covid

Economic effects of pandemic to last a decade
Nick Beams, WSWS, Jun 4 2020

The Pindo Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan body, has put paid to claims by Trump that the Pindo economy will come “roaring back” once lockdowns and other restrictions to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted. In a report issued earlier this week, it reduced its forecast for growth over the next decade by a cumulative $7.9t, equivalent to 3% of GDP, compared to the forecast it made in January. GDP growth will not catch up to its previous forecast until the last quarter of 2029, the CBO predicted. The report was issued amid reports from organisations around the world that show that the impact of the pandemic will be long-lasting, even on the highly unlikely assumption that there are no further disruptions to the global economy. Commenting on the CBO report, Michelle Meyer, chief PindoS economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told the WSJ:

After you get the initial bounce of economic activity from simply removing the lockdowns, I think we’ll see an economy that is running at a level of activity notably below where we were prior to COVID. It’s going to take a long time to heal. There will be scars as a result of such a painful shock to the economy.

The CBO said it expected the Pindo economy to shrink by 5.6% in the fourth quarter of this year compared to a year earlier. At the end of 2019, it had forecast growth of 2.2%. Surveys conducted by the data firm IHS Markit, which tracks global trends through its purchasing managers’ indexes, have indicated some recovery from the plunge in April, but the longer term is another question. Chris Williamson, the chief business economist at IHS Markit, said:

Whether growth can achieve any serious momentum remains highly uncertain, however, as demand looks set to remain subdued by social-distancing measures, high unemployment and falling corporate profits for some time to some.

Falling demand in the major economies is hitting manufacturing production around the world. For example, South Korea has reported that exports in May were down by 23.7% from a year earlier. Last month, a report by the International Labour Organisation detailed both the extent of job losses and their severe impact on young people around the world. It found that one in six people surveyed aged 18 to 29 who had been employed before the pandemic struck said they had stopped working. Reporting on the data, the Financial Times estimated this amounted to 200m people. The ILO said the total number of hours worked by people of all ages would fall by 10.7% in the second quarter of this year, equivalent to the loss of 305m full-time jobs. It concluded that the economic effects of the pandemic were delivering a “triple shock” to young people, writing:

Not only is it destroying their employment, but it is also disrupting their education and training, and placing major obstacles in the way of those seeking to enter the labour market or move between jobs.

Its grim warning was that the pandemic risked creating a “lockdown generation” of young people, with the effects lasting a decade. Guy Ryder, the director-general of the ILO said:

If we do not take significant and immediate action to improve their situation, the legacy of the virus could be with us for decades.

But there is no sign of any such action. Ryder warned:

If the talent and energy of young people is sidelined, either by lack of opportunity or skills, then it will damage all our futures and make it much more difficult to rebuild a better, post-COVID economy.

The ILO has said the Americas, now the epicentre of the pandemic, would incur the largest hit in terms of job losses. Writing in the Financial Times this week, Andrés Velasco, dean of the School of Public Policy at the LSE, warned that Latin America was heading for a repeat of the Great Depression, when it was rocked by a collapse in commodity prices, a slowdown in world trade and a massive capital outflow. The same shocks were hitting the region today, with the added impact of a halt in remittances and a productivity freeze because of the lockdown. Velasco noted:

Under the mildest scenario, Latin America’s economy would contract by 6.3% between 2020 and 2022, but under a more extreme scenario, the cumulative contraction reaches 14.4%, not too different from what the region experienced in the Depression.

The reports on the state of the Pindo and global economies, indicating that there is no V-shaped recovery or anything remotely resembling it, underscore the widening divorce between the financial markets and the underlying real economy. Yesterday, Wall Street’s Dow Jones index recorded another 500-point gain. The three major indexes, the Dow, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, have all recorded a 40% increase since their lows in the midst of the crisis in mid-March, when markets in all financial assets froze. This prompted a massive intervention by the Fed. Over a few days it stepped in to act as the backstop for every financial market, an intervention the likes of which had never been seen in history. The subsequent rise in the markets does not reflect a healthy Pindo economy, but rather its diseased character. The boom is being fuelled by the flood of money coming from the government in the form of corporate bailouts and the trillions of dollars pumped out by the Fed. The mountain of fictitious capital has no intrinsic value. In the final analysis, it is a claim on the future surplus value to be extracted from the working class. This process must be intensified while the trillions of dollars of government debt are paid down through the slashing of spending on social services. This means a major restructuring of class and social relations, carried out through measures even more brutal than those implemented in the wake of the 2008 crisis. In the face of mass opposition, such measures can be carried out only by the development of authoritarian forms of rule. This is a driving force behind the extra-constitutional measures initiated this week by Trump, the representative of the financial oligarchy.

