poverty and pandemic for tuesday aug 4

One month of the coronavirus pandemic: 7.2m infected, 165k dead
Bryan Dyne, WSWS, Aug 4 2020

Indian health volunteers take swab samples as part of the “Indo-Israel Non-Invasive
Raid Rapid COVID-19 Test Study” camp, at a government hospital in New Delhi,
Friday Jul 31 2020. (Photo: Manish Swarup/AP)

The month of July was the deadliest yet in the COVID-19 pandemic, as the disease continued to tear through the global population. More than 7m people were infected with the disease last month, compared with 4.4m the month before. And 165k people died, compared with 139k the previous month. In total, 18.4m people world-wide have been infected, and the death toll will have hit, by the end of today, over 700k. The center of the global disaster is Pindostan, the wealthiest capitalist country with the most extreme social inequality and where human life is cheapest. In Pindostan, there were 2m new cases in July, up from 800k in June, and 27.5k people lost their lives, another monthly record. If the disease continues at this pace, 330k people will die in Pindostan in the course of a year. White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr Deborah Birx warned Sunday on CNN SOTU:

What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread.

She then added that the pandemic is entrenched in both “rural and urban” areas. This disaster is the predictable consequence of the White House’s abandonment of all efforts to contain the pandemic as part of its drive to prematurely force workers back into workplaces where the disease is raging. In April, when states throughout the country reopened factories, the country had just passed one million confirmed coronavirus cases and was nearing 58k known deaths in this country alone. Seven weeks ago, Vice Pres Pence declared that “the alarm bells over a second wave of coronavirus infections” were “overblown.” He claimed that “great progress” was being made, which was “a cause for celebration.” The administration’s “success” had at that point resulted in 2.2m cases of COVID-19 and more than 121k dead. Today, the real “testament” to the administration’s response is the ongoing mass suffering and death across the country. There are more than 4.8m cases in Pindostan, more than double what they were in mid-June. An additional 38k men, women and children are dead, bringing the national tally to just under 159k.

The situation is similarly dire in Latin America, which has recorded five million cases and well over 203k deaths. The situation is most dangerous in Brazil, led by the fascist Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly dismissed the pandemic as a “little flu” and has actively ignored warnings from his top public health officials, firing two during the course of Brazil’s outbreak. The country has so far suffered more than 2.7m COVID-19 cases and is expected to cross the threshold of 100k deaths sometime this week. In Mexico, led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, there have been 439k cases and 47k deaths, both of which are considered to be vast underestimations of the spread and death toll of the pandemic in the country. The pandemic has similarly spiraled out of control in India. There are 1.8m known cases, with more than 50k new cases each day. Nearly 39k people have died. It took only 25 days to add 1m more cases to the current caseload from Jul 10, when the total COVID-19 cases in India stood at 794k. This means that more than half of the country’s total cases occurred in the past four weeks.

The disease is also spiking again in European countries, such as Spain, France and to a lesser extent Germany. All three of these countries were hit hard when the coronavirus first emerged in Europe in March and April and had done a better job than the US in suppressing their outbreaks. But as a consequence of their governments’ efforts to get workers back on the job, the number of cases is growing. Germany now averages more than 600 new cases a day, France more than 1k and Spain more than 2k. Throughout the world, the disease is fueling unemployment, poverty, homelessness and hunger. According to the UN, hunger tied to the pandemic is leading to the deaths of 10k children every single month. In April, the WHO warned strongly against premature economic reopenings by any country if it could not reliably “find, isolate, test and treat all cases, and trace every contact.” During that same period, Dr Anthony Fauci, the top Pindo infectious disease expert, warned that abandoning restrictions on business operations would cause “needless suffering and death.” Instead, the Pindo political establishment, from the White House on down to state governors in both parties, abandoned efforts to contain the pandemic, allowing businesses to reopen and fuel the spread of the disease. The Pindo financial oligarchy is totally indifferent to the death and suffering of millions. Pindostan has adopted a de facto policy of “herd immunity,” forcing workers back into factories, plants and offices so corporations can continue to extract surplus value to pay for the billions or trillions of dollars handed out to the rich.

While this policy is particularly egregious in Pindostan, it is mirrored in every country, where the primary concern of governments has been not to preserve the health and well-being of the population but the wealth of the financial oligarchy. The COVID-19 disaster is the product of the anarchy and irrationality of capitalism, above all, in Pindostan. The destruction of the health-care infrastructure over decades is of a piece with the financialization and deindustrialization of the economy and the destruction of jobs, wages and other social services. Instead of global cooperation, Pindostan is using the prospect of a potential vaccine to its own advantage, engaged in what the WSJ called a “high-stakes geopolitical scramble to secure supplies for a scientific breakthrough that could confer enormous economic and political power.” On Feb 28, now more than five months ago, the IC4I issued a call for a globally coordinated emergency response to the coronavirus pandemic. At a time when the total number of cases stood at 100k and the number of deaths stood at 3k, the IC4I warned that “the danger cannot be overstated.” Rather than taking measures to stop the pandemic, the ruling class utilized the health-care disaster to engorge itself, profiting off of death and social devastation. Now, more than 18m have been infected, and more than 700k people have died. Seven hundred thousand people! All with families, friends and co-workers devastated by the loss. And there is no end in sight. There could hardly be a more damning exposure of the social, political and moral bankruptcy of capitalism. The working class will not forget what has happened. The pandemic, acting upon the preexisting crisis of the capitalist system, has created the conditions for enormous revolutionary convulsions, in Pindostan and throughout the world.

