coronavirus rampage intensifies

With over 16m COVID-19 cases, the pandemic is devastating developing nations
Benjamin Mateus, WSWS, Jul 27 2020

Notwithstanding the transient declines in numbers reported over weekends, the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is demonstrating its tenacity in wreaking havoc on the inhabitants of this planet. On Saturday, the number of cases sped past 16m, bringing the global per capita rate to over 2k cases per a million population. Even if the number of undiagnosed cases was five to 10 times higher, in absolute terms, the pandemic remains very much in its initial stages of development. The prospect of natural herd immunity in the foreseeable future is remote, and by all accounts the introduction of a viable vaccine will be a geopolitical fiasco that will make the Pindo testing debacle seem like child’s play. Many industries, assisted through lucrative deals from their governments, have quickly adapted to enrich themselves on the scourge. The seven-day average of new cases has risen to 253k/day. More than 650k deaths have been tallied, with a seven-day average of 5,655 fatalities per day. One concerning statistic that has seen a sudden jump is in the category of people with serious or critical infections. After reaching a peak of 59,817 cases on Apr 29, it declined to 44,583, after which it began climbing again. It has now reached 66,170 cases. The mortality rate for these patients varies from 30% to 50%, suggesting that the number of daily deaths will continue to trend higher for some time. Three countries (Pindostan, Brazil, and India) have more than 1m cases each. Twenty other countries have reported more than 100k cases each. Countries where the pandemic is sustained at a high rate or surging include South Africa, India, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Pindostan. Despite a steady number of cases, the fatality rate in Iran, at more than 200 deaths per day, has climbed higher than in March, during the initial surge. Developing countries that fly under the radar of mainstream COVID-19 reports, where outbreaks are bringing the healthcare infrastructure to near collapse, include Indonesia, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

South Africa, entering its winter season, has now become the epicenter of the African continent for the COVID-19 pandemic, ranking fifth in the world in the number of cases reported. As of this writing, there have been 445,433 infections, with half of these cases confirmed since July 7. There have been 6,769 deaths, with a rising seven-day average of 244 fatalities per day. On Saturday, there were 312 deaths. Schools that opened in June are closing again for at least four weeks to help stem the rising tide of infections. Several thousand students and teachers tested were found to be infected with the coronavirus. Epidemiological modeling indicates that the peak of the present surge will extend into September. Like many countries that moved to reopen large swaths of their economies in June, South Africa is now facing the repercussions of choosing the health of its population or its economy. According to the WSJ, 25% of all tests in South Africa are returning positive. The South African Medical Research Council said that from the period of May 6 to Jul 14, they calculated there were 17k extra deaths compared to previous years. With hospital beds running short in Gauteng province, Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria, field hospitals are being built to support the influx of new cases. A nurse at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital painted a picture for the media far too reminiscent of events in Italy, Spain and NYC:

Our hospital is overloaded already. There has been an influx of patients over the last two weeks. More and more colleagues are testing positive, even people who are not working in COVID wards.

More than 8k health-care workers across Africa have been infected, and in South Africa, it has been estimated that between 4k to 5k have tested positive. Hospital beds are expected to be full by the end of the month, according to the health minister. A shortage of medical oxygen poses a dire concern. South Africa’s economy had been in recession, with unemployment running at 30% before the pandemic. The strict lockdown imposed on the country saw the gross domestic product plummet 33%. The central bank expects the economy to contract by 7.3% for the year. More than 25% of workers have lost their wages, and half of all households have run out of money to buy food.

Iraq’s decades of sanctions, wars, and corruption have decimated its health system. Now it is facing a surge in COVID-19 with total cases running over 110k and 2,459 new cases just yesterday. Half of all cases and deaths have been from July. With less than 1m tests conducted in a country of 39m people, the real toll on the nation is far higher than those numbers would indicate. Given the mistrust among people, health-care workers are facing abuse and violence. Abd’ul-Amir Mohsin Hussein, the head of the Iraqi Medical Association, speaking to Al-Monitor, said:

Many doctors are subjected to triable threats that compel them to waive their personal rights and complaints in the courts. Little is being done by the government to ensure the safety and security of medical workers. Although the Health Ministry is following WHO guidelines and protocols, that was only ink on paper, and it is a media show. There are few hospitals to contain the growing number of patients, and there is a scarcity of diagnostic tools and therapeutic devices.

Corruption runs rampant as supplies, especially oxygen, runs low. Many doctors are fleeing the country, making a desperate situation appear untenable. A gravedigger told CNN that they are receiving 70 to 80 bodies a day. They conduct their work in the night when the blistering temperatures of the day fall enough to allow them to tend to their strenuous duties.

The annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, being held from Jul 28 to Aug 2, usually sees several million people from around the world flock to the holy city. However, Toad boxtops, who are grappling with the second-largest outbreak in the Middle East after Iran, have curtailed the event to less than 10k people who are already within the borders of the country. The Hajj produces billions of dollars in revenue. India, with 1.44m cases of coronavirus, is the epicenter of the pandemic in the South Asian subcontinent. The daily cases of COVID-19 are accelerating, and the death toll is climbing. Yet India’s PM Narendra Modi, delivering his monthly radio address to the country, had the audacity to state:

The way Indians came together to fight against the coronavirus in the last few months, we have proved the world wrong.

In Delhi, the country’s hardest-hit city, the Indian CDC estimates that one in four residents have been infected. The per capita rate of testing remains insufficient. A virologist, Dr Shahid Jameel, explained to the BBC that the government continues to deny the country was in the community phase of transmission, meaning it was broadly entrenched geographically. He urged that it is critical that these boxtops listen to doctors and experts and acknowledge the evidence being provided. After a brutal lockdown that lasted more than two months, restrictions were eased on May 30 when India had less than 200k cases. Over 80% of all employed persons in India work in the informal sector, which includes street vendors, small-scale service, and agriculture. This is poorly regulated by the government and requires workers to congregate in makeshift stalls, crowded markets, and with numerous people. As such, these workers are often overlooked by the state and now bear the brunt of the pandemic and its economic woes.

Similarly, in South America, countries like Colombia (with over 8k new cases yesterday), Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Guatemala are facing a similar health crisis and economic distress among the working class and poor. Latin America has, for the first time, surpassed the combined number of cases from Pindostan and Canada, representing close to 27% of global cases. Many of these countries now devastated by the rising tide of COVID-19 infections are also facing the debt juggernaut owed to banks and fund managers in Europe and Pindostan. With debt servicing depleting revenue and health-care costs soaring, the monies needed to fund necessary programs like utilities, infrastructure development and education are being lost. This further exacerbates the indirect health and social crises that arise from the impact of the pandemic. According to the World Bank:

The blow is hitting hardest in countries where the pandemic has been the most severe and where there is a heavy reliance on global trade, tourism, commodity exports, and external financing. While the magnitude of disruption will vary from region to region, all emerging markets and developing economies have vulnerabilities that are magnified by external shocks. Moreover, interruptions in schooling and primary health-care access are likely to have lasting impacts on human capital development.

Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, warned:

A series of countries in insolvency might trigger a global depression.

South Africa has the world’s fifth highest COVID-19 cases
Stephan McCoy, WSWS, Jul 27 2020

South Africa has recorded over 434.2k cases of the coronavirus, making it the fifth highest country in the world, with only slightly fewer cases than Russia, and placing it above the UK, Iran and Italy. The number of cases is rising rapidly. According to the Financial Times:

It took three months for South Africa to record its first 100k cases on Jun 22. It then hit 200k on Jul 6. The rate at which detected cases are doubling in the country, about every two weeks, implies that confirmed infections will be one million early August. The country’s peak may be that month or September, according to modelling carried out for the South African government.

While the country of 58m people has officially recorded more than 6,655 deaths due to the disease, the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has calculated that the number of excess deaths over the comparable figure in previous years suggests a death toll of more than 17k. These figures included deaths from conditions such as HIV and tuberculosis that might normally have been diagnosed and treated but for the redirection of health resources to the pandemic, as well as those caused directly by COVID-19. Some people are thought to be avoiding seeking treatment as fears of the virus spread and public hospitals are overwhelmed. The real number of deaths due to the pandemic is considerably higher than the officially reported numbers, thanks to the woeful state of the country’s health-care system. A BBC investigation in Eastern Cape found that hospitals and clinics were filthy and dilapidated, with medical staff having to do cleaning and laundry. Its health-care systems, underfunded and starved of resources for decades, were in complete collapse, amid disturbing reports of unborn babies and mothers dying in overcrowded and understaffed wards. Nurses and doctors reported a lack of PPE, no ambulances and a complete lack of ventilation, with patients sleeping on the floor “under newspapers” and others fighting over oxygen because of severe shortages. Dr Michael Ryan, director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said:

I am very concerned right now that we are beginning to see an acceleration of disease in Africa. While South Africa is experiencing a very, very severe event, I think it is really a marker of what the continent could face if urgent action is not taken to provide further support. South Africa may, unfortunately, be a precursor, it may be a warning for what will happen in the rest of Africa.

