georgia are doubling every 5.2 days. Amid this spread, Trump asserted in a tweet yesterday:

100k looks like will be the number.

Similar figures can be seen in other countries as the result of updated investigations into the “excess deaths” that have occurred in the various regions. That is, rather than recording those who died in a hospital and tested positive for COVID-19, media outlets including the Guardian, WSJ, the Financial Times, the Hindu, Axios and Reuters tracked the gap between the total number of people who died from any cause in cities, regions and countries across the world and compared that data to the historical averages for the same place and time of year. This technique helps paint a more accurate picture of the impact of the pandemic, accounting both for the actual number of dead from the disease, as well as those who died from accidents or ailments they would have otherwise survived if health-care systems were not overwhelmed by the coronavirus. As it now stands, the pandemic has caused more than 5.6m officially confirmed infections worldwide, an increase of 1m in less than two weeks, and caused 350k deaths. The number of excess deaths in just Moscow and St Petersburg during April, according to a study by the FT, is 2,073, or more than three times higher than the official combined count of 629 COVID-19 deaths in both cities. If just these deaths are assumed to be from the coronavirus, it would bring the country’s death toll from 3,807 to 5,880. If the official fatalities are instead multiplied by the ratio of excess deaths to coronavirus deaths found in Moscow and St Petersburg, the number of people who have died from the coronavirus in Russia would be 11,421. A similar report in the Guardian notes:

More than 60% of coronavirus patients that died were not tallied in the city’s official death count from the disease because an autopsy showed they had died of other causes.

This reporting method has also been used in countries in Western Europe and in Pindostan. A similar analysis by the FT on data from Turkey’s capital Ankara shows that the true death toll from coronavirus in the country is as much as 25% higher than the official count. The Erdoğan government ordered plants reopened on Apr 20 after only a very limited lockdown. This policy has resulted in at least 103 deaths in April alone, and caused the rate of COVID-19 cases among factory workers to be almost three times the country’s average. In Brazil, studies in April estimated that the number of cases were between 8 and 16 times the officially reported figure. As a result, the death count in the country remains greatly underreported. This is reflected most glaringly in data from São Paolo, which has seen a 485% increase in coronavirus deaths since as testing becomes more widely available. Yet Brazil is still testing below the median per capita rate of any country, even as Bolsonaro continues to insist that the pandemic is nothing more than a “little flu” as cases and deaths continue to spike. India’s state of West Bengal has reportedly not counted 40% of its coronavirus-related deaths as caused by the pandemic because of co-morbidities among the dead. At the same time, the Delhi government has asked hospitals not to test dead people for COVID-19 if they weren’t confirmed to have it while they were alive, even as the death rates in hospitals exceed official counts due to the coronavirus by 30% or more. There is also an increasing danger that the pandemic will hinder efforts to combat other epidemics in India, such as tuberculosis, which infects nearly 2.7m people annually. In Britain, the ONI reported that it had recorded nearly 54k excess deaths in the country through May 15, about 17k more than have been confirmed killed by the pandemic. These data reaffirm that Britain is the most hard-hit country in Europe in terms of deaths, and one of the most devastated in the world.

Protests by medical workers grow as hospitals overwhelmed across Mexico
Andrea Lobo, WSWS, May 27 2020

Mexico has seen a growing wave of strikes, roadblocks and other protests by medical workers during the last two weeks in response to COVID-19 outbreaks inside hospitals as they become overwhelmed with infected patients. This follows an earlier wave of protests by medical workers in March, which involved actions across 12 states and Mexico City, to denounce the lack of any measures by the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to contain the global pandemic and prepare hospitals with the necessary equipment. At the time, hospital workers were already suffering major outbreaks. For instance, in the General Hospital in Monclova, Coahuila, management asked workers not to wear protective equipment in March to “not cause panic.” By the first week of April, 51 medical workers had been infected and three had died. A health emergency and lockdowns were not ordered until Mar 30, more than a month after the first confirmed cases in the country. But the measures taken have been criminally inadequate. Along with Brazil, Russia and India, Mexico continues to see an exponential increase in COVID-19 deaths, doubling every five days. As of this writing, Mexico had more than 74,560 confirmed cases and 8,134 deaths, with a large share of these among medical workers. According to the latest available count on May 19, the confirmed cases among medical workers had seen a 33% increase in a week to 11,394, while 149 health workers have died. This constituted 21% of all cases in Mexico at the time, and most were concentrated in Mexico City, the neighboring State of Mexico and Baja California.

