Alberta Politics
Medical personal protective equipment being manufactured in China (Photo: Xinhua News Agency).

The coronavirus pandemic: Not good news for anyone, but probably worse news for the West than China

Posted on March 19, 2020, 11:11 pm
10 mins

The novel coronavirus hit China first. Today was the first day China reported no new local infections since the global pandemic officially began in Hubei province in the fall of 2019. No new local infections means that while there were 34 cases reported in China in the previous 24 hours, all could be traced back to Chinese citizens or visitors who had recently arrived in the country from abroad.

Relatively early intervention, vigilant monitoring, and tough social distancing rules aggressively enforced, all contributed to this achievement. Despite the fact China is obviously no democracy, so did something close to a national consensus on social cohesion. No doubt preferential access to manufactured medical safety equipment — almost all of which comes from China thanks to our disaster-prone globalized economic system that has all but abandoned manufacturing in the West — helped as well.

U.S. President Donald Trump (Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons).

China is not out of the woods. Indeed, the shoe is on the other foot since the day when U.S. President Donald Trump called the cause of COVID-19 the “Chinese virus.” The viral danger presented by travelers from the West is now a legitimate source of fear in Asia.

It is far from clear if China’s success suppressing COVID-19 is even possible in the West with its emphasis on individual economic rights over collective rights, its near total lack of domestic manufacture of health care equipment from complex ventilators to simple masks, and leadership dominated by neoliberal economic theories that have contributed significantly to present catastrophe.

Indeed, as has been argued in this space before, it’s almost as if the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, has evolved to exploit the vulnerabilities of the modern neoliberal state. But then, perhaps it had to, if the modern neoliberal economy is what’s eliminating the virus’s traditional hosts.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Yesterday in Italy, with a population 20 times smaller than China’s, the death toll from COVID-19 surpassed that of China. There have been 3,405 deaths in Italy, 427 of them yesterday, 475 the day before.

Last week, China, behaving like a superpower, shipped emergency supplies of ventilators and surgical masks to Italy. The United States, until recently supposed to be the last superpower still standing, was mired in chaos and narcissism, with longer lineups for guns than for food or even toilet paper! COVID-19 tests? Forget about ’em. The world’s mightiest economy can barely manage that.

The English-speaking world, in particular, seems to have turned into a careening clown car. For now, Canada actually seems like a positive exception under Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. It’s hard to believe COVID-19 can be pushed back as quickly in the United States or Britain as it was in China — which, if you recall, was initially criticized in the West for taking a week too long to respond, and then for being too draconian in its requirements for social distancing.

But while China — and Singapore, Taiwan and Korea — got down to business quickly, the United States under the worst leadership in its history failed utterly to respond for days, even though we all knew what was coming. President Trump kept insisting it was nothing to worry about, it would all go away when the flowers bloom, it was fake news, and so on.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Indeed, under Mr. Trump’s unhinged command, preparations made for a global pandemic by the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama were tossed on the scrap heap. Now, after weeks of denial, fantasy, muddled messaging, and shambolic localized responses, the disease is taking off in all 50 states, compounded by an economic disaster as businesses shut down, schools close and literally millions of gig economy workers are abandoned to their fate.

Well, at least the Americans closed the Canadian border, which saved us from having to do the reverse and endure the abuse.

Further along the pandemic Bell curve, the United Kingdom, now led by a similarly sinister neoliberal clown, is on the verge of seeing its health care system utterly overwhelmed by COVID-19.

Social cohesion? Do we even have that any more in the West? Where we do, as in Alberta, conservative elites are doing their best not just to eliminate it, but to make it illegal.

In the West, which truly both boomed and shared the wealth through a system of social democracy in the immediate postwar years, neoliberal economic doctrine promised us juicier tomatoes than could be grown in northern climes and cheap computers made in poor countries delivered “just in time” by a fragile, brittle, heavily polluting transportation network. All we had to do was give up our collective rights and let the wealthiest 1% gather all the money unto themselves

Revolutionary Vladimir Lenin in 1920, a man who loved the Shock Doctrine as much as any modern neoliberal.

We have reaped an environmental and social catastrophe.