Of the more than 812k cases and 17k deaths recorded in Africa, home to 1.3b people, more than half have been in just five countries (South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and Ghana) in part due to their higher testing capacity. But according to the WHO, the pandemic is spreading rapidly, with cases more than doubling in the last month in 22 African countries, with particularly sharp spikes in Ethiopia, Kenya, Cameroon, and Djibouti, mostly from community transmission. According to the Surgo Foundation, even its lowest estimates of Africa’s fatalities, based on age and gender distribution and adjusted for poor quality of health services and co-morbidities, such as HIV/AIDS, implies that if 60% of Africans eventually become infected, more than 4m will die. Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention chief John Nkengasong said, “Our hospitals will be overwhelmed,” and urged governments to carry out more testing, tracing and isolation. Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, is the epicentre of the coronavirus in South Africa, recording 144,334 cases or 36% of confirmed infections. But Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has warned that KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa’s coastal province centred around Durban, could “take over” as the next epicentre. Dr Bandile Masuku, a Gauteng official, shocked the country recently when he said that the province was preparing 1.5m graves. Asked about the preparations, Africa CDC chief John Nkengasong said:

There’s absolutely no harm to think ahead. We should plan for the “worst-case scenario.

In a bid to contain the virus, the ANC government of President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the reintroduction of some lockdown measures, including a night time curfew, a ban on gatherings and social visits, and the closure of all schools for four weeks from Jul 28. In Gauteng, thousands of teachers have chosen not to go back to the classroom for fear of catching the virus, including teachers over the age of 60 with comorbidities. Parents have chosen not to send their children back to school, with attendance ranging from 25% to 58%. At least 154 schools have been forced to close after reporting cases of COVID-19. Gauteng’s member of the Executive Council for Education Panyaza Lesufi said:

The majority of learners preferred to learn at home.

Mine workers have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, with the platinum sector the most affected. Of the 6,623 miners who tested positive, 3,485 were from the platinum mines and 1,620 from the gold mines. At least 52 mineworkers have died of the coronavirus. Buffalo Coal was forced to cease operations after a miner tested positive. The disease is likely to spread even deeper as tens of thousands of miners begin to return into South Africa. At least 45k migrant mineworkers from Mozambique are returning to the country as lockdown restrictions are eased. S&P Global Ratings predicts the South African economy, which before the pandemic was in its second recession in two years, will contract by 6.9% due to the pandemic, while the South African central bank predicts a 7.3% contraction. The treasury has revised its forecast for the 2020-21 budget deficit from 6.8% of GDP to 15.7%, with more than 20% of the budget going on debt servicing. Some 3m people lost their jobs over the lockdown period, and an already high unemployment rate of 30% is set to rise further, with the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry fearing it could reach 50%. Without work and income, between 5m & 6m workers (15% of adults) moved back to their villages. The government’s pledge to provide income support failed to materialise for more than a tiny fraction of the 15m it was supposed to help. Most of the people contacted in a research report cited in the Economist reported they had run out of money for food in May, while nearly half reported they could not afford enough food in April.

Eskom, the main government-owned power utility company, has seen its debt rise from $27b to $29b, even as the country is subject to frequent power outages. As a result of neglect, sabotage and flooding that has gone unremedied for years, the corporation has cut power generation on a regular basis. It was forced to shut its Camden plant that generated 1,600 MW amid fears that “the dam where it stores ash from burning coal was at risk of bursting.” The power outages have battered the economy and created widespread suffering and discontent. Workers and their families living in the townships in poorly ventilated and poorly insulated shacks have been left to battle the elements as the winter digs in. At least six provinces will receive “disruptive” snowfall, “very cold conditions” and blizzards in the coming weeks. The police have responded with force to protests and strikes. To cite two recent examples, community care workers demanding permanent employment in Eastern Cape province were met with stun grenades and rubber bullets after refusing to leave provincial health department’s offices, while 40 workers demanding unpaid wages were arrested and imprisoned in Stellenbosch.

WHO warns that COVID-19 pandemic is resurgent across Europe
Alex Lantier, WSWS, Jul 27 2020

The WHO warned Friday that the lifting of lockdown measures is driving a resurgence of COVID-19 in Europe. The rise in new cases is the product of stark class inequalities and the exploitation of migrant labor across the continent. A WHO-Europe spox told AFP:

The recent resurgence in COVID-19 cases in some countries following the easing of physical distancing measures is certainly cause for concern. Governments should prepare for large-scale lockdowns to prevent major new outbreaks. Where new clusters of cases appear, these need to be controlled through rapid and targeted interventions including rapid case detection and isolation and diligent contact tracing and quarantining. If the situation demands, reintroduction of stricter, targeted measures with the full engagement of communities may be needed.

Over the weekend, the number of dead in Europe from COVID-19 passed 200k, as the number of officially registered European cases approaches 3m. While it is surging across Eastern Europe, with over 5k daily new cases in Russia, and over 1k each in Ukraine and Romania, the number of daily COVID-19 deaths, at several hundreds, is well below the thousands who died daily this spring. Lockdowns across Western Europe blunted much of the pandemic’s impact. Since May 20, Europe has seen roughly 20k new cases per day, less than half the April peak. The policy of the EU, entirely focused on using the pandemic as a pretext to hand multi-trillion-euro bailouts to the banks and major corporations, is leading to disaster. As the pandemic spreads in Eastern Europe, the premature ending of lockdowns in the original centers of the pandemic in Western Europe is leading to a rapid resurgence of cases.