Nearly half a million health-care workers worldwide infected with coronavirus
Patrick Martin, WSWS, Jun 4 2020

Doctors and nurses kneel in front of Downing Street in London, Thursday May 28 2020. (Photo: Frank Augstein/AP)

A report issued Wednesday by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) finds that more than 600 nurses worldwide have died in the coronavirus epidemic, and that an estimated 450,000 health care workers of all kinds have been infected.
The death toll among nurses is more than double the 260 reported on May 6 by the ICN, partly from more countries issuing reports but mainly from the ongoing impact of the pandemic, which has now hit 6.5m people globally, with more than 380k dead. The Geneva-based nursing association said there was no actual count of the number of health care workers infected because so many countries’ health agencies were not tracking deaths and infections by occupation. The ICN has accumulated statistics from some countries and anecdotal reports from others to produce a low-end figure of 230k health-care workers infected. The higher estimate of 450k is based on the finding that 7% of all those contracting COVID-19 are health-care workers and then taking 7% of the 6.5 million total cases reported. Infection rates among health-care workers are particularly high in Latin America, while 30% of all cases in Ireland are health-care workers. In other countries, including Spain and Germany, the infection and fatality rates for health care workers are much lower. Pindostan seems to be at the higher end of the range. Initial estimates had health-care workers comprising 10% to 20% of those infected. There are no current figures that cover all 50 states. The ICN renewed its appeal for national governments to both keep comprehensive records and step up the provision of Personal Protective Equipment and other measures to protect nurses on the front-line of the struggle against the pandemic. The statement declares:

For weeks now we have been asking for data about infections and deaths among nurses to be collected. We need a central database of reliable, standardised, comparable data on all infections, periods of quarantine and deaths that are directly or indirectly related to COVID-19. Without this data, we do not know the true cost of COVID-19, and that will make us less able to tackle other pandemics in the future.

The ICN report also notes “disproportionate deaths among black, Asian and minority ethnic health-care workers,” specifically Filipino workers in Britain. The alarming report from the nurses’ group came as the global total of infections rose by more than 100k for the fifth straight day, an unprecedented rise that is concentrated in the Western hemisphere: Brazil, Chile, Peru and Mexico, as well as Pindostan. WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said:

For several weeks, the number of cases reported each day in the Americas has been more than the rest of the world put together.

He cited in particular Brazil and Peru, while Dr Mike Ryan, who heads the WHO health emergencies program, expressed concern about a growing outbreak in Haiti, still in its early stages. Mexico reported its highest single-day increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, 3,891. Brazil reported a record 1,262 new deaths caused by the coronavirus, raising its total to 31.2k, third highest in the world, with 550k confirmed cases, second only to Pindostan. Other global hotspots include India, which reported 9,614 new cases, bringing the total to well over 200k. Meanwhile, the impact of coronavirus in Pindostan continues on a massive scale, although it goes almost unreported in the national media in the midst of the political upheaval triggered by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. While daily death tolls have declined in New York, New Jersey and Michigan, the initial epicenters, more than 1k people a day are still dying in Pindostan from COVID-19. The most rapid growth is in the southern and western states, which carried out the earliest and most broad-based reopening of the economy and ended nearly all lockdowns by mid-May. According to the latest update from Johns Hopkins University, 20 states have increasing daily rates of new coronavirus cases, including California, the most populous state, which had 17k new cases last week, its highest weekly toll since the pandemic began. LA County alone accounted for 10k cases. In the Midwest, Wisconsin reported its highest number of new cases in a day, 483, bringing the state’s total to 19.4k, with 616 deaths.