Anger grows across Pindostan as closed-door talks continue on expired unemployment relief
Jacob Crosse, WSWS, Aug 4 2020

Pedestrians wearing protective masks wait on line for food donations in the Corona
neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York. (Photo: John Minchillo/AP)

Frustration, anxiety and anger are rising among the roughly 30 million workers who stopped receiving their weekly $600 federal unemployment supplement last week after Congress failed to reach an agreement on a new coronavirus stimulus bill and adjourned for the weekend. Closed-door talks Monday between Mnuchin and Meadows on the one side, and Pelosi and Schumer on the other, reportedly left the two sides far apart on a possible extension of the enhanced jobless benefit. Both sides are agreed on slashing the already inadequate $600/wk benefit on the grounds that its recipients, part of the tens of millions laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the incompetent, Wall Street-dictated response of Trump and both big business parties, are being “overpaid.” They are haggling over the details of how much to cut and how fast to cut it. The social interests behind the cut-off of jobless aid were demonstrated by the response of Wall Street. The Dow shot up 236 points on Monday. The Nasdaq jumped 157 points, prompting Trump to tweet:

The refusal of Congress to extend the benefit sets the stage for a social catastrophe. Termination of the federal supplement cuts the weekly income of the unemployed by 60% to 90%. Tens of millions of households, already in arrears, face homelessness following the expiration of moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures. According to a survey by the Pindo Census Bureau, one in seven tenants in California did not pay rent on time last month and nearly 1 in 6 do not expect to pay on time in August. The same survey found that overall in Pindostan, 23,759,822 renters reported “no confidence” or “slight confidence” that they would be able to make rent in August. The research firm Stout concluded that nearly 1m renters across the Ohio valley, which includes Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, are unable to pay rent this month and face eviction. At the end of July, Stout estimated that some 475k, or 43%, of Michigan renters were at risk of losing their home. Hunger, already on the rise as seen in the proliferation of mile-long lineups of cars at food distribution centers, is poised to explode and threaten starvation. Official unemployment remains in the double digits at 11.1%. For the week ending Jul 25, another 1.4m workers filed initial unemployment claims, meaning that over 52m Pindos have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March.

An AP/NORC poll published last week revealed that 27% of households had someone laid off due to the pandemic, 33% had someone with reduced hours of work, 24% had someone forced to take unpaid time off, and 29% had someone working at reduced wages. Congress’ failure to extend the federal unemployment benefit and a partial ban on evictions is not the result of partisan “gridlock.” It is deliberate policy. The aim is to blackmail workers back into virus-infected factories and workplaces so they can resume pumping out profits for the banks and corporations. Hundreds of thousands of workers laid off during the pandemic have never received a cent of unemployment pay due to the failure of state employment agencies to process their claims. In Colorado, the Dept of Labor and Employment says of the 664,532 unemployment claims filed since mid-March, 223,298 claims are still pending. In New Jersey, 50k are still waiting to be paid, while the Dept of Employment, Education and Training in Nevada reports a “delay” that has caused over 20k claims to remain “unpaid.” Meanwhile, the agency has sent “overpayment” letters to thousands of workers who have yet to receive anything! WSWS reporters spoke with workers in Illinois and Pennsylvania regarding the expiration of their benefits. Dana, an unemployed store manager, said:

I feel like I’m being deprived of my money that I earned for working. I worked for over 20 years straight. When you get put on unemployment you don’t see all your money, like you would if working. The $600 helped me tremendously. It was like getting a paycheck and being able to see all your money without them deducting your pay. I was able to play catch-up on my bills and pay for medical expenses.

Laura, an unemployed worker in Illinois, remarked:

The $600 was a huge blessing and added benefit to my house. It allowed me to save and pay my bills. I was laid off. I did not choose this situation. Being on unemployment is not ideal. I want to work, but no jobs are out there right now. I would like to get medical care and other benefits that are provided when you work. So I really don’t like it when the Secretary of the Treasury makes it look like unemployed people have no incentive to look for work. Workers are used to hearing the lie that there is no money to support the programs we rely on, so yes, I agree it is time we do something about it.

Helen, an unemployed Pittsburgh worker, told the WSWS:

I don’t know what I am going to do. I worked as a health aide. My daughter is 9. I’ve been out of work since March when the schools closed. I couldn’t go to work because I don’t have anyone to take care of her. They are starting school, but I’m really scared what will happen to her. Things are getting worse in Pittsburgh. They ended the social distancing too soon and opened up the bars and restaurants. Now everyone is getting sick again. Even if the schools stay open, they are not having the after-school programs and I don’t have anyone to watch my daughter. The $600 allows me to pay my bills and buy food and things. I don’t know how we will get by. I have to pay for electric, gas and rent. I have car insurance, cable, phone and internet. They knew the unemployment was coming to an end. These politicians can meet and vote to give the rich all kinds of money, but when it comes to the poor they can’t find the time. All they care about is the rich. They don’t care about the working people.

Amid COVID-19 “disaster,” Australian state government announces limited workplace closures
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Aug 4 2020

COVID-19 testing site in the Melbourne suburb of Fawkner (Photo: Joan Wilson)

Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday announced the closure of some Melbourne workplaces and the curtailment of operations in a number of other industries. On Sunday, his government declared a “state of disaster” amid the ongoing surge of coronavirus infections. The measures, to last six weeks, go hand-in-hand with an end to face-to-face school teaching in Melbourne, the current epicentre, as well as enhanced restrictions on movement, a ban on virtually all outdoor gatherings and on visiting other people’s homes. The “stage four” regulations are slated to last for the next six weeks in Melbourne, along with “stage three” requirements everywhere else in Victoria, mandating mask-wearing and curtailing social and other activities. The announcement of the limited workplace shutdowns is an indictment of the Victorian government and the entire political establishment, including the “national cabinet” and the federal Liberal-National Coalition of PM Scott Morrison. It is a tacit admission that the policies they have pursued since May, including a pro-business “reopening” of the economy and the premature lifting of lockdown measures, have resulted in a public health crisis.