The resulting unrest among medical workers is an international phenomenon. As Latin America becomes the new epicenter of the virus, protests by medical workers have spread across Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador & Honduras in recent weeks, raising the same basic concerns, including the lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), medicines, respirators, testing and personnel. Yesterday, dozens of workers of the Tlalnepantla Hospital in Mexico City carried out a roadblock to demand proper PPE. Reports on news outlets and social media of such protests have inspired overwhelmingly positive comments from workers in hospitals and other sectors, with many calling for a joint struggle. Carmen, a nurse in Naucalpan, State of Mexico, writes on Facebook:

Those working in the COVID areas have not received any hazard bonus even though it’s a risk to be in those areas. If the union does nothing for workers; I think it’s best to go on a general strike. I’m tired of so much corruption. I’m on the first line at the 194 IMSS Clinic and I have seen several of my coworkers die over a COVID infection.

Several posts from health workers are calling for a national demonstration on Jul 1. On Monday, a group of 15 doctors and nurses carried out a protest at the Vicente Guerrero hospital in Acapulco, Guerrero to demand adequate PPE. That evening, dozens of doctors and nurses at the National Institute for Respiratory Diseases in Mexico City carried out a demonstration and roadblock to protest the lack of personnel and equipment. Protester held signs saying:

We are all getting infected to save a few pesos! We want protection, not reutilization!

On May 19, hundreds of medical workers of the General Hospital of Tula, Hidalgo, in central Mexico, blocked two highways to demand the sanitization of the facilities and security for patients and doctors. On top of the dire working conditions, medical personnel have been at the receiving end of many threats and violent attacks as anger, fear and desperation among patients, families and others find no progressive outlet. The previous week, hospital workers at the Hospital La Raza in Mexico City blocked the key internal highway bypass to protest the lack of equipment after several coworkers died of the virus. In Texcoco, State of Mexico, about 50 workers at the General Hospital carried out a roadblock to protest the death of three nurses from coronavirus and to demand sanitization, proper PPE, personnel, timely tests and other urgent measures. National Guard troops and state police ended their protest. The protests have also spread along the cities on the Pindo border. For instance, in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, doctors and nurses shut down the area for treating COVID-19 patients in the Zone 13 Hospital after three medical workers died from COVID-19 and 40 others tested positive. In Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, which has seen overwhelmed hospitals for several weeks, workers at the Women’s Hospital carried out a demonstration to protest dangerous conditions and demand a 30% raise for hazard pay.

After decades neglecting public health, the federal and state authorities have been scrambling in recent weeks to buy respirators and personal protective equipment, while a handful of the unfinished buildings have been quickly retrofitted to accommodate COVID-19 patients. However, this is proving to be too little, too late. Next to Turkey, Mexico has the lowest health care budget as a percentage of GDP in the OECD countries, 5.5%, but enormous shares of the budget for certain departments are not even spent. López Obrador’s supporters had denounced that his predecessors left 326 abandoned hospital construction sites, which would require $421m to conclude. However, out of the $800m budget for health care infrastructure and equipment approved by Congress in 2019, his administration left $510m unused. At the same time, the López Obrador administration increased the military budget 7.9% to $6.5b, more than the entire Health Ministry budget, according to the SIPRI. This has left the country entirely unprepared to deal with the pandemic. By May 19, Mexico City hospitals reported the highest occupancy rates in the country. In the entire metropolitan area, which includes part of the State of Mexico, 55 of the 60 hospitals for COVID-19 patients were full, representing an 80% total occupancy rate. Only 33% of beds for patients needing intubation were available. This data, however, might not only be incomplete, but it could be misleading when considering the capacity to treat patients safely. Dr Iván Juárez Ramírez, a pneumologist in Mexico City, explained on Twitter:

While 10% of patients who get pneumonia need a ventilator, the number of ventilators is known to be scarce, and we don’t have the full data, but it’s important to have the data to prepare. Moreover, specialized doctors and nurses with proper training, equipment and working spaces are also necessary, since a ventilator is a producer of aerosols and will contaminate everything around the patient.

During the last week, major outbreaks in hospitals have been recorded in new localities as the virus hotspots become more widespread. In poorer and more remote states, respirators and equipment were transported to the larger cities where the initial outbreaks occurred, but now these regions are being overwhelmed with cases. This happened in Tapachula and Comitán in the southern-most and impoverished Chiapas state, where hospitals got full and began turning away COVID-19 patients this week. Amid a general shortage of equipment, medicines, personnel and infrastructure, the government has dismissed warnings by the WHO and local epidemiologists and opposed mass testing, systematic contact tracing and quarantines. In other words, medical staff are being forced to respond blindly to an avalanche of cases fueled by the gradual lifting of restrictions. With the official reopening of the economy on Jun 1, the López Obrador government has made clear its willingness to sacrifice the lives of tens of thousands of workers in order to resume the capitalist extraction of profits from the working class and continue its austerity program to service interest payments and provide tax benefits to the financial oligarchy.

JBS meatpacking plant reopens in Brazil as Latin America becomes COVID-19 epicenter
Gabriel Lemos, WSWS, May 27 2020

Brazilian transnational meat processing company JBS reopened its plant in the city of Passo Fundo, in Brazil’s southmost state of Rio Grande do Sul on May 20. Auditors from the government’s Regional Labor Court had shut the plant down on Apr 24 after it became a hotspot for the new coronavirus in the region, with 19 workers testing positive. By the time the plant reopened, the total number of confirmed cases among its 2,410 employees had risen to 94. Although no deaths have been recorded among the workers, seven people who came into contact with those infected in the plant have died. State Governor Eduardo Leite (PSDB) and the Bolsonaro government’s Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina worked closely together to assure the plant’s reopening. The Supreme Labor Court’s decision in favor of JBS last Tuesday called for the implementation of safety measures such as the mandatory use of face masks and shields, constant hygiene and distance between workers, who will be separated by acrylic sheets. This decision comes after JBS reported a loss of $1.1 (Pindo dollars throughout – RB) in the first quarter of this year, against a profit of $200m in the same period of 2019. The reopening of the JBS plant in Passo Fundo took place two days before the World Health Organization announced that Latin America had become a new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Brazil, which is suffering by far the continent’s worst toll from the pandemic, for the first time last week confirmed more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day, while surpassing Russia as the country with the second highest number of cases after the US. By Tuesday, it reported 23,622 deaths and 377,780 confirmed infections. Studies have indicated that the real figure is likely 14 times higher. Although the largest number of cases are concentrated in major cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the coronavirus pandemic is spreading rapidly to Brazil’s impoverished interior. A study by Fiocruz, the leading epidemiological institution in the country, showed that in the last month the number of cases in cities of up to 20k inhabitants increased by 50 percent. Today, the Brazilian cities with the highest case and death rates are in the northern state of Amazonas, which has no ICU beds outside the capital Manaus.