Pindo nurses speak on dangers of COVID-19 exposure at their workplaces
Katy Kinner, WSWS, Jun 4 2020

New data released from the CDC show that more than 62k Pindo health-care workers have been infected with COVID-19, with deaths just short of 300. The CDC admits that these numbers are likely an underestimate due to low testing rates among health-care workers. In addition, only 21% of those infected and surveyed identified their profession. Nurses and other health-care workers have been forced to work through the entirety of the pandemic under unsafe conditions with inadequate PPE, paltry sick days and unorganized protocols. Nurses have protested across the globe, with recent protests erupting at 15 HCA health-care hospitals across Pindostan. Many nurses have been reprimanded or fired for speaking out about unsafe conditions. The WSWS spoke with nurses across Pindostan about conditions in their workplaces and their thoughts on the new CDC data showing high rates of COVID-19 infections among health-care workers. Unless otherwise indicated, the nurses’ names have been changed to protect their identity. Julia, a labor and delivery nurse on the West Coast, gave permission to use her Facebook comments from a discussion surrounding the topic of rising infection rates among health-care workers. She wrote:

The CDC says we should have N95 and goggles when a patient is pushing in the second stage. Our hospital isn’t giving them to us. They are saying it’s a regional thing, and they’re looking into it. My coworkers and I are pissed and feel frustrated. Management is saying that until regional higher-ups decide that we should wear N95s and eye protection then we will continue wearing surgical masks. I started putting my own N95 mask from home under my surgical mask because it’s better than nothing with any laboring patients who are huffing and puffing. I have to try my best to protect myself and my family.

Kendra, a medical-surgical nurse at a major hospital in the Midwest spoke about the poorly organized system of notifying nurses if they have been exposed to COVID-19. She said:

I’m sure the CDC infection count is an underestimate. So many of us at work have been exposed and nothing has been done. There are rules stating that if you are exposed without proper PPE you are supposed to get tested and not go to work if you develop symptoms, but what if we never know we’ve been exposed? In the beginning of the pandemic we were getting phone calls if you worked with a patient who later came down with COVID-19. Now, those occupational health centers have been overloaded or something, because we don’t get calls anymore and if we do it’s weeks later. Imagine, in a few weeks, a nurse could have spread COVID to almost a hundred patients and coworkers. My friend works in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, and she worked closely with a patient for a week before they were transferred to another unit and tested positive. My friend didn’t find out from occupational health. She found out from a coworker who private-messaged her on Instagram!

Theresa, a home-care attendant in Ohio, requested that her real name be used in this interview. She describes her title as “somewhere between a nurses’ aide and a nurse.” Theresa provides live-in care for a patient requiring 24-hour skilled nursing care. When asked if PPE has been made available, Theresa said:

When the pandemic began, I remember reading an article from the Columbus Dispatch that included a quote from the Ohio State Dept of Health that stated that home-care providers do not need PPE. I was appalled. The Dept of Health was telling us that we are supposed to ask our clients if they have a fever or if they have been exposed to COVID-19 and not to go into the home if they appear to be infected. First of all, I would lose my job if I did that. I couldn’t just leave my client. We haven’t received any assistance for masks or gloves. You have to figure out how to get your own. You have to pay for it yourself.

Theresa also complained of a dangerous level of neglect on the part of her case manager, a point person who is responsible for checking in and assuring that the needs of the clients are being met. She said:

It’s been weeks and we haven’t heard from the case manager. For all they know, I’m not even showing up to care for my client. No one has checked in to find out if my client has the food he needs.

Theresa explained that her client pays for his care under a Medicaid waiver, which also includes a program that pays and oversees necessary home repairs. She said:

There is a wall in my client’s bedroom that is completely crumbling, but the case manager has taken weeks to respond. Now they are saying that they can’t fix it since we are in this pandemic. But this is an essential service.

Theresa concluded by picturing what a second wave of the virus, widely expected by experts, would look like for her and her client. She said:

There is more than enough evidence to know we shouldn’t be reopening. It’s going to require us to be home longer. He can only see his brothers through a screen door. He can’t have his usual therapy. To think about this continuing is super-stressful for the client, which makes it stressful for the provider.

