As the world approaches 7m cases of COVID-19, the pandemic casts a broader net
Benjamin Mateus, WSWS, Jun 6 2020

A little more than four months have passed since the declaration of the Public Health Emergency of International concern on Jan 30, when only 80 cases of COVID-19 existed outside of China, and no deaths had been recorded. By the close of this weekend, the number of cases of COVID-19 around the world is expected to exceed over 7m, and the number of deaths will have continued its climb with over 400k victims, who would by all accounts still be alive had the governments of a multitude of nations taken the necessary public health measures the declaration required. The inability of the producing nations to heed the critical concerns raised by various health institutions and infectious disease experts has placed the world in a calamitous position, where every social aspect of life on the planet has been threatened. The protests that have erupted since the murder of George Floyd more than 10 days ago in Minneapolis, and the international and multiracial character of this mass movement, speak to the fundamental inability of capitalism to address the most urgent and necessary needs of society, and instead, indiscriminately value property more than life.

The trend in new daily cases has been consistently climbing for more than two weeks, while case fatalities have halted their decline and began to uptick again. In the categories of total and daily new cases and deaths, Pindostan has remained a constant presence among the worst-hit nations. With all the promises of expanded testing capacities, Pindostan has not been able to exceed 500k daily tests, far below that needed for adequate public health containment measures that need to be instituted. More worrisome, testing centers are being closed, using the protests as an excuse to stop testing. In Pindostan, the number of new cases on a seven-day average has exceeded 20k/day since Mar 29. The decline in fatality cases has stalled. According to the NYT, California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, Washington and Mississippi have seen recent growths in newly-reported cases over the last two weeks. Massachusetts, Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Colorado, Iowa and Wisconsin have seen their daily cases hold steady. The White House task force guidance on reopening the country was simply another hoax by this administration and their political accomplices in both Wall Street parties to force workers back to the factories. The FT headline read:

Unemployment rate in Pindostan falls unexpectedly to 13.3%. Markets rally as economy adds 2.5m jobs in May to ease concerns over coronavirus impact.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 830 points to close at 27,111. Given the world’s experience with the nature of the outbreak over the last several months in hard-hit areas like Italy, Spain and NYC, the course of the virus in Mexico, Brazil and India bodes to be disastrous. The curves of their outbreaks continue to accelerate, and by all accounts represent only a fraction of the true toll of the pandemic on the poorest who face the main brunt of the consequences. Per capita testing in Mexico is at 2,438/m, in India 3,181/m, in Brazil 4,643/m. Where is the global response in bringing their experience to these regions to aid them in their moment of struggle? Brazil presently has 615k total cases and over 34k deaths. The states of Amazonas, Maranhão and Ceara are the hardest hit, though cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are facing a collapse in their public hospitals. Mexico has 105k cases, with 12k deaths. Mexico City has suffered the highest case number at over 28k, with upwards of 3k deaths. News sources report that the Mexican government’s number is undercounted by a factor of three. According to a Mexican physician, Dr Giovanna Avila:

It’s like we doctors are living in two different worlds. One is inside of the hospital, with patients dying all the time. And the other is when we walk out onto the streets and see people walking around, clueless of what is going on and how bad the situation really is.

Reports of patients lying on floors, turned away dying in search of care, and propped up in chairs are reminiscent of images that first poured out of Italian hospitals in Bergamo. Despite the WHO’s insistence at repeated press briefings that the coronavirus has not demonstrated that it has become more benign and reduced itself to the status of a mere seasonal contagion, media outlets have promoted comments by the likes of Dr Alberto Zangrillo, head of the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan:

In reality, the virus clinically no longer exists in Italy. The swabs that were performed over the last ten days showed a viral load in quantitative terms that was absolutely infinitesimal compared to the ones carried out a month ago.

Another comment promoted has been from Matteo Bassetti, head of the infectious diseases clinic at the San Martino hospital in the city of Genoa:

The strength the virus had two months ago is not the same strength it has today. It is clear that today the COVID-19 disease is different.

According to Dr Francois Balloux, professor of Computational Systems Biology and Director of the UCL Genetics Institute in London:

The genetic composition of the viral population that has been screened has not changed much since it first emerged in Dec 2019. The outbreak in Italy has been waning over recent weeks, despite the relaxation of the social distancing measures previously in place. This is in line with what has been observed in most European countries. The extent to which this is only due to residual social distancing measures in place, or whether seasonality or some other factors are playing a role, remains debated. That said, we should definitely not rule out a second epidemic wave later this year.

In a too-little-and-too-late reversal of opinion, Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s infamous state epidemiologist promoting a laissez-faire attitude to containing the epidemic, conceded that stricter restrictions should have been imposed earlier to avoid the high death toll Sweden has faced. Stepping back from his previous endorsement of a controlled herd immunity strategy, he said in an interview on Wednesday:

If we would encounter the same disease, with exactly what we know about it today, I think we would land midway between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world did.

In a world stricken by a lack of therapeutics to treat COVID-19 patients, the scientific community is roiling from a new controversy. The Lancet observational study on the increased mortality associated with HCQ published on May 22 was retracted on request of a reputable co-author this week. The Lancet wrote:

We can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data source.

The results of the study had led to the WHO halting their arm of the trial using the medication until safety data could be analyzed to ensure patients were not unduly harmed. They have since resumed their investigation, noting no increased mortality. Soon after the peer-reviewed study was published, the study came under scrutiny by many researchers who pointed to the study’s implausible numbers, flawed demographics and inconsistent dosages. The supposed multi-national, multi-hospital data was obtained through the Chicago-based Surgisphere, a Pindo health-care analytics company operated and founded by CEO Sapan Desai, a vascular surgeon. Surgisphere has refused to release the data underlying this and two other important studies, despite promising they would. The dataset claiming access to 1.2k hospitals had multiple errors, including incorrectly locating Asian hospitals in Australia. There are no indications of how Surgisphere amassed the data. According to the Guardian, one employee was a science fiction author and another an adult model and events hostess. Countering these developments, two randomized control trials, one published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the other from the recovery trial, reported that HCQ offers no benefit as prophylaxis or for hospital patients in decreasing exposure or mortality. Dr Mike Ryan, head of emergencies at the WHO, when asked about these controversies, said:

With a story of such huge public interests and 24-hour coverage of those issues, then the normal process of science can seem confusing. I can assure you the actions that were taken in relation to the signal of potential higher mortality of HCQ was taken with the best interest of the patients enrolled in that study to ensure that any indication of higher mortality from a peer-reviewed study will be taken seriously. Despite the need for studies on the nature of the virus and the illness it causes, the peer review process becomes even more critical. Oversight committees and boards are needed to ensure that public interest and patient protection remains paramount and can’t be superseded. We cannot rely on a single paper or a press release. We must collectively look at the evidence before consensus is developed.

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