Hundreds of new infections are being reported in Victoria every day and hospitalisation rates are surging. A further 439 confirmed Victorian cases, the majority of them in Melbourne, were announced today, following yesterday’s toll of 429 infections and 13 deaths, which equaled the previous daily record for fatalities. Since Victorian case numbers began to rise in the latter half of June, the Andrews government has imposed a succession of localised and limited lockdowns, aimed above all at minimising the impact on big business. This has been in line with the policy adopted by all governments in April, when they rejected calls from epidemiologists for a push to eliminate COVID-19 transmission as being too costly. Instead they opted for a “suppression strategy,” allowing the virus to continue to circulate, while supposedly keeping its spread to “manageable” levels through contact-tracing, testing and localised restrictions. Sunday’s declaration of a state of disaster occurred a little over three weeks after Andrews imposed a limited lockdown in Melbourne on Jul 10. Under those “stage three” restrictions, virtually all workplaces remained open, while classroom teaching was resumed for an older cohort of students, in defiance of widespread opposition from educators. The consequence has been an ongoing surge of infections.

The Jul 10 tally of 288 Victorian infections was, at that point, the highest daily toll in any state. That figure has since been repeatedly surpassed, culminating in Thursday’s record of 723 confirmed cases. Under the limited lockdown, medical experts warned that infection rates were tending to double every 16 days. Workplace clusters continued to emerge on an almost daily basis, as Andrews admitted that places of employment had been the source of 80 percent of new cases since May. At least 87 schools were forced to shut in the space of a fortnight after infections were detected. There are around 1k active cases in almost 100 aged care facilities, amid ongoing revelations of criminally inadequate safety measures and a lack of staff due to the rampant casualisation of the workforce. There has been a breakdown of contact-tracing, with the majority of daily cases being announced as “under investigation,” meaning their source has not been confirmed. More than 700 infections have been dubbed “mystery cases,” with the authorities having no idea of how transmission occurred. Medical experts, who had been calling for sharper restrictions for weeks, had stepped up their warnings in the days preceding the imposition of “stage four” measures.

In late July, doctors took to the press anonymously, to warn that if a “hard lockdown” were not imposed, hospital admissions would rise by 700 every week and the system would be overwhelmed. Already, there are almost 400 COVID-19 patients in Melbourne hospitals, up from 25 a month ago. Most strikingly, 706 cases have been confirmed among healthcare workers, many of them doctors and nurses in Melbourne hospitals, a figure that rose by 57 on Monday alone. It is clear that the government only introduced the new measures amid real fears of an Italian or New York-style scenario of a complete breakdown of the health-care system. Under the workplace regulations, much of retail will be forced to close, while cafes and restaurants will only be able to provide takeaway. A number of factories will be shuttered, including in fields such as textile and metal production. Broad sections of industry, however, are set to remain open. This includes many warehouses and factories as well as abattoirs, which been major centres of infection. They will be required to develop a “COVID-Safe” plan. In some cases this will mean sharp reductions in workforce numbers. In announcing the measures yesterday, Andrews declared that they did not go as far as an earlier lockdown in NZ. This signals that the government is still seeking to keep some areas of the economy open solely in the interests of corporate profit.

The construction industry has been exempted from the shutdown, with Andrews describing it as the “lifeblood of the economy.” Property development is central to the fortunes of many billionaires, while a speculative housing bubble has boosted the wealth of the rich and compounded the social crisis for working people. Major construction sites will remain in operation, supposedly with no more than 25% of their previous workforce on site, while only five employees will be permitted on small residential builds. The decision came after joint lobbying from the construction companies and the unions for an exemption. The sector has been allowed to remain open throughout the pandemic, jeopardising the safety of hundreds of thousands of workers. In another pro-business decision, most mining will continue with a reduced workforce, including “fly-in fly-out” employees, whose movements across the state pose a particular danger of widespread transmission. The cost of the business shutdowns will be borne by workers, sole traders and small business owners. The latter will be eligible for a $5k government payment, following a previous subsidy of the same amount. Many have warned that this will still not enable them to pay the rent and utilities. Some 250k more workers will likely be stood down or sacked, on top of the worst unemployment figures since the 1930s depression. Hundreds of thousands more jobs are set to be lost across the country, with the Victorian shutdown measures forecast to cut national GDP by $3b/wk. The affected workers, many of them low-paid casuals, will only receive the meagre JobKeeper wage subsidy, which is set to be reduced in September. Rates of poverty will sky-rocket.

At the same time, the lockdown measures are being accompanied by a boosting of police powers, triggered by the declaration of a state of disaster. This provides for sweeping search and seizure provisions, and allows the state government to override any act of parliament. Today, the Victorian government announced that individuals who breach regulations can be subject to $5k fines. This has gone hand-in-hand with a campaign to blame ordinary people for the surge, including unsubstantiated assertions that infected individuals are leaving their homes. While restrictions are necessary to address the pandemic, the central role of the police and military in the crisis dovetails with a protracted build-up of the repressive powers of the state. This is directed above all against the working class. Already, the worsening pandemic and the dangerous conditions enforced by governments and corporations have resulted in a stoppage by Melbourne cleaners last week and a strike yesterday by more than 200 Woolworths warehouse employees. JBL meat workers briefly walked off the job last week, while Diamond Valley Pork staff in the regional town of Laverton have resisted unsafe conditions. The announcement of limited workplace shutdowns is in part an attempt to head off this emerging movement of the working class, amid the unprecedented social, political and health crisis set-off by the pandemic.