The lack of PPE, ventilators and sufficient staffing levels has outraged nurses, doctors, EMTs and other health-care workers from the beginning of the pandemic. Despite the banners praising them as “heroes” and claims by politicians, hospital, pharmaceutical and insurance executives that “we’re all in this together,” health-care workers have borne the health and psychological toll of this crisis, and to add insult to injury, many are now facing mass layoffs. Meanwhile the largest hospital chains have been the beneficiaries of the multi-trillion-dollar corporate bailouts unanimously backed by both corporate-controlled parties. The anger of health-care workers over the criminal indifference to their safety and the lives of their patients is now merging with the growing outrage over the murder of George Floyd and other police killings, and Trump’s unconstitutional threats to use the military to crush protests. In a Twitter video viewed nearly 4m times, NYC nurses are seen standing on sidewalks to cheer on passing protesters who in return thanked the health-care workers for their sacrifices. In Minneapolis, nurses finishing their hospital shifts joined the protests to treat rubber bullet and tear gas injuries.

Nearly 65k COVID-19 deaths in UK according to Financial Times
Barry Mason, WSWS, Jun 4 2020

Chart showing UK excess deaths and what the FT describes as “less comprehensive measures.” It shows:
Blue: UK excess deaths (official figures).
Pink: smoothed data to take account of weekly publication.
Green: FT cautious estimates as published.
Black: DHSC daily total of deaths.
Yellow: ONS deaths with Covid mentioned on the death certificate (E&W only).

There have been at least 64.5k deaths in the UK linked to coronavirus, according to modelling by the Financial Times. Its figures were based on those released Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS found that deaths registered in England and Wales with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 reached 44.4k by May 22. When figures for Northern Ireland are added, the total reaches just over 50k. On Tuesday, the government announced a further 324 deaths, meaning that even its own heavily-manipulated death toll calculation has reached almost 40k. These are the highest number of COVID-19 deaths of any country except Pindostan. The data used by the Johnson government to compile its daily figures only includes people who died with positive test results confirmed by a Public Health or NHS laboratory. It states:

These figures do not include deaths of people who had COVID-19 but had not been tested, people who were tested positive only via a non-NHS or Public Health laboratory, or people who had been tested negative and subsequently caught the virus and died.

Financial Times economics editor Chris Giles tweeted of the ONS data:

Following today’s official excess deaths figures and hospital data, a cautious estimate for the total UK excess deaths during the coronavirus pandemic up to Jun 2 is 64.5k. Of these, 61.92k have happened, the rest are estimates.

The FT’s modelling follows an extensive survey of 19 countries carried out by the newspaper last week. It found that the UK was only behind Spain in its COVID-19 deaths in Europe, according to “excess mortality figures.” The UK’s death rate from the disease was 891 deaths per million, while Spain’s was 921 per million. In each country the figure was based on the number of “excess deaths” since the week ending Mar 20. The UK was in first place internationally until May 21, when Spain revised sharply upwards its mortality estimates, adding 12k to its toll of excess deaths, taking them to 43k. Excess deaths are defined as the number of deaths in a certain period compared to a five-year average. The FT noted:

The data were compiled from national statistical agencies for 19 countries for which sufficient information exists to make robust comparisons. The figures include all of the European countries hit hard by coronavirus.

The excess deaths method of compiling figures for COVID-19 is internationally recognised as the best. The Heath Foundation explains:

Excess deaths is a better measure than the COVID-19 deaths of the pandemic’s total mortality. It measures the additional deaths in a given time period compared to the number usually expected and does not depend on how COVID-19 deaths are recorded.

The FT highlighted the fact that in absolute terms the number of excess deaths in the UK is the highest in Europe, and internationally is only second to the US. The figures for percentage increases in excess deaths in the UK is the highest in Europe and second only to Peru internationally. The newspaper report was accompanied by graphs showing that the rise in excess deaths was spread across all regions of the UK. This was unlike Italy, where the impact of the pandemic was concentrated in the Lombardy area. In France, the impact was mainly in two regions, including one around Paris. An important graph shows the number of excess deaths related to how soon lockdowns were imposed. There is a strong correlation between the date of lockdown imposed and the number of likely COVID-19 cases that followed. It is further evidence that the Johnson government’s “herd immunity” policy and refusal to impose lockdown until Mar 23 was an act of mass murder. Natalie Dean, assistant professor of Biostatics at the University of Florida, told the FT:

I was very surprised by the delayed response in the UK. Given what we were observing in Italy at the time and that the UK was on the exact same trajectory, had the same very steep rise, I was surprised to see discussion about waiting. There was an immediate need to stop what was happening.