On Saturday, Romania saw a record 1,284 cases and Ukraine a near-record 1,106, as the far-right Ukrainian regime imposes IMF austerity measures and slashes social spending, forcing millions of Ukrainians to find work in central or western Europe. Many work as migrant farm labourers and are badly exposed due to appalling working conditions there, even in Europe’s wealthiest countries. In Germany, 174 of 480 migrant agricultural labourers at a farm in the Bavarian village of Memming have tested positive for COVID-19. Security forces put the facility on lockdown and warned that the area around the farm may also go into lockdown. The workers infected in Memming are mostly Romanian migrant workers who were picking and treating cucumbers in large, closed facilities that likely helped spread the virus among the workers. In Spain, protests broke out among migrant farm workers in the Castilla La Mancha region after 400 workers were forced into confinement in one outbreak near Albacete. Workers, many from West Africa, were housed collectively, without privacy or facilities to sleep and wash. The farm refused to provide accommodation, and hotels in the area refused to provide the workers rooms. The College of Social Work of Castilla La Mancha issued a statement on this tragedy, stating:

The local administration never decided to carry out large-scale action to give the people residing there dignified conditions. It always looked the other way, even though it was necessary to do preventive work on many fronts, including public health. Given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, did anyone really think this could not happen?

A report by Euronews, Der Spiegel, Lighthouse Reports, and Médiapart, titled “Invisible workers: Underpaid, exploited and put at risk on Europe’s farms,” reveals the appalling working conditions facing many of the 9.7m people working in agriculture in Europe. Juan, a Colombian youth hired by a subcontractor to work at a French farm, recalled how other workers first greeted him:

Welcome to hell, I remember being told, and I thought it was a joke, but when they opened the door and I saw the house, it was a disaster.

Workers paid €200 monthly for rent in the house, where they were packed five to a room, sharing bunk beds, in violation of labour law. No bed sheets or pillows were provided for the beds, or toilet paper in the restrooms. Such reports expose the boundless class arrogance of the financial aristocracy and its petit-bourgeois accomplices in the union bureaucracy who set social policy in Europe. As the European Central Bank prints €1.25t to give to the banks to bail out the super-rich, and state boxtops squabble over how to divide up €750b in EU corporate bailouts, they treat workers with contempt. EU boxtops have admitted that farm labourers, hypocritically hailed as “essential workers” by the capitalist media, are treated little better than slaves, with deadly consequences. Daniel Freund, a German Green member of the European parliament observed:

At the moment, we have this crazy situation where we actually have better protection for animals than for some of these workers on our farms.

This exposes deep flaws of Europe’s lockdowns. Lockdown measures were implemented only after a wave of wildcat strikes in March in Italy and growing strikes across Europe. However, this by itself could not totally stop the pandemic. During the lockdowns, conditions in farms and other workplaces guaranteed that the disease would keep spreading among super-exploited “essential workers” employed to prevent a collapse in food supplies. The impact of the premature ending of lockdowns is now being felt. Though the number of new daily cases fell to a few dozen in many Western European countries after this spring’s lockdowns, they are now rising rapidly in Germany (781 on Saturday), France (1,130), and Spain (2,255). Germany’s Tagesspiegel wrote:

The second wave has arrived. Since mid-May the number of new cases had regularly fallen. But now cases are clearly rising, even where there are no hot-spots.

After Catalonia proposed a “voluntary” lockdown on 4m people in Barcelona, Jean-François Delfraissy, the head of France’s Scientific Council, pointed to working-class areas housing many immigrants doing essential work, and said France could soon see similar levels. He warned:

France could fall into something like Spain, Catalonia. I am concerned for precarious populations and those that can fall into precarious social conditions. The north Paris suburbs are worse hit than any other area, and French people of foreign origin have far higher mortality rates. If we allow Covid infections in these populations to grow, it will spread throughout the population.

Nevertheless, the EU firmly opposes further lockdowns and demands stark austerity measures and massive cuts to jobs, to finance the trillions of euros being forked over to the super-rich. On Saturday, French PM Jean Castex ruled out large-scale lockdowns, saying only “very localized lockdowns” could be considered. He said:

We now know what that produces: it stops the spread of the pandemic, of course, but from an economic and social standpoint it’s a disaster.

Macron has already said that millions of workers will lose their jobs in France alone, and that there will be many bankruptcies to finance EU bailouts for the rich. To speak more plainly, Castex and the European capitalist class behind him oppose stopping the spread of COVID-19 because this “disaster” stops the flow of profits to their pockets. By preferring death and profits to life and health, they have exposed their own bankruptcy and shown that only a movement of the working class for equality, for worker control of production and for the taking of political power by the working class on a socialist platform can halt the pandemic.