Mass unemployment to worsen in Australia following Victorian lockdown
Mike Head, WSWS, Aug 4 2020

image-4Workers line up outside a Centrelink office in Melbourne (Photo: Lord Sedgwick)

The worst economic crash and destruction of jobs in Australia since the 1930s Great Depression will deepen further following the expanded COVID-19 shutdown imposed on the state of Victoria on Sunday. Workers, especially those in casual and insecure employment, will bear the burden of the sweeping “state of disaster” restrictions announced by Victoria’s Labor government, set to last for at least six weeks. The more intensive shutdowns in Victoria, which accounts for a quarter of Australia’s GDP, are expected to reverberate across the country, wiping out hundreds of thousands more jobs and cutting more than $3b/wk off the GDP. The “stage four” restrictions, which are backed by the federal Liberal-National government, are a direct result of the disastrous “return to work” push by all the Australian governments since May. The profit-driven “reopening of the economy” by the bipartisan “national cabinet” of federal, state and territory government heads, has caused a deadly resurgence of the pandemic. That started in Victoria, where an estimated 80% of the infection transmissions have come from workplaces that the government kept open or re-opened, including retail and hospitality businesses, meatworks, warehouses and construction sites. Even before the Victorian lockdown, young workers in particular were confronting the worst levels of unemployment and underemployment since the Great Depression, affecting more than 2.5m workers, or nearly 20% of the labour force. Now the Victorian emergency has shattered the already dire economic and budget forecasts that the federal government issued less than two weeks ago on Jul 23. Even by those predictions, another 0.25m jobs would have been eliminated by December.

According to the Jul 23 budget update, the economy will contract by 3.75% during 2020 and the annual federal budget deficit blow out to $184b by next June. That will be by far the biggest deficit since WW2. It will be almost 10% of GDP, more than twice the proportion recorded during the global financial crisis of 2008–09. Those calculations were based on continuing the “reopening” drive, despite the COVID-19 surge already occurring by then in the two most populous states, Victoria and New South Wales. They assumed that the reimposition of a “stage-three” partial shutdown in Victoria would last only six weeks, no new safety shutdowns would occur anywhere else in the country, interstate borders would reopen and international travel would resume from Jan 1. Yesterday, federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg admitted that the cost of Victoria’s new “stage-four” restrictions would be higher than Treasury estimates and “felt beyond” state borders. He gave no explanation for offering such misleading forecasts on Jul 23. Deloitte Access Economics senior partner Chris Richardson said job losses were likely to be worse than previously predicted. He said:

We’re going to see, compared to the forecasts in July, more jobs lost, unemployment higher and unemployment staying higher for longer.

The Victorian shutdown has demolished the myth propagated by the governments and the corporate media that Australia would be an exception to the intensifying global pandemic and economic breakdown. Yesterday’s Australian Financial Review editorial conceded:

When the national cabinet announced the three-stage reopening plan in May, it appeared that Australia was still the so-called ‘lucky country’ even amid the worst global pandemic in a century.” Now there would be “a great leap backwards.

The newspaper has been among the most vociferous voices demanding “reopening,” regardless of the known danger of new outbreaks that would cost lives and livelihoods. Even now, the demands of the corporate elite continue to dominate the government response. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday said construction projects, meat plants and various manufacturing operations would be permitted to stay open during the “state of disaster,” subject to some safety rules. Predictably, workers are being made to pay the price for the crash, via job losses, pay cuts and freezes, and attacks on working conditions, as well as social spending cuts, amid the biggest corporate handouts in history. Since March, the federal, state and territory governments have handed out more than $300b in “stimulus packages.” Most has gone to big business, including via JobKeeper wage subsidies that have so far kept millions of their employees on the job, generating profits. Once PM Scott Morrison’s federal government starts slashing the JobKeeper subsidies and JobSeeker jobless benefits in September, and governments end freezes on rental evictions and mortgage repayments, working class financial stress, poverty and homelessness will grow. Investment bank Morgan Stanley commissioned a survey of the 6m households paying off mortgages and found that 55% of them had survived on JobKeeper, JobSeeker or the early withdrawal of superannuation retirement funds. Unless they found decent-paying jobs within six months, they could default and lose their homes. Writing in the Australian, financial journalist Alan Kohler warned of a looming “debt emergency.” He wrote:

The average mortgage is $467.7k, so those people collectively owe more than $1t. Even if this group’s average mortgage is half that, and even if only a third of them don’t get a job and can’t meet their repayments, the loans in default would be equal to the entire capital of the Australian banking system.