The government attempted to dismiss the FT’s assessment, with a spokesperson claiming it was “wrong and premature to be drawing conclusions at this stage.” The official said that one of the reasons was that excess deaths should be adjusted for age. The newspaper replied:

The FT analysis shows that the UK’s excess deaths figure remains the highest, whether younger people are excluded or the analysis is limited to pensioners.

The latest figures released by the ONS on the number of excess deaths shows a decline. For the week ending May 22, the figure for excess deaths was 2,348 compared to 12k at the height of the pandemic. However, these figures relate to a week before the lockdown measures were eased, forcing millions back to work and then the reopening of targeted schools. A Jun 1 Health Service Journal article on the latest figures of deaths from COVID-19 in English hospitals noted that in the north-west and London the rate of decline is beginning to slow, while in the south-west cases are on the rise.

The Johnson government claimed it was possible to ease the lockdown because it had a world-beating test-and-trace system in place. The system began on May 28, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock has not provided any figures on its operation. On Jun 2, Channel 4 revealed leaked figures showing that from its inception on May 28 until May 31, only 4,456 cases of COVID-19 were reported to the test and trace service across England. Of these, 1,831 either self-registered on the system or were contacted by contact-tracers. They were able to provide the names of 4,634 contacts, but the tracers were only able to contact 1,749. Anthony Costello, Professor of Global Health at University College London who is member of the Independent Sage group, described the test-and-trace system as “not fit for purpose yet.”

The government recruited 25k contact-tracers. While some are health workers, many have been recruited through call centre recruitment campaigns. Under the system, people testing positive for COVID-19 must complete an online form. They will be asked for details of family members who live with them, plus anyone they have been within two metres of for 15 minutes or more. One contact tracer told the pro-Tory Daily Mail:

It is so chaotic. You complete the online training, but that doesn’t register on the system. You can have a problem with a log-in to one of the many different systems we are using, and you are put in a queue with upwards of 300 people for help.

The government put great store in developing a mobile phone app to be able to track and trace possible COVID-19 victims. It was released with serious flaws and bugs. Seven major problems were identified by a team of security experts, including several with serious implications for infringements of privacy and civil liberties. The trial of the software on the Isle of Wight proved ineffectual and inconclusive.

Survey exposes COVID-19 dangers facing call centre workers
Joe Mount, WSWS, Jun 4 2020

A detailed survey has exposed the shocking conditions facing UK call centre workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Boris Johnson’s Conservative government denoted call centre operatives as “key workers.” This meant that throughout lockdown imposed on Mar 23, many major companies could operate call centres to maintain and even expand the flow of profits to their shareholders. In the process they exposed workers to serious hazards. Data collected through an ongoing survey by Professor Phillip Taylor, an expert on employment issues at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, centred on a confidential questionnaire, began on Apr 8. Over 2.8k workers responded, with Taylor receiving several calls each day from call centre staff frightened to enter their offices and risk contracting the virus due to employer malpractice. Call centre operatives are placed at risk on multiple levels, due to commuting, often by public transport, to cramped, overcrowded offices where management often insist on normal working practice, including meetings proceeding as normal. Approximately 1.3m people in Britain are employed in call centres, 4% of the workforce. The COVID-19 fatality rate is generally higher among lower-skilled occupations. According to official figures, those in sales and customer service occupations are suffering 14.3 deaths per 100,000 males. The average death rates differ greatly by gender. Reports have emerged of call centre workers dying of COVID-19. Victims include an employee of multinational outsourcing firm Capita in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, who died in April. A female worker in her 50s who worked at Virgin Media call centre in Wythenshawe, Manchester died on Apr 2. She left work on Mar 2 to self-isolate. The office was closed for just one day before opening again. The Manchester Evening News reported:

It prompted scores of worried members of staff to contact the MEN. to express concern about an alleged lack of social distancing at the office and another office in Baguley, alleging they were being asked to carry out non-essential work like convincing customers not to leave them.