Over 7.5k children in Tennessee have been diagnosed with COVID-19
Zac Thorton, WSWS, Jul 27 2020

New data released last week by the Tennessee Dept of Health has revealed that 7,572 school-age children, those between the ages of 5 and18, have been diagnosed with COVID-19. This figure is a damning exposure of the lie that children are somehow less susceptible to catching or spreading the virus, which has been used to justify the push to restart in-person schooling in the coming weeks. As well, the confirmed total is not a true reflection of the extent of the virus due to the overall lack of testing among this age group. As part of the homicidal return-to-work drive initiated by the Trump administration with the complicity of the Democratic Party, Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Lee, began the process of lifting restrictions on May 1, one of the first to do so. Forcing schools to reopen is a critical next step in getting workers back on the job, even as infections and hospitalizations from COVID-19 hit record highs in Pindostan.

The virus has been on a rampage throughout Tennessee since the lifting of restrictions in May. On Sunday, there were 3,140 new cases, and the last week saw nearly 130 confirmed deaths from COVID-19. Overall, the state has nearly 94k cases of the novel coronavirus and is fast approaching 1k fatalities, figures which are expected to be amplified by the reopening of schools. Despite this, and following the demands of the Trump administration, preparations are underway to send children and teachers back into the schools, with some districts beginning classes as early as Jul 30. The response of Governor Lee’s administration is for the districts themselves to formulate their own plans for reopening, although Lee has indicated he will be issuing state guidelines on Tuesday following recommendations released by the CDC last week. As a result of this “hands off” policy, reopening plans vary from district to district, which has led to uncertainty and chaos for students and educators alike. This muddled and improvisational approach is underway in other states as well. A teacher in West Virginia explained the situation in that state, where new infections are also rising, telling the WSWS:

The problem here is that the state department really should’ve made the decision early on as to what the it is going to do, but they don’t want to take any responsibility with that so they’re putting the responsibility off on the counties. The problem with that is that each county is going to have its own plan which require special funding, and they have no way to get additional funding directly.

The Murfreesboro Daily News Journal has outlined the reopening plans for 27 districts throughout Tennessee. Nearly half have either not mandated masks or have made mask-wearing optional. Then there is the question of testing, or lack thereof. Shelby County Schools, which includes Memphis and most of the surrounding communities, made clear in its reopening plan that the district “will not administer or require COVID-19 tests of employees or students.” The district, which supports 95k students, is located in a county with nearly 18k confirmed infections, one of the three highest in the state along with the countries that include Nashville and Murfreesboro. Despite the raging pandemic, the majority of the districts surveyed will begin reopening with traditional in-person learning, with remote and “hybrid” learning optional. Only Nashville’s Metro school district will begin with online-only classes, which is a reversal of previous plans to start in-person learning on Aug 3. Davidson County, where Nashville is located, has already recorded nearly 17.5k cases. Metro officials announced that the shift to online-only learning was done out of concern for the health and safety of students and teachers. In reality, this decision was a response to growing opposition from educators and parents concerned over the deadly consequences of forcing their children back to school while the virus continues to circulate broadly in the state’s largest city. Indeed, as the WSWS recently noted, there is mounting anger in Pindostan among teachers, parents and students over school reopening plans, with tens of thousands having organized various displays of opposition, including protests, rallies and car caravans. Citing a poll conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs, Bloomberg recently noted:

Only about 10% of Pindos think day-care centers, pre-schools or K-12 schools should open this fall without restrictions.

In an effort to get in front of an independent struggle of teachers in Nashville, the city’s teachers union, the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA), plans to hold a mock funeral procession this evening. However, the focus of the event is not on the potential deaths of students and teachers, but rather it will focus on “mourning the loss of effective leadership.” Workers must no longer rely on these bankrupt organizations, which are doing nothing to seriously mobilize teachers and young people to oppose the reckless and homicidal reopening of schools. In fact, the unions are actively formulating the best means of forcing teachers back into unsafe schools as part of the overall back-to-work campaign. As Pindo Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten recently made clear, the union’s position is that teachers need to return to the classroom so that “parents who work outside the home can go to work.” The SEP is the only organization that is seeking to mobilize educators, parents and students in opposition to the murderous back-to-school initiative of the capitalist class. To carry out this struggle, educators and school staff must take the necessary step of forming rank-and-file safety committees, independent of, and in opposition to, the trade unions and the two corrupt parties of Pindo capitalism. These committees must be equipped with, and guided by, the program and perspective of international socialism. Workers who are interested in rank-and-file committees are urged to contact us today.