Another survey pointed to the crisis facing small family-owned businesses, which include many workers who previously lost their jobs. The digital credit reporting agency CreditorWatch reported that the average invoice payment delay in June was 49 days, more than triple what it was a year ago. These overdue payments indicate that many businesses are insolvent, but are currently permitted to keep trading, an exemption due to end on Sep 25. Even before COVID-19 first struck in March, young workers were suffering an historic decline in incomes, due to the cutting of hours and pay. A recent Productivity Commission report found that since the 2008–09 global breakdown, the average labour income of those under 25 had fallen by 14% in real terms. Those aged 25 to 34, experienced a 7% drop. This reversal is now worsening because younger workers have been the first to lose their jobs or hours in the pandemic. That is also feeding into growing social inequality. Recent Australian Taxation Office data confirmed a widening income gulf between the residents of the richest and poorest suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, the two most populous cities, long before the pandemic. For example, the average income among the residents of wealthy Double Bay on Sydney Harbour grew by 85% between 2013–14 and 2017–18 to $242,428, the highest in the nation. That was six times higher than in working class Auburn, in Sydney’s mid-west, where the average income increased by 4% to $37,686, the lowest in Sydney. Apart from a huge average wage gap, the biggest difference was capital gains from investments. In Double Bay, 419 residents declared net capital gains worth $221m or $527k each in FY 2017–18. In Auburn, 249 people declared net capital gains totalling $5.1m or $20.5k each. At the same time, low-paid and highly casualised workers in frontline services, such as aged care, healthcare, retail, transport and security are the most likely to be exposed to COVID-19 infection, threatening their lives and health, and those of their families.

Britain’s jobs massacre continues
Margot Miller, WSWS, Aug 4 2020

Workers are facing an economic calamity as businesses continue to shed jobs. The losses are across all industries, a trend apparent before the pandemic, with the UK’s largest car producer Jaguar Land Rover announcing redundancies, as well as car dealerships, bus maker Alexander Dennis, the distillery industry, retailer Selfridges, holiday giant Tui, and The National Trust. The government imposed a national lockdown on Mar 23, though many non-essential online businesses like Amazon and Asos remained open, while outbreaks of the virus continued in workplaces. Winding down the lockdown has driven millions back to work in unsafe conditions, resulting in alarming spikes across regions like the north west and west Yorkshire. The government is intent on reopening schools in September, despite opposition from parents and teachers. But many have no jobs to go back to. Young people have been especially hard hit, as many work in hospitality and retail. According to the Office for National Statistics, joblessness among 16-24-year-olds increased by 47k over last year.

Since the pandemic struck, 13k jobs have gone in the UK car industry as demand has plummeted. Car production halved this year, costing 11k jobs. With the UK expected to produce just over 880k new cars, this marks the lowest output since 1957. Jaguar Land Rover is planning 2.2k redundancies across the industry. Bus-maker Alexander Dennis, which employed 2.7k worldwide before the pandemic, has had no new orders since March and is cutting 650 jobs. Sites in Guildford, Scarborough and Falkirk will be affected. Owned by Canadian NFI Group, the company made 1.25k buses for the UK in 2019. Alexander Dennis chief executive Colin Robertson said the bus industry faced an “unprecedented crisis” and called on the government to make good its pledge to order 4k environmentally friendly buses. Pendragon, which owns car dealers Evans Halshaw and Stratstone, plans to cut 1.8k jobs from its workforce of 8k. Evans Halshaw caters for mass market selling brands including Peugeot, Renault, Vauxhall, and Ford. Its Stratstone chain sells marques such as BMW, Ferrari, and Jaguar Land Rover. Many of these losses were planned before the pandemic, with the virus acting as an accelerant. Pendragon, which will retain 150 dealerships, expects to save around £35m a year. Car dealerships, like high street chains, have suffered closures due to increased competition from online retailers and behemoths like Amazon. Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders boss, Mike Hawes, said the latest car manufacturing report made “grim reading” and that the future of the UK car-making “depends on securing a good deal” as part of Brexit negotiations. This does not seem a realistic prospect, with a hard Brexit looking increasingly likely, and Pindostan an unreliable and inadequate trading partner.

Despite Boris Johnson’s Conservative government allowing itself to be pressured into backing Pindostan in its trade war with China, 6.5k distillery jobs could go due to Trump’s threat to levy 25% export tariffs on UK gin, vodka and blended whisky. Britain exports spirits worth £1.5b to Pindostan each year. Last October, Pindostan imposed a 25% tariff on UK single malt Scotch whiskey, fall-out from the Pindo-EU trade dispute between plane makers Airbus and Boeing, according to the industry. The UK Spirits Alliance has turned to International Trade Secretary Liz Truss to challenge the tariffs when she meets Pindo Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer on Aug 10. KPMG International Services is the first of the big four accountancy organisations to announce redundancies in Britain, planning to slash 200 posts due to falling demand for its consultancy services—an indication that the economy will not return to its pre-pandemic levels. It is planning to cut employer contributions to pensions, currently at 4.5% of salaries. In July, Accenture announced it was contemplating reducing its UK workforce by 8%. The National Trust has announced 1.2k redundancies since it closed its houses, parks, gardens, and cafes at the start of lockdown. With 5.6m members, the charity manages some of the UK’s key cultural heritage sites and places of natural beauty. Laying off 13% of staff out of a total of 9.5k would save £60m. The trust has already imposed a recruitment freeze, as well deferring or ending projects worth £124m. Another visitor attraction, the Eden project in Cornwall, is set to shed between 200 and 220 jobs after losing £7m in visitor revenue this year. The project boasts two biomes containing plants from diverse environments and promotes sustainability.

As well as culture and leisure, the holiday industry continues to be severely impacted, despite the government easing restrictions on trips abroad, in its typically shambolic fashion. Tui plans the closure of 166 travel agencies on the high street in the UK and Ireland, after losing £747m in the first half of 2020. After a brief lifting of restrictions, the government removed Spain from its list of safe destinations for tourists and reintroduced a 14-day quarantine for travellers from Spain. Tui responded by cancelling all flights to the country. While 900 jobs are on the line, Tui has said that for now 70% of employees affected would transfer to home working. The company has closed 70 stores in France with 600 job losses, citing the increasing number of online bookings as a major factor in addition to the pandemic. The response of Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association General Secretary Manuel Cortes was to say:

We call on Tui and other employers to engage with our union so we can jointly lobby government.