Professor Taylor was told of multiple critical hospitalisations and even fatalities among the co-workers of those responding to the survey. Three-quarters of respondents had colleagues in their call centre forced to self-isolate after developing symptoms. The survey measured the acute concern and suffering among call centre workers: 78% believed they might get coronavirus at work and 91 percent feared passing the virus onto their families. 70% reported feeling “very scared” at having to continue to report for work. The author notes that the total length of the responses from workers, of over 200k words, is a measure of the impact of the crisis and the social tensions it is generating. 82% of call centre workers felt their services are non-essential and they are being made to risk illness and death unnecessarily. As large sections of the economy and public sector have switched to online operation, many call centres are critical, such as the NHS helpline emergency services, but most are not, including certain financial services, retail etc. One worker cited in the study said:

I’m going to work during a national lockdown as I am now described by the government as ‘essential’ when only a few months ago I was ‘low-skilled.’ It’s a joke.

Workers expressed their scorn at management neglect. Many have been coerced back to work by performance targets and financial pressures, despite presenting undiagnosed symptoms or soon after recovering from the disease. 78% of respondents reported feeling pressurised into attending work. One worker reported several cases where management, despite being informed of the condition of ill co-workers, compelled them to attend:

They came to work as they were worried about their job due to discipline action. They were told then to go home after completing half of the shift.

Management at many workplaces have concealed incidences of the disease, to prevent opposition mounting to their back-to-work drive. One respondent explained:

Of my knowledge there has been one confirmed case and two suspected cases. The confirmed case was a colleague. He required hospital treatment. Managers are aware of this and tried to deny the situation at first. When the colleague eventually confirmed it to everyone for himself, they then accepted that it had happened but have made several cover stories to try to keep the office open.

Workers with pre-existing health conditions, who are at increased risk, are being made to report for work. Many call centres contain large numbers working in confined spaces with shared facilities and breathing in recycled air. Alongside complaints of dirty offices and a lack of sanitation, such as insufficient hand sanitiser and toilet cleaning, only 4% said that their employer had provided face masks. Only half of those surveyed reported being at least two metres distant from their colleagues. A particularly strong opposition was expressed to “hot desking,” whereby multiple people on different shifts share the same desk space. These concerns were voiced by workers at two of NHS 24’s main contact centres, in Cardonald Park, Glasgow, and Clydebank. Every worker of 800 surveyed at the sites said it was impossible to socially distance at the required 2m. 91% said they “do not feel safe at work,” while 90% said health and safety concerns “have made them think about not going into work.” Many call centre businesses have not organised homeworking. Taylor’s report notes:

Two-thirds of staff still working in the sector have asked bosses to work from home, but just four percent of all requests have been granted.

Taylor’s survey notes that it is supported by various trade unions and health and safety campaigning bodies, notably Hazards. The main aim of the survey is this:

To expose bad employment practices hazardous to call-handlers and, through intervention by trade unions, health and safety and regulatory bodies, to stop them.

The claim that the employment practises exposed can be opposed by the trade unions is belied by all experience. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady described the report as “grim reading,” adding:

Bosses who refuse to take steps to protect their workforces should be prosecuted.

But the unions will do nothing. Such rhetoric is aimed at concealing their corporatist role and collaboration in enforcing the return to work, beginning with Monday’s reopening of schools. Labour’s Shadow Employment Minister Andy McDonald described the report as “deeply concerning,” before declaring that the Johnson’s government’s “guidance” was the way forward. This is a government whose polices have led to at least 60k coronavirus deaths, but he insisted:

The government’s guidance must be strictly implemented and enforced, in the interests of workers’ safety and to protect public health. The unions must ensure workplaces are safe to work in now and when we emerge from this crisis.

Labour councils have played a key role in signing off unsafe working conditions, and the unions are policing the return to work. McDonald’s party nationally is collaborating in implementing a return to work, in a de facto national unity government. Call centre workers can only oppose the dangerous conditions they face by establishing rank-and-file safety committees independent of the trade unions. These must organise the resources to create safe working conditions, including provisions for home working, sanitation and social distancing to halt the spread of contagion.

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