The Prime Minister of Britain, Boris Johnson, is tonight in intensive care in St Thomas’s Hospital, London, apparently receiving oxygen on a ventilator after spending around two weeks with worsening Covid-19. It is possible he will not survive the viral pneumonia that has set in. This is possibly the most shocking and prominent demonstration yet of the very dangerous nature of the Coronavirus-Sars-2 virus which is responsible for this pandemic. Johnson’s own ministers have started to emphasise that the virus does not discriminate among its victims, and can infect or kill anyone. Even a highly privileged, Eton-educated Tory Prime Minister can be struck down by it!
This just underlines the stupidity of the attitude that part of the bourgeoisie, including Johnson himself, have adopted towards the pandemic. This is particularly so of the right-wing populists of whom Johnson is a prime example; not the worst or the most irrational, but pretty arrogant and stupid nevertheless. US President Donald Trump is also a prime specimen of this anti-scientific irrational idiocy, as is Jair Bolsonaro, the fascistic right-populist Brazilian President.
You could quite literally say that Johnson may have signed his own death warrant with his anti-scientific, callous stupidity. On the This Morning show of 5th March, Johnson floated a strategy for dealing with the virus thus:
“Well it’s a very, very important question, and that’s where a lot of the debate has been and one of the theories is, that perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking as many draconian measures.” (https://fullfact.org/health/boris-johnson-coronavirus-this-morning/)
Johnson delayed for several weeks from crucial measures like closing schools, or introducing social distancing measures, and equally importantly, it has completely ignored the obvious need for the introduction of widespread testing for the virus. The UK government has been forced into action on some of these things from below, by such things as parents keeping their children off school in defiance of the government. Such was the backlash when it became clear that the result of this strategy would be 500,000 deaths, that Johnson’s government has had to publicly abandon the ‘herd immunity’ concept, at least publicly. However their failure to test the population for the disease reveals that the strategy remains.
It’s an anti-scientific, genocidal strategy whose real driving force has occasionally leaked out, such as when Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s adviser and mentor, was quoted as saying in a meeting in February that the government’s strategy was “herd immunity, protect the economy, and if some pensioners die then too bad” (Sunday Times, 22 March).
This is the logic of neo-liberalism, Social Darwinism, or the survival of the fittest; the poor, the sick and the old can be allowed to die off not least because of the potential savings that the wealthy can make from social benefits and pensions. As one Daily Telegraph writer, Jeremy Warner, wrote on 3 March:
“Not to put too fine a point on it, from an entirely disinterested economic perspective, the COVID-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents. (https://metro.co.uk/2020/03/11/telegraph-journalist-says-coronavirus-cull-elderly-benefit-economy-1238390)
Johnson is the personification of the hubris of the neoliberal populist right over this. His injunction to ‘take it on the chin’ could well be his epitaph. In tune with this, he boasted of visiting a hospital and shaking hands “with everybody” including Covid-19 patients. He may well have spread the disease from the infected to others by this act of sheer stupidity alone. It appears he has also infected his pregnant partner, Carrie Symonds, in the process.
He is not the only one of course. When Covid-19 first emerged, Trump first declared that it was a ‘hoax’ put forward by his political opponents to discredit him for the election, and has both tried to exploit the virus’ apparent point of origin in Wuhan, China, calling it the ‘Chinese Virus’, and then has like Johnson, declared that the priority is ‘the economy’ rather than preserving lives. He was forced into declaring a Federal Emergency over the virus, at the same time he is continually trying to undermine it with calls for easing it, for people to go back to work after Easter, etc. His notorious tweets, such as that saying “”WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF” and hinting at easing the quarantine for the economy’s sake, point one way. Yet Trump has also been forced to guarantee payment of hospitals by the US government for the uninsured millions who are at risk of huge hospital bills for treatment for the disease. Thus Trump has been forced, temporarily, to institute a form of socialised medicine. Like in Britain, we see the same outrageous contempt for life being forced to back down by the certain knowledge that failing to do these elementary things will lead to a social explosion.
The genocidal and anti-scientific ideology of the neoliberal right over the pandemic is shown by the actions and words of Bolsonaro in Brazil. According to the Brazilian President, the pandemic will end when 70% are of the population are infected. He puts forward the outrageous view that that social isolation is of no use and only hinders the economy.
But the retreat of the tide of infection in China is concrete evidence that social isolation and distancing works. A country with 1.5 billion people had 83,000 cases, and yet the virus has stopped spreading. The virus is not a living being, it depends on being finding suitable bodies to multiply. If everyone is in social isolation the infected people create antibodies or unfortunately end up dying. Thus the virus disappears. As the contamination and reaction time of the organism is 3 to 4 weeks, if social isolation lasts 2 to 3 months it is possible to stop the circulation of the virus and have a small number of infected people, which is what is happening in China today.
That is why they continue to quarantine everyone who comes from outside, so that there is no new introduction of the virus and so no new cycle of pandemic. For this cycle to be truly broken, it is essential that government officials guarantee all support and continued income for the population to remain in social isolation and apply tests to all. Testing for everyone is crucial, so that those infected can actually be isolated and not be the focus of new transmissions. Only after breaking the cycle and carrying out this testing programme to a conclusion is it possible to relax the insulation.
But for Bolsonaro and the elite he represents, their concern is not how to break the circulation of the virus and save lives, but how to save corporate profits. And for that he uses all possible lying arguments and the denial of scientific evidence, and more blatantly and consistently than the likes of Johnson and Trump, gives expression to the barbaric, genocidal Social-Darwinism that is at the core of neoliberalism and the fascistic populism it has spawned.