British Airways, part of the International Airways group, originally planned 12k redundancies. It has reached an agreement with BALPA, the pilots union, to accept 270 job losses and major pay cuts. After revealing that BA had a timetable to fire and rehire thousands on Aug 7, Unite leader, Len McCluskey, wrote a grovelling appeal to BA chief Alex Cruz, urging:

The only way to have a lasting peace and avoid months/years of industrial unrest is to work with us to achieve an acceptable way forward.

Upmarket Selfridges is the latest major high street chain to announce job losses across its four stores and impacting 450 jobs, or 14% of its staff. Even before the pandemic, the high street was struggling to compete with online retailers due to high rents. John Lewis has also revealed plans to shut eight of its department stores, while Debenhams is up for sale to avoid liquidation. Manufacturer of household appliances Dysons is set to lose 900 jobs, 600 from its UK workforce. Last year, owner Sir James Dyson came out top in the UKs rich list, increasing his wealth from £3.6b to £16.2b. Meanwhile, the working class is facing impoverishment as jobs go and wages are slashed. DW Sports, a gym and sports retailer, is to enter administration, putting 1.7k jobs at risk. It operated 73 gyms and 75 stores across the UK, with all stores now set to close and saving gyms dependent upon deals worked out with the administrators. The ONS reported that the number of workers on UK company payrolls decreased by 649k between March and June, a fall of 2.2%. This figure did not include the self-employed who were unable to work. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that ten percent of the 9.4m employees who were once on the government financed furlough scheme will become unemployed when it ends completely in October. In May, the ONS revealed 0.5m people who are technically employed are not in work and not receiving pay. The OBR warned that unemployment could soar to four million without the development of an early vaccine. This warning was underscored by a survey conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce, which found 29% of businesses would cut jobs in the next three months.

COVID-19 takes hold in Papua New Guinea
John Braddock, WSWS, Aug 4 2020

Health worker performs CPR during simulation (Photo: UN Papua New Guinea)

After appearing to hold the COVID-19 pandemic at bay for the past several months, the Papua New Guinea (PNG) government last week confirmed dozens of new cases in the capital, Port Moresby. PNG’s Pandemic Response Controller David Manning, also announced a new case in Lae, the capital of Morobe province, some 300 km from Port Moresby. As of Aug 3, the total number of cases was 110, including three victims hospitalised in critical condition and two deaths. In mid-July, the country had recorded just 11 cases of COVID-19, before then surging to over 30 within a week. Now, 90% of cases have been recorded in the past 14 days. Government modelling suggests more than 5k people may have the virus. Only around 10k have been tested in a population of 9m and Manning declared the virus is now “widespread” in the capital. His deputy, Acting Health Secretary Dr Paison Dakulala admitted last Thursday that authorities were playing “catch-up” with contact tracing. The WHO has just stepped up its response, deploying more emergency medical staff to strengthen testing capacity and medical supply delivery. Following a request from PNG, Australia dispatched a token eight-member crisis response team.

Many of the recent cases are health workers at the Port Moresby General Hospital, where all non-essential services were suspended. Hospital workers had repeatedly raised concerns about their own safety, the lack of adequate personal protective equipment and staff shortages sparked by the need to quarantine some health workers. The hospital’s CEO Paki Molumi said patient care had been affected by the shortages. Dakulala also warned that the main isolation facility in the capital, the Rita Flynn Centre, can only hold up to 72 patients and is expected to reach capacity. COVID-19 positive patients may be forced to isolate at home. Authorities had earlier announced a cluster outbreak at the Central Public Health Laboratory, situated on the hospital grounds, where coronavirus testing is conducted. This followed a previous outbreak at Port Moresby’s central military barracks. With community transmission rapidly taking hold, PM James Marape announced a two-week lockdown of Port Moresby on Jul 27, including a curfew under the Pandemic Act. Only essential businesses can open and the curfew runs between 10 pm and 5 am. Schools are closed for 14 days, and no motor vehicles are allowed to operate except taxi services. There is also a ban on all domestic flights from Port Moresby for 14 days.

A PNG academic told Radio NZ that without the enforcement of strict health measures it will be “difficult” to contain COVID-19. Henry Ivarature from the Australian National University said the PNG government had “erred” as the recent surge in cases developed. He said it had invested more in a “security approach” than one based on public health policy, and “I think that’s coming back to hurt the government now.” Manning, who leads the pandemic response unit is, significantly, also the Police Commissioner. COVID-19 is set to overwhelm the country’s fragile and ill-equipped health-care system. Port Moresby governor Powes Parkop told Australia’s ABC that the capital faced “a situation that we dreaded,” declaring:

We simply don’t have the capacity, we don’t have enough space in isolation facilities, in the hospital, we don’t have enough medical officers and we don’t have enough equipment.

The Guardian reported in April that the looming arrival of coronavirus “has terrified the public.” The health system, which has just 500 doctors and 5k hospital beds, cannot deal with even routine illnesses. The General Hospital has appealed for donations of face masks, gloves, protective face shields, and hand sanitiser, as well as pillowcases, blankets, mattresses and laundry detergent. The prospect of the virus spreading in the former Australian colony threatens a catastrophic social crisis. According to Oxfam, 37% of the population lives on less than $1.25/day. In Port Moresby tens of thousands live in crowded, unofficial settlements. Malaria, HIV/AIDS, dengue fever, drug-resistant tuberculosis and polio are all rife. More than 60% of the population has no access to safe drinking water. Explosive social struggles will undoubtedly erupt. Repeated strikes by doctors and nurses over the decrepit conditions in the health system have occurred since 2016. Following a sit-in on Mar 26 by nearly 600 Port Moresby nurses protesting inadequate personal protective equipment, over 4k nurses were ready to strike over the lack of preparation for a coronavirus outbreak. The strike was averted by the PNG Nurses Association which, not for the first time, called it off at the last minute.