In health care, as Dr. Michael Pappas wrote on Counterpunch yesterday, neoliberal capitalism has striven to create a system “predicated around extracting profit from sick bodies — one that continually attempts to drive down costs whenever possible.” This is another reason for the shortages of supplies and equipment that are now costing lives wherever COVID-19 appears in the so-called democratic West.

Here in Alberta, our Alberta Legislature is still sitting — MLAs packed together like sardines, so much for being a good example of social distancing — passing bits and pieces of Premier Jason Kenney’s knee-jerk austerity package, which falls short of what’s needed in a normal year, let alone the midst of a global pandemic and recession.

Our representatives are toiling through the pandemic to privatize our public services, including the public health care system that is holding the line to save us, weaken our unions, unfetter corporations from the regulations that protect us, redirect the money we spend on these things to the pockets of foreign billionaires, and get our now nearly worthless bitumen pumping to those mythical markets in Asia. Talk about selling our birthright for a mess of pottage!

No wonder the Chinese don’t want to take our advice on how to run an economy, let alone a society!

As Vladimir Lenin famously observed: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen.”

What do you want to bet that when we emerge from the next few weeks, the United States and the old Imperial powers like Britain are diminished as if decades had passed, and China is not?

Alberta COVID-19 update

Alberta has recorded its first death from COVID-19, a man in his 60s, Thursday’s pandemic briefing revealed. Another 27 new cases of the disease were confirmed in the province, bringing the total number of cases to 146, 101 in Alberta Health Service’s Calgary Zone, 29 in the Edmonton Zone, 10 in the North and three each in the South and Central zones. Five people are currently hospitalized and two are in intensive care. Provincial politicians continue to set a bad example for social distancing by appearing in social media photos packed into small rooms supposedly working on the province’s problems. They would do better to treat this seriously.

16 Comments to: The coronavirus pandemic: Not good news for anyone, but probably worse news for the West than China

  1. Just Me

    March 20th, 2020

    While PJMT was chastised for “admiring” China’s basic dictatorship, they slammed COVID-19, marshalled every national resource, and stopped the infection rate. If one looks at other countries across Asia, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, etc. All responded quickly with massive restrictions on civil liberties. In Wuhan, police and the military were blocking people in their homes, dragging the infected into quarantine, and forcing all shops, factories, and markets to close. The province was closed and all residents barred from leaving. 39 million people in lock-down. Got to admire this basic dictatorship, because it gets things done.

    In Europe, however, the response was slow or non-existent. Italy is on verge of a total social meltdown as the daily convoys of dead are removed to crematoria. The backload is so extreme, there is a worry that conditions for other infections are concerning. Spain is the latest to reach the Dystopian abyss, and Germany is resigned to the reality of a 70% infection rate across their general population. As for the UK, P.M. Boris Johnson is challenging the conditions, but extremely high infection rates and inevitable mortality rates are seen as unavoidable.

    As for the US, Trump’s culture of denial and fantastic manufactured reality called the pandemic first a hoax then a Democrat plot.. Now, he’s calling it the “Chinese Flu” and giving credence to the bizarre theory that it was a biological weapon run amok. Now, Trump is touting the unproven “treatment” of using a common Malaria medication, boasting that the FDA “accelerated” its approval. Considering that this drug was approved for use back in 1932, that may be Trump’s biggest lie yet. They pile on so fast now, you need wings to stay above them.

    While the news of the virus’ spread is accelerating across the US, it appears that no one is taking it seriously. As though trapped in Trump’s reality-distortion field, Americans are having fun and enjoying Spring Break antics without a care. Avoiding social-distancing is becoming the latest extreme sport/Jackass stunt. California’s (in comparison to Trump an adult) governor has ordered everyone to stay home. Trying to get 40 million people to stay in beautiful California may be a bridge too far, but we’ll see.

    Here in Canada, right-wing zealots with the responsibility of elected office have put their CON fantasies on hold, maybe permanently. Angry voters are real, so they’ve just discovered.

    Doug Ford has morphed into Kathleen Wynne and has decided to be responsible for a change, lest Ontario lynch him and the whole Tory caucus. Even Jason Kenney, a zealot if there ever was one, has changed his tune somewhat. The war on public health care is put on hold and the angry midget act is in its box. Everything else is still fair game to the UCP knuckle draggers, but Kenney is suddenly desperate to not look like an idiot. I now believe that the War Room’s days are numbered, because the stupid just pours out of that one.