As has been the case in many countries around the world, particularly the US, meatpacking plants have been a vector for the spread of the virus to many small towns in the interior of the country. Brazil is the largest producer and exporter of beef and poultry in the world. In April, 42 of the country’s 446 meatpacking plants were shut down to stop the virus’s spread. In Rio Grande do Sul alone, 529 workers in 19 meatpacking plants had tested positive for the virus by last Thursday, May 22. The city of Passo Fundo, where the JBS plant was reopened last week, had by May 11 the same number of COVID-19 deaths as the state capital, Porto Alegre, which has seven times as many inhabitants. The rural city has the highest coronavirus case rate in the state, with 135.7 cases per 100k residents, compared to 35.8 in the capital. BBC Brasil reported on May 13 that the city of Ibirapuitã had its first cases “imported” from Passo Fundo. The small town of 5k inhabitants already has one of the highest case rates in Rio Grande do Sul, 360 per 100k inhabitants. On the same day that the JBS factory reopened, the local daily, Campo Grande News, reported that an indigenous JBS employee in the city of Dourados, in the central western state of Mato Grosso do Sul, was infected with the coronavirus and took the disease to the village of Bororó, infecting 31 indigenous people. Together with the Jaguapiru village, Bororó is part of the Dourados Indigenous Reserve, where 18k indigenous people live. The daily also reported that 16 employees of JBS in Dourados went into isolation last Tuesday after showing symptoms of COVID-19. They all live in the neighboring city of Rio Brilhante, which has 37k inhabitants. In another city in Mato Grosso do Sul, Guia Lopes da Laguna, the meatpacking plant of the Brasil Global Industrial company, with 300 employees, became a COVID-19 hotspot after a truck driver coming from São Paulo infected five employees. By May 20, 61 employees had tested positive and another 190 were waiting for test results. On Monday, Guia Lopes da Laguna recorded the eighth highest rate of infections in Brazil, with 1,627 cases per 100k inhabitants.

These developments in Brazil’s meatpacking industry are part of a worldwide phenomenon. As the WSWS reported, meatpacking plants have become coronavirus hotspots in Pindostan, where 12k workers have already been infected with the deadly virus and 50 had died as of May 23. Hundreds of slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant workers have also been infected in Germany and Northern Ireland, where a worker at the Moy Park plant died of COVID-19. Many of these infections and deaths occurred in JBS-controlled meatpacking plants. In 2015, JBS bought the Moy Park plant from another Brazilian company, Marfrig. In the US, where JBS has 60 plants, the company bought Swift Foods in 2007, Pilgrim’s Pride in 2009 and Cargill’s pork division in 2015. After purchasing XL Foods in 2012, JBS also began operations in Canada, and since 2007 has been operating in Australia, where it purchased Australian Meat Holdings abattoirs, the Tasman Group meatworks and the Primo Group. JBS’s first international purchase took place in 2005, when it bought Argentina’s largest meat producer and exporter, Swift-Armour, becoming the largest meat producer in Latin America. Two years later, with the purchase of Swift Foods, JBS became the world’s largest meat producer. Today, the Brazilian transnational company employs over 260,000 workers in 30 countries.

JBS’s internationalization developed under governments of the Workers Party (PT), which for 13 years, from 2003 to 2016, was the Brazilian bourgeoisie’s preferred ruling party. As part of their so-called “neo-developmentalist” policy, PT governments used the state-owned National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES) to finance the internationalization and merger of large Brazilian companies in order for Brazil to create its own “national champions”—i.e., large companies supported by the national state with a global reach. This policy began in 2005, at the end of former PT President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s first term in office, when BNDES for the first time used its Foreign Direct Investment operation to finance JBS’s purchase of Argentina’s Swift-Armour. From 2005 to 2013, BNDES invested $2.3b in JBS’s controlling group, J&F, both through loans to the Brazilian “national champion” and through the purchase of shares and debentures. Today, the BNDES subsidiary responsible for these operations, BNDES Participações (BNDESPAR), owns 21% of JBS. This huge capital injection made JBS’s revenues soar from $730m in 2006 to $31b in 2016. The amount of resources invested by BNDES and BNDESPAR in the process of internationalizing JBS and other “national champions” increased more than fivefold between 2003, the first year of the Lula government, and 2010, when it reached the record of $31b. Among other “national champions” boosted by PT governments via BNDES are the construction giant Odebrecht, which under PT governments began large construction projects in Africa, across Latin America and even the United States, and Fibria, which was created in 2009 from the merger financed by BNDES of two large national pulp companies and is today the largest pulp producer in the world. However, unlike the Chinese and South Korean “national champions,” which supposedly inspired the PT’s “neo-developmentalist” policy, BNDES financing was largely in companies producing commodities and low- and-medium technology products. This process strengthened Brazilian agribusiness and positioned the country in the global market as a major commodities exporter.