The deepening crisis in PNG has major implications for the wider region. According to WHO statistics, there are currently some 500 cases scattered across the Pacific. Fiji, the Pacific’s second largest country, on Friday confirmed its first COVID related death, among eight active cases. The same day, the number of cases in the Northern Marianas rose by two to 42. If the virus spreads more widely it could devastate the Pacific Island communities, which have populations with high rates of co-morbidities and public health systems that are fragile and at full capacity, even before the pandemic. Last year 83 people, mainly children, died in Samoa in a measles outbreak that originated in NZ. According to a study published in the Lancet in July, COVID-19 has the potential to cause “substantial disruptions to health services,” due to cases overburdening the health systems and response measures limiting usual programs. Particularly in poor countries, disruptions to services for HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria could lead to substantial loss of life over the next five years, the report warned. The regional imperialist powers, ANZ, are showing cynical indifference to the social disaster unfolding in their former colonial possessions. The Australian government recently announced a paltry $0.5m aid package for PNG to respond to COVID-19, following a donation of personal protective equipment for health workers. NZ’s Foreign Affairs Ministry declared in June that the Pacific will need “significant investment” to recover from the economic devastation of COVID-19, even if the virus itself is kept at bay. The ministry concluded, however, that its priority is to reinforce the Labour government’s “Pacific reset” strategy, to upgrade NZ’s diplomatic and military presence, in lockstep with Faschingstein’s and Canberra’s escalating confrontation with China.

Stricter lockdown reimposed in Philippines as cases top 100k
Joseph Santolan, WSWS, Aug 4 2020

The Philippines recorded a record 5k new COVID-19 cases over the weekend bringing the country’s tally to more 100k cases according to the Dept of Health. The Philippines now has the second highest number of cases in south-east Asia, behind Indonesia. The Duterte administration responded on Sunday night by announcing a return to the strict lockdown conditions of modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ). Two of Manila’s largest government hospitals were forced to close last week because of the number of infected healthcare workers. Most hospitals report that they are beyond capacity and can no longer take any new patients, as they lack adequate facilities and beds. The Philippine Medical Association warned, in a letter issued over the weekend, that if urgent measures were not taken to curb the spread of the virus the entire medical system was on the verge of collapse. The Duterte administration has responded to the pandemic with authoritarianism and anti-scientific nonsense, attempting to maintain control of the population and to resume the profit-making operations of banks and major businesses.

The Philippine government imposed one of the longest and harshest lockdowns in the world, which it enforced through draconian police measures. Over 76k people were arrested between Mar 17 and Jul 25 for violating curfew or lockdown. More than 900 complaints of torture and inhumane treatment have been filed with the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights. The police converted Operation Tokhang, the warrantless door-to-door searches conducted as part of the war on drugs, into an alleged hunt for people with symptoms. The government called on the population to report their neighbors if they suspect they might have symptoms. According to the WaPo, the police have killed a number of “suspects” in their homes as a result of these warrantless searches. While conducting door-to-door searches, imposing curfews and carrying out mass arrests, the Duterte government has done next to nothing to detect, trace or isolate the disease. Confronted with a shortage of masks and hygienic supplies, Duterte told the public last week that they should clean their masks with gasoline. Medical professionals responded that if the public followed Duterte’s instructions they would likely contract a respiratory disease.

The Philippine economy confronts its worst contraction in over three decades. Unemployment has reached record levels. The most recently available government data is for April and it reveals that 7.3m adults were unemployed, a 17.7% unemployment rate, which is an all-time high. An additional 13m reported that they had jobs but were unable to report to work. The figures have only worsened since April. Extrapolating from the available data, it seems that over half the population has no immediate source of income. Remittances from migrant workers are a mainstay of the Philippine economy and they have declined substantially as a result of the global crisis. Confronting an immense loss of profits, banks and major corporations have clamored for workers to be sent back to their workplaces. On Jun 1, the government responded by placing the capital region under less stringent general community quarantine (GCQ) measures. The police repression continued and young people faced arrest for violating curfew, but the working population was expected to return to work. COVID-19 cases soared.

Of the new cases reported this weekend, 2,737 were in Manila. More than half of all recorded cases, over 55k, have been in the intensely crowded Metro Manila area. Thus far, the government has officially reported over 2k fatalities, but these numbers doubtless grossly under-represent the actual figures. The catastrophic figures are a result of the government’s refusal to carry out mass testing combined with its back-to-work campaign of the past two months. Confronting a soaring infection rate and the imminent collapse of the medical system, Duterte on Sunday night announced that he was reimposing the strict conditions of modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) on the capital region of Metro Manila and its surrounding areas, scheduled to last from Aug 4-18. The general population will be confined to their homes and public transportation will again be shut down. A majority of the population is struggling to secure their basic necessities. Mass outrage is mounting. At midnight on Sunday night in a nationwide televised address, Duterte launched a tirade against health-care workers who have publicly criticized the government response to the global pandemic. He said:

Do not try to demean the government!

The president repeatedly returned in his speech to the idea that workers were threatening revolution. He responded with veiled threats of dictatorship, declaring:

I will implement order, changing this government without informing you! Would you be happy with that? So, if you are really on a rampage, you want revolution, fine! Let’s start it! Go ahead!