    Reply
  2. Abs

    March 20th, 2020

    Narcissism is a culture of self-deception. That explains everything.

    Reply
    • Just Me

      March 20th, 2020

      And further to DJC question regarding ordered closures of bars but pubs may remain open, here’s a bit of information that could explain the distinction between the two.

      Kenney is known to frequent a Calgary establishment called James Joyce Irish Pub in Calgary.

      Though this establishment has temporarily closed, Kenney may have been trying to assure that one of his favourite haunts was still available to him.

      It’s still his nest before everyone else’s.

      Reply
  3. ronmac

    March 20th, 2020

    In the meantime, if you do get coronavirus you should think seriously about letting the fever run it’s natural course and not resort to fever reducing medications (like aspirin and Tylenol) which is our first instinct.

    Fever is the body’s natural response to fighting infections and allows the immune system to operate at maximum efficiency. Artificially reducing fevers inhibits that process and may lead to complications.

    The French medical authorities are cautioning against the use of anti-inflammatory drugs because they may be making the situation worse.

    Here is Dr. John Campbell, who has become somewhat of a YouTube star during this crisis, on the subject.

    https://youtu.be/gJqSdmNNwW4

    Reply
  4. Expat Albertan

    March 20th, 2020

    “…the United States under the worst leadership in its history failed utterly to respond for days, even though we all knew what was coming. President Trump kept insisting it was nothing to worry about, it would all go away when the flowers bloom, it was fake news, and so on”.

    It might be much darker and sinister than even this. Word is coming out today from multiple new sources (including Fox!) that Republican senators (and likely Trump) knew about the seriousness of the pandemic as early as January. But while they continued for weeks to downplay it’s importance and promote conspiracy theories, some of them made some very large stock market transactions before the markets starting going south. If true, this is more than just your normal Trumpian incompetence.

    Reply
  5. J.E. Molnar

    March 20th, 2020

    Your reference to the ineptitude of Donald Trump is amplified further by daily reports from US states and their governors who are clamouring for medical supplies and medical appliances to mitigate COVID-19.

    This morning New York mayor Bill de Blasio publicly voiced his frustration with Trump and his administration by asking: “Where the hell is the federal government?”

    New York currently has just over 5,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and according to Mayor de Blasio 15,000 ventilators, 45 million pairs of gloves, surgical gowns, coveralls, face shields and 50 million surgical masks will be needed in the next two to three weeks. President Trump’s response: “We’re not a shipping clerk.”

    Reply
  6. jerrymacgp

    March 20th, 2020

    Communism as an economic system has, in theory, much to say for it: a community working together for a common cause to make life better for everyone. However, every implementation of thus system in history, everywhere around the world, has suffered one fundamental flaw: it has been a complete disaster for individual rights & freedoms. It’s not solely rights around ownership of private property; freedoms of expression, of belief, & of association … basic civil liberties, and basic protections around the criminal justice system … and a host of other protections we take for granted, are all jeopardized under communist systems. In fact, as we have seen in the People’s Republic of China, Communist parties in government have even abolished most of the economic aspects of communism, but retained the authoritarianism that went hand-in-hand with the system.

    Socialism, more watered down than communism — despite the fact that some communist countries have misappropriated the world for themselves — has been successfully implemented in many countries without that attendant authoritarianism, preserving civil liberties and basic freedoms. This is the model I’d most like to see Canada adopt. Sadly, however, even our nominally socialist party has shied away from pushing us in that direction.

    Reply
  7. Greg Elliott

    March 20th, 2020

    I am not familiar with an emphasis on “individual economic rights over collective rights” in the West. What I have seen is a system that acts to ensure the collective rights of Capital, at the expense of the individual economic rights of all other “citizens”, for lack of a better word. This crisis is exactly what Capital in the west required. It has permitted the central banks to roll out QE4 and apparently the junk-bond peddlars who funded the shale-oil hoax in the Permian Basin will also be bailed out. The welfare queens from the vacant