White House brands teachers “essential workers” to force reopening of schools
Evan Blake, WSWS, Jul 27 2020

Junior high teacher Angela Andrus at a rally on Jul 23 2020 in Salt Lake City.
(Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP)

Under conditions in which the coronavirus pandemic is raging out of control, the Trump administration is escalating its homicidal campaign to reopen schools across Pindostan, which is guaranteed to spike infection rates even further. At a press conference Friday, White House Press Sec Kayleigh McEnany branded teachers “essential workers” akin to meatpackers, one of the sections of the working class most devastated by the pandemic. McEnany declared:

Schools are essential places of business. Our teachers are essential personnel. Our meatpackers were meatpacking because they were essential workers. And we believe our teachers are essential.

The comparison between teachers and meatpackers is highly significant, and must be taken as a sharp warning by teachers and all education workers. Since the start of the pandemic, meat processing plants have seen among the highest rates of infections and deaths of any industry in Pindostan. In late April, following a series of walkouts and job actions over unsafe conditions, which forced the closure of 22 plants across the country, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act and deemed meatpacking plants “critical infrastructure,” requiring them to stay open. As a result, the number of cases and deaths have tripled, with well over 30k workers infected and more than 100 killed by the virus. In drawing this comparison, the White House is putting teachers on notice that they intend to carry out the same dictatorial measures, should there be organized strikes or mobilizations to prevent the reopening of schools.

While branding teachers “essential,” McEnany defended the deployment of at least 200 federal agents to Portland, where they have brutally repressed peaceful protesters, in multiple flagrant violations of the Constitution. Last week, Trump threatened to deploy 75k agents to “any of the cities” that he chooses. The ultimate target of these shock troops is the working class, including educators, meatpackers, autoworkers and more, who are being forced to sacrifice their lives for corporate profit. For the financial oligarchy, reopening the schools is a lynchpin in the broader campaign to “reopen the economy,” which in essence is the drive to extract ever-greater surplus value from the working class in order to pay for the mountains of debt accumulated through the bailout of Wall Street in the CARES Act. With high rates of absenteeism in auto factories and other workplaces due to the lack of child-care, schools are “essential workplaces” to herd workers back into their workplaces so the ruling class can resume the extraction of profits. The lowering or cutting off of the $600 a week federal addition to state unemployment benefits is similarly aimed at forcing workers back to work, regardless of the dangers they face.

The number of new COVID-19 cases across Pindostan has been continually on the rise since early June, after states lifted their final social distancing restrictions and reopened the majority of businesses. Record numbers of new cases have been repeatedly set in recent weeks, with Friday seeing a record 78k new cases. The number of daily new deaths has also steadily risen, reaching over 1.1k four times last week. As part of the drive to restart production and reopen the schools, the Trump administration is hell-bent on suppressing public health experts and falsifying medical science. Following weeks during which Trump has publicly denigrated Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the NIAID, Dr Fauci stated last week that he and his family have received death threats and harassment during the pandemic. At Friday’s press conference, McEnany repeatedly referred to the guidelines on reopening schools issued by the CDC. In response to Trump’s recent criticism that the original guidelines were “very tough and expensive,” the agency issued a statement last Thursday which represents the subordination of science to the profit interests of the ruling class. Titled “The Importance of Reopening Pindostan’s Schools This Fall,” the statement falsely claims:

The rate of infection among younger school children, and from students to teachers, has been low. The available evidence provides reason to believe that in-person schooling is in the best interests of students.

In fact, one of the most comprehensive studies on the impact of the virus on youth was published the week prior on the CDC’s own website and came to the exact opposite conclusion. The study, conducted in South Korea, involved the contact tracing and testing of nearly 60k people who had contact with 5,706 COVID-19 patients, and the results “found the highest COVID-19 rate for household contacts of school-aged children.” The study warned:

Young children may show higher attack rates when the school closure ends, contributing to community transmission of COVID-19.

The CDC also downplayed the dangers posed to children, despite increasing evidence to the contrary. It declared:

The best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms.

Infection rates are skyrocketing among youth in the regions hardest hit by the virus. In Tennessee, there have been almost 4k cases for children ages 0-10 and an additional 10k for those ages of 11-20. In Mississippi, 5k children have tested positive for COVID-19. In Florida, over 23k minors have tested positive, with an elevated positivity rate of 13.4 among children who have been tested. On Jul 17, nine-year-old Kimora Lynum succumbed to the virus, despite having no pre-existing health issues. She collapsed from a high fever after being released from a hospital, becoming the fifth and youngest minor to die from COVID-19 in Florida. Asked on CBS Face the Nation Sunday why the CDC had not set a specific benchmark for the reduction of infection rates before schools could reopen, former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar, Health and Human Services Secretary, said:

We don’t believe that there are uniform thresholds for school reopenings. Each community is going to have to make the determination about the circumstances for reopening and what steps they take for reopening, but the presumption should be we get our kids back to school, and we figure out how to make that happen.

Leaving decision-making in the hands of local authorities who have also been threatened with the loss of federal funds if they remain closed is a recipe for disaster. There are over 13k school districts across the country, and each one is being told to prepare its own reopening plans, creating a highly chaotic and haphazard patchwork of plans. Districts adjacent to each other and facing a similar spread of the pandemic can have completely different plans for reopening, underscoring the irrational and unplanned nature of the capitalist response to the pandemic. Opposition to the reopening of schools continues to mount among parents and educators, with an AP-NORC poll released last week finding that fully 77% of Pindos are opposed to the resumption of in-person learning. 46% believe that major adjustments are needed before schools reopen, and 31% insist that schools should not open at all. 80% of those surveyed were extremely or somewhat concerned that reopening schools would produce a surge in cases in their community.

Car caravan protests and rallies have been held in a growing number of cities. On Friday, hundreds of educators and parents rallied in Des Moines, Iowa, in a “Drive for Lives” car caravan opposing Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to reopen schools part-time. The Facebook group “Iowa Educators for a Safe Return to School” has quickly ballooned to nearly 20k members less than a month after being launched. In Salt Lake City, over 150 educators rallied at the state capitol Friday to protest Governor Gary Herbert’s directive that schools reopen next month. Similar caravans and rallies have taken place in numerous cities in recent weeks, often organized through local and state Facebook groups set up by educators and parents independently of the teacher unions. The Pindo Federation of Teachers and National Education Association have made it clear they will help the authorities implement their reopening plans. At the same time, they are trying to channel opposition to Trump behind the campaign to elect Biden, who was part of the massive assault on teachers and public education that occurred during the eight years of the Obama administration. Both corporate-controlled parties back the back-to-school policy, along with the savage austerity measures that will be imposed on one school district after another. This only exposes the hypocritical claims by the Demagogs & Thugs who claim their demand for the reopening of schools is driven by concern over the students’ needs. The SEP calls upon educators, parents and students to develop a network of independent, rank-and-file safety committees and to fight to unify across districts and states to prepare for a nationwide strike against the reopening of schools. The murderous policy of the ruling elite must be countered with a broad-based mobilization of educators and all workers and the development of a political fight by the working class for socialism and a vast redistribution of wealth to meet social needs, including the right to fully funded and high-quality public education for all. All those seeking to wage such a struggle should contact us today.

$600/wk jobless benefit expires for 20m Pindo workers
Patrick Martin, WSWS, Jul 27 2020

Hundreds of people wait in line for bags of groceries at a food pantry at St Mary’s
Church in Waltham, Massachussetts, May 7 2020. (Photo: Charles Krupa/AP)

Sunday Jul 26 marked the beginning of the first week in which 20m Pindo workers are deprived of a $600/wk federal supplemental unemployment benefit that has served as a lifeline under conditions of Depression-era levels of joblessness triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. The benefit was terminated as a result of the failure of the White House and Demagog & Thug leaders in Congress to extend it beyond the deadline set in the CARES Act corporate bailout passed at the end of March. The cut-off was dictated by the corporate-financial elite that controls both political parties. There is no cut-off of the trillions of dollars in handouts to giant corporations and banks enacted in a near-unanimous bipartisan vote, despite the fact that many of the same companies have announced massive permanent layoffs. Over the past four months, while the financial aristocracy has actually increased its wealth, the severe limitations in the benefits provided to working people under the CARES Act have become apparent. Some 53m people filed new claims for unemployment insurance during that period, and at least 32 million are still out of work, but only 20m are currently receiving the $600/wk federal supplement. Millions of workers lost their benefits when they were forced to return to work at unsafe workplaces. Many more lost their benefits because they refused to go back to work, fearing their health and lives were in danger. Many others never received the federal supplement in the first place because their state unemployment compensation systems were so decrepit they could not program the additional payments. The federal supplement expires on Jul 31, but since state systems pay benefits on a full-week basis only, with the benefit week ending on a Saturday or Sunday, benefits stopped for nearly all eligible workers on Jul 26 or Jul 27, for the week that ends Aug 1 or Aug 2.

The consequences of this cut-off will be felt in mass impoverishment, hunger, foreclosures, evictions and a dramatic increase in homelessness. This in turn will provide additional fuel for the coronavirus pandemic, which has a hugely disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable sections of working people. The cutoff comes as the number of jobless continues to climb, with 1.4m workers filing new claims for unemployment compensation for the week ending Jul 17, a figure that is widely expected to rise even further in subsequent reporting periods. In the month of July alone, dozens of mass layoffs and furloughs have been announced by major corporations, most recently by the oilfield services company Schlumberger, which said on Jul 24 it was cutting about 21k jobs and reported a second-quarter loss of $3.4b. Other mass job cuts and closures were announced in July:

  • Tailored Brands, the parent company of Men’s Wearhouse and Jos A Bank, will cut 20% of its workforce and close 500 stores.
  • LinkedIn is cutting 960 jobs.
  • Southwest Airlines is offering incentive packages, already accepted by 28% of its workers, to quit or take extended leave.
  • American Airlines will lay off 25k workers, 20% of its total.
  • JC Penney, which filed for bankruptcy in May, announced this month it will close 152 stores and lay off 1k workers.
  • PVH Corp, parent company of the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands, will close 162 stores and cut 450 jobs.
  • Walgreen’s announced a quarterly loss of $1.7b and said it will cut 4k workers.
  • Wells Fargo bank is reportedly planning to cut unspecified “thousands” of jobs.
  • United Airlines announced it will issue layoff and furlough notices to 36k workers, more than one-third of its workforce, to take effect Oct 1.
  • Levi’s, the jeans manufacturer, said it will cut 750 jobs, about 15% of its workforce.

In the face of this social catastrophe, the policy of the multi-millionaire corporate politicians in Faschingstein, including Trump, McConnell and Pelosi, is to protect the capitalist system and block any revolt from below by the working class. The two capitalist parties proceed in a complementary fashion. The Thugs emphasize the build-up of repressive forces and use the whip of unemployment and poverty to drive workers back to their jobs. The Demagogs join in the back-to-work campaign while seeking to delude workers with promises of reform they know will never take place, in order to dissipate and diffuse popular resistance. After McConnell failed last week to reach a consensus within the Senate Republican caucus on the outlines of an extension of the federal unemployment benefit, mainly because of hard-line free market advocates like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, who want no extension at all, the White House sent out its spokesmen on the Sunday morning television talk shows to promise a Thug Party plan by Monday. Treasury Sec Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows are the lead negotiators on this issue for the Trump administration. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Mnuchin was asked about a projection by the Atlanta branch of the Federal Reserve Board that the US economy contracted by 33% in the second quarter. He demurred, suggesting the slump would be “only” 17%, which would still be the largest ever for a single three-month period. Meadows, on ABC This Week,” voiced the complaint of employers and most Thugs:

The original unemployment benefits actually paid people to stay home and actually a lot of people got more money staying at home than they would going back to work.

This statement is really an indictment of Pindo capitalism, since it acknowledges that for many millions of workers, the combination of federal and state benefits, averaging about $980/wk, is more than the pittance they were being paid before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Meadows claimed there would be agreement among Senate Republicans Monday on a plan to extend the federal supplement, but limiting it to no more than 70% of previous wages. He did not address the fact that many state governments have complained that it would take many weeks, even months, to reprogram their systems to make such individualized payments, rather than an across-the-board supplement. Both Mnuchin and Meadows said any extension of supplementary unemployment benefits would be linked to a liability waiver for employers, giving corporations and businesses blanket immunity against lawsuits if their neglect of safety precautions led to outbreaks of COVID-19 among their workers. Another White House aide, economic adviser Larry Kudlow, speaking on CNN SOTU, described the 70% cap as “quite generous by any standard,” adding that the Thugs would also propose a “reemployment bonus,” an incentive payment for workers to risk their lives by going back into unsafe workplaces. The top Demagog in Washington, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, appearing on CBS Face the Nation, defended the $600/wk federal supplement, at least verbally, although she declared:

The reason we had $600 was its simplicity.

In other words, an across-the-board payment was easier to administer than a percentage payment. Asked directly if she would accept a much lower figure for the across-the-board figure, with some Thugs suggesting $200/wk, Pelosi did not reject the suggestion, merely saying that she would not negotiate on television. Behind closed doors with White House aides and Senate Thugs, she will be more than willing to deal. Another Demagog Party boxtop, Rep Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who is on Biden’s short list for his running mate, agreed that the $600-per-week payment might be too high, telling CNN:

It might be a problem in some places.

Senator Ted Cruz repeated the crudest version of this argument on CBS, declaring:

For 68% of people receiving it right now, they are being paid more on unemployment than they made in their job. And I’ll tell you, I’ve spoken to small business owners all over the state of Texas who are trying to reopen and they’re calling their waiters and waitresses, they’re calling their busboys, and they won’t come back. And, of course, they won’t come back because the federal government is paying them, in some instances, twice as much money to stay home.

Economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute noted:

There are 14m more unemployed workers than job openings, meaning millions will remain jobless no matter what they do. Cutting off the $600 cannot incentivize people to get jobs that aren’t there.

 

One Comment

  1. PB
    Posted July 28, 2020 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    “South Africa is now facing the repercussions of choosing the health of its population or its economy…”

    Both have long ago been sacrificed.

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