Teachers protest Jordan government’s closure of union and harsh crackdown
Jean Shaoul, WSWS, Aug 4 2020

Several thousand teachers took to the streets of Irbid, Jerash, and other cities on Saturday to protest the government’s decision to shut down the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate union and demand the release of its board members. The 13 detained union leaders are currently on hunger strike in Jordanian prisons. The protests follow rallies last Wednesday, where the police were out in force in the capital, Amman, after the government warned people not to demonstrate, amid threats of arrests and detention. They come in the wake of the attorney general’s decision on Jul 25 to close the teachers’ union for two years, a raid on the union’s headquarters and the arrest of acting chairman Nasser Nawasreh on charges of incitement. The union’s council was summoned for questioning on “criminal and corruption charges” after government officials accused the syndicate of having an “Islamist” agenda, meaning that it was allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. On Jul 15, the Court of Cassation officially dissolved the Brotherhood’s Jordanian branch and closed its offices. King Abdullah’s relationship with the Brotherhood, once one of the monarchy’s strongest supporters, turned sour after the organization supported the 2011 Arab Spring protests. While Hassan Abdallat, Amman’s prosecutor-general, did not specify what the alleged crimes were, he said they included “financial violations” and issued a gagging order on the case, including social media.

The government’s clampdown on the Jordanian Teachers’ Syndicate, which has 140k members, came just days after the union organised a rally in Amman attended by hundreds of teachers demanding the government abide by its agreement to increase the teachers’ abysmally low wages by 35% to 75%, according to experience and seniority. The starting salary of a public-school teacher with a university degree is $500/month, barely over the “absolute poverty line” of $479 for a family of five each month. After the first year, a teacher gets an automatic annual increment of $5 to $13, depending on qualifications and experience, rising to a maximum of $635/month. As a result, many teachers take a second job to support their families. The teachers went on a nationwide strike for a month at the start of the school year in 2018, affecting 1.3m students, in one of the longest public-sector strikes in the country’s history. The agreement to end the strike included a pay increase for this year. But last April, the government cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the pretext for abandoning the agreement and freezing all public sector wage increases.

In mid-March, the government imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, closing its borders, banning flights and ordering people to stay indoors, and even closing grocery stores and pharmacies for three days, before organizing deliveries of basic commodities directly to neighbourhoods and later allowing food shops and pharmacies to open. The security forces vigorously enforced the curfew, fining thousands of people, and impounding cars. The two-month-long lockdown was largely successful in limiting the spread of the virus. To date there have been 1,208 confirmed cases and 11 deaths. But the lockdown has had a devastating effect on people’s livelihoods in a country already in the grip of a severe economic crisis with little or no social safety net. Official unemployment in Q1 2020, before the pandemic took effect, had reached 19.3%. Inflation has risen as a result of a 3.7% tax on basic commodities, one of a raft of austerity measures, including privatisations, implemented to secure a loan from the IMF.

Jordan’s tourism sector, which with its world-famous heritage sites such as Petra accounts for 10% of GDP, has evaporated. According to Jordan Labour Watch, Jordan’s formal market will lose about 140k jobs, 10.5% of the 1.35m jobs in both the private and public sectors. Jordan has a population of 10m. The return of tens of thousands of the more than 1m well-qualified Jordanians, working in the Gulf is further impacting on unemployment as falling oil prices, lockdowns and the pandemic’s economic fallout have led to massive job losses. The Gulf countries are using the crisis to curtail the number of migrant workers, who make up a significant proportion of their workforce. This has had a major impact on remittances back to Jordan. Jordan’s central bank reported a reduction of 5.4% for the Q1 2020 compared to last year. Jordan has in turn ordered migrant workers, numbering around 800k mainly low-paid workers from Egypt and Yemen employed in agriculture, construction and catering—to leave the country. While the government announced that most businesses could reopen, it insisted that at least 75% of their employees would have to be Jordanians. The lockdown has gutted state revenues and led to the sharpest economic contraction in two decades. With the economy expected to shrink by 3.5% this year, the government, whose debt already exceeds GDP, has again turned to the IMF to secure a $1.75b loan.

The country hosts the second highest number of refugees per capita in the world, including more than 745k registered with the UNHCR from Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other countries, although the actual numbers are far higher than this, plus an estimated 2m Palestinians. Jordan has been badly hit by Pindostan’s termination of its $300m/yr funding to the UNRWA, representing about a quarter of the agency’s budget. The cuts have had a devastating impact on schooling and essential services, such as medical clinics and trash collection, for hundreds of thousands of refugees in the country. Jordan is host to more than 1.4m Syrian refugees, only half of whom are registered. According to the UNHCR, whose operations in Jordan were only 58% funded in 2019, one third of refugees who were working previously are now out of work. While around 160k refugees have returned to Syria. Many, unable to prove ownership of their property, have no homes or jobs to return to, while others fear retribution and military conscription.

As poverty and social unrest rise, the government has used the draconian emergency laws introduced in March to curtail democratic rights and crackdown on opposition, arresting activists over comments on social media. In April, the military arrested top executives of Roya TV after it screened a crowd of labourers complaining about their inability to work because of the lockdown. These attacks on democratic rights and living standards are being implemented in the interest of trans-national corporations and Jordan’s tiny financial elite, which rules the country with an iron fist. Even criticizing the royal family is a crime. King Abdullah has announced parliamentary elections in November, but this is just a sop to public opinion and a rubber stamp for his unelected government. Abdullah, who is closely aligned with Pindo imperialism, uses his prime ministers as fig leaves, sacking them with monotonous regularity as sacrificial lambs to save his own skin and his family’s wealth.

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