BNDES’s operations brought the PT ever closer to the most powerful layers of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, which year after year increased the party’s campaign financing. In the 2006 elections, one year after the first international purchase of JBS, when Lula was re-elected president, the company donated R$2.5m ($460k) to the PT’s electoral campaigns, a sum five times greater than that donated to the PSDB, which came in second. In the 2010 presidential election, won by PT candidate Dilma Rousseff, JBS donated $1.7m to the party, an amount three times greater than that donated to PSDB, again coming in second. In the last presidential election allowing corporate donations, in 2014, the PT received the most donations of any party from major Brazilian companies, first and foremost the “national champions.” Emílio Odebrecht, whose construction conglomerate received $5b from BNDES between 2008 and 2015, reported in a plea bargain in 2017 that Lula, in the late 1970s, “created the conditions so that he could have a differentiated relationship with the unions,” meaning end strikes before workers’ demands were met. In the mid-1990s, the CUT, the union federation controlled by the PT, responded to the brutal attacks on workers’ rights and the free market policies of the government of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (PSDB) by turning the unions toward the creation and management of pension funds. Carried out in consultation with the US AFL-CIO, the Quebec Federation of Labour Solidarity Fund and the French CGT, this transformation was led by Luiz Gushiken, former president of the São Paulo Bank Workers Union and former minister of the Lula government. In the 1970s, he had been a member of the Lambertist Socialist Internationalist Organization, which promoted the creation of the PT, as had Lula’s former Finance minister, today under house arrest on corruption charges, Antonio Palocci. In 2003, in his first year as president, Lula spelled out this transformation by saying:

The union needs to understand the role that pension funds have, since the unionism of confrontation has passed, although I may have been noted for it.

Together with BNDES, the pension funds of state-owned companies, largely controlled by PT union officials, became the main financiers of the policy of “national champions.” These developments expose not only the PT as a bourgeois party, but also the pro-corporate character of the CUT and its affiliated unions. Today, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers in meatpacking plants and all other sectors threatened by the deadly virus must form rank-and-file safety committees against the profit drive of large global corporations like JBS, which are backed by the pro-corporate unions and parties like the PT. These committees must fight to unite with workers internationally in the struggle for the restructuring of society based on social necessity and not private profit—that is, for socialism.

Sweden’s “herd immunity” policy produces one of world’s highest fatality rates
Jordan Shilton, WSWS, May 27 2020

The catastrophic consequences of Sweden’s response to the coronavirus pandemic were underlined on Monday as the official death count surpassed 4,000. The country, with a population of 10.3m, has recorded one of the highest death rates per head of population in the world over recent weeks, which is a direct product of the Social Democrat/Green government’s refusal to implement lockdown measures, carry out mass testing, and protect elderly care homes. Last week, Sweden had the highest death rate per capita in the world, based on a rolling seven-day average ending on May 20. The Our World in Data website reported that Sweden recorded 6.08/m deaths during this period, compared to Britain (5.57/m), Belgium (4.28/m), and Pindostan (4.11/m). Over the course of the pandemic, the death rates in Belgium, Italy, and Spain remain higher than in Sweden at this stage. The Social Democrat/Green government, led by PM Stefan Löfven, refused to implement restrictions on economic and social life to curb the spread of the pandemic. Schools for pupils aged under 16, restaurants, retail stores and bars have remained open throughout. Residents have merely been advised to limit social contacts. Public gatherings of up to 50 people have also been permitted since March. Sweden’s approach has received warm praise from reactionary political forces and the corporate-controlled media internationally to bolster their criminal back-to-work campaigns. State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has been turned into something of a cult figure, with largely flattering interviews and profiles by the Daily Show, Pindostan Today, Der Spiegel and the FT, among others. Yet even Tegnell, faced by the rapidly rising death count, was compelled to tell Swedish Radio over the weekend that the country faces a “terrible situation.” Annika Linde, his predecessor, went even further, saying she disagreed with the government’s failure to order a shutdown. Pointing to the much lower death rates in neighbouring Denmark, Finland and Norway, which have recorded 4, 7, and 9 times fewer fatalities per head of population respectively, Linde told Britain’s Observer:

I think that we needed more time for preparedness. If we had shut down very early, we would have been able during that time to make sure that we had what was necessary to protect the vulnerable.

While Tegnell and political leaders have denied that Sweden is pursuing a policy of “herd immunity,” this is in practice what is taking place. The weakest and most vulnerable sections of society are being left to fend for themselves or die, while the government concentrates on bailing out big business and the banks. While hundreds of billions of kronor have been made available in the form of loans and subsidies to support the financial markets and big companies, a mere €470m (equivalent) in additional funding has been set aside for hospitals and healthcare. As of yesterday, 4,125 deaths have been officially recorded. This is likely an underestimate, given that deaths are only counted after a laboratory-confirmed test on a patient. At the end of April, figures from the National Board of Health and Welfare indicated that the official death toll was undercounting real fatalities by about 10%. Around 90% of total deaths are people over the age of 70. Three-quarters of all deaths consisted of people living in care homes or receiving care at home.

The spread of COVID-19 throughout Sweden’s elderly care system has been facilitated by decades of austerity policies pursued by the entire political establishment. Many care workers are employed by job agencies rather than at specific homes, meaning that they often work at multiple locations and do not have job protection if they take time off due to sickness. On top of this, Swedish authorities disregarded the threat posed by asymptomatic carriers of the disease by telling care workers to stay home only when they noticed coronavirus symptoms. Asymptomatic cases were left undetected because Sweden has one of the lowest rates of testing in Europe. Another reason for the high death rates among the elderly is that they have systematically been denied care. An investigation by German public broadcaster NDR found that less than 1% of patients aged 80 and over were treated in ICUs, compared to 10% of patients aged 70 to 79, and 16% of patients aged 60 to 69. Children and working-age adults are being treated no less contemptuously. Official advice tells workers and school children only to stay home for two days after symptoms disappear, which is undoubtedly contributing to infections. The virus has a 14-day incubation period. Andreia Rodrigues, a pre-school teacher in the Stockholm region, told Insider:

I was still told to show up to teach a class of 22 students after I reported that her fiancé was displaying coronavirus symptoms. I always wonder how many people will die because of me. I don’t wear a mask for fear of getting fired.

Immigrant communities have also been disproportionately impacted by the virus. According to public health agency figures released in April, residents of Somali origin made up 5% of the total coronavirus cases in the Stockholm region, even though they account for less than 1% of the overall population. The Swedish Somali Medical Association revealed that six of the first 15 people to die in Stockholm were of Somali origin. The reason for this disparity is not hard to find. Large Swedish cities are extremely segregated between wealthier districts and poor suburbs, where large immigrant populations live in cramped housing and work in precarious jobs that cannot be done from home. Poverty and unemployment are rampant in these communities. For example, the mainly immigrant district of Rosengad in Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, has an average income of just 50% of the city’s average. The Swedish authorities have responded to these social problems by labelling poverty-stricken neighbourhoods as hotspots of crime that require a strengthened police presence. The Swedish police releases an annual report with a list of so-called “vulnerable areas.” The latest edition in 2019 included 60 neighbourhoods across the country. Phone provider Telia has demonstrated on the basis of the analysis of anonymised mobile phone data how residents of wealthier districts have been able to retreat to work from their comfortable homes, while low-wage, largely immigrant workers in the suburbs were forced to continue showing up at workplaces and exposing themselves to the risk of infection. Christopher Agren, head of data insights for Telia, told AP:

We do see certain areas that are maybe more affluent with a bigger number of people working from home.

Unsurprisingly, figures released by Stockholm city authorities last month revealed that in some low-income districts, the rate of infections was three times higher than in wealthier neighbourhoods. Let the poor and elderly get infected and leave them to die: this is the brutal reality of Sweden’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. But it is not merely a Swedish phenomenon. With the reckless and criminal back-to-work drive being enforced by governments across Europe and North America, ruling elites in every country are embracing the “Swedish path.” This was underlined by the publication in the current edition of ForeignAffairs.com, the most influential foreign policy journal in Pindostan, of an article in which authors Nils Karlson, Charlotta Stern and Daniel Klein bluntly declared:

Sweden’s coronavirus strategy will soon be the world’s. Herd immunity is the only realistic option. The question is how to get there safely.

They railed against lockdowns, which they described as impermissible because they reduce GDP growth by 2% each month. In addition to the fact that all three authors have no medical background, they are all associated with the right-wing Ratio Institute, which in its own words focuses on “the conditions for enterprise, entrepreneurship and market economy.” Ratio is financed by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise and receives regular support for specific projects from the Wallenberg Foundation, which is financed by the vast wealth of the Wallenberg family. Although businesses controlled by the Wallenbergs no longer account for 40% of industrial jobs in Sweden as they did during the 1970s, family members play roles in a large number of prominent Swedish firms. The fact that the ravings of Karlson, Stern and Klein are financed by such powerful backers as Sweden emerges as one of the world leaders in coronavirus deaths underscores how their callous disregard for human life and obsession with protecting corporate profits are convictions shared by the Swedish and international ruling class.

Johnson government crisis worsens after Cummings press conference
Thomas Scripps, Chris Marsden, WSWS, May 27 2020

PM Boris Johnson’s key advisor Dominic Cummings is at the centre of a deepening government crisis, after being exposed for traveling 260 miles with his family to his parents’ farm during the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown. On Monday afternoon, Cummings attempted to explain away his actions in a press conference in Downing Street’s rose garden. His story was a tissue of evasions, half-truths and lies. According to his account, he received a call from his wife while at work on Mar 27, at the height of the coronavirus crisis, to say that she was ill and might not be able to look after their four-year-old child. Cummings went home to check on her, then returned to Downing Street. The next day, he drove the three of them to his family farm in Durham, occupied by his parents. He claimed as mitigating factors a supposed, unaccounted-for inability to secure child-care in London and fear of “attacks” on his London home by left-wing protesters. Durham would also enable the couple to access child-care from his sister and nieces if necessary. Cummings then spent two weeks in Durham.

Much of his account consisted of tortuous justifications for various eye-witness sightings of his trips outside the family farm and attempts to pre-empt any police investigation based on cell-phone locations. He had gone to the local hospital to pick up his wife and child because there were no taxis. Woods he was seen walking in were in fact privately owned by his family. By far the greatest insult to the intelligence of the population was Cummings’s explanation for his sighting on Apr 12 at a river by the local town of Barnard Castle. He claimed that COVID-19 had affected his eyesight, a hitherto unrecorded symptom. Given that he intended to travel back to London to resume work the next day, his wife supposedly suggested a “test drive” to see if it was safe to do so. The test drive involved a trip to a local beauty spot, with wife and child in tow, stopping at a riverside location so his child could go to the toilet. This remarkable child had apparently previously managed to travel the 260 miles to Durham without needing a toilet break, as Cummings insisted he had not stopped on the way. The scenic “test drive” coincided with his wife’s birthday.

None of this should, in any case, have taken place. When Cummings went home to tend to his sick wife on Mar 27, he believed she “might have COVID.” He also felt there was a “distinct probability” that he too was already infected. According to his own government’s guidelines, he was therefore required to stay at home and quarantine with his family for 14 days. Instead he returned to his place of work in Downing Street, and the next day drove his ill family hundreds of miles across the country. His actions are entirely of a piece with the Johnson government’s declared policy of “herd immunity,” letting the disease run rampant through the population. The Tories had reluctantly been forced to impose a lockdown, but that was not going to stop Cummings doing whatever he wanted. The claim that his actions were justified by the “exceptional circumstances” presented by “threats of violence” which left him “worried about the possibility of leaving my wife and child at home” is also nonsense. Unlike him, the rest of the population was observing the national lockdown, not marching on Islington.

Cummings’s central task throughout the press conference was to protect Johnson by claiming that he had not told his boss nor any other leading Tory of His planned trip to Durham, despite his being Johnson’s closest advisor and political ally. For two weeks, no-one is supposed to have asked where he was. Forced to acknowledge that he must have spoken to Johnson at some point during the two-week Durham stay, he admitted to a late-night phone conversation that both were supposedly too sick to even remember until several weeks later, when the Daily Mirror and the Guardian exposed Cummings’s movements. Cummings’s execrable attempt to put a stop to the Johnson government’s crisis over his actions only deepened it. His strained efforts to solicit sympathy for a “worried father” notwithstanding, what came across most strongly from his account was naked class privilege and barely-disguised contempt for the working people from whom he was demanding sacrifices. The endless refrain that “reasonable people may well disagree” with his actions was a provocation for the millions of people who had not seen their loved ones, not even when they were dying or to attend funerals, and who did not enjoy a rural retreat complete with private woods during their lockdown.

Since the designation of Margaret Thatcher as “the Iron lady,” political cowards and incompetents on the “left” have sought to invest their opponents with a semi mystical strength of purpose and Machiavellian genius to excuse their own betrayals and refusal to fight for those they claimed to represent. Cummings was portrayed as one such “grey eminence” for his role in the Brexit referendum and in Johnson’s political ascendancy. He has now emerged as the near universally despised embodiment of a hated and crisis-wracked government. The most telling Cummings-inspired pun is the recasting of Johnson’s advice to “Stay Alert” in combatting the virus to “Stay Entitled.” Johnson’s government is in free-fall. The prime minister’s own approval ratings have dropped below zero for the first time during the pandemic after he backed Cummings. They now stand at -1%, a fall from 19% four days ago and 25% a fortnight ago. Nearly 40 Tory MPs have called on Cummings to resign, including former Chief Whip Mark Harper and former Culture Secretary and former Attorney General, Jeremy Wright. Scottish Office Minister Douglas Ross resigned himself, saying he could not “in good faith” defend Cumming’s behaviour. Miranda Green warned in the FT:

This is a moment of great danger for Mr Johnson’s government. Only a few months old and confronting an unprecedented peacetime crisis, it already resembles an administration losing its grip.

The leaders of all the main opposition parties have signed an open letter calling on Johnson to sack Cummings, with the sole exception of Labour Party leader ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer. Together with the trade unions he is still busy positioning himself as a key figure in a de facto government of national unity that many within ruling circles consider necessary in order to impose the back-to-work drive and the savage attacks on jobs, wages and conditions that will follow. The FT reported yesterday that the Labour Party was mounting its latest “charm offensive” with the City of London, with Shadow City Minister Pat McFadden holding meetings with banking and asset management representatives such as Standard Life Aberdeen, the UK’s largest listed fund group by assets, and the Investment Association, Britain’s asset management trade body. Iain Anderson, head of public affairs group Cicero, said:

There is now an entirely constructive and open relationship, and talk of partnership with finance again.

If workers want to be rid of Johnson’s government and to take on big business, they must do it themselves, building rank-and-file organisations outside of the rotten pro-capitalist structures of the trade unions and the Labour Party and instead based on a socialist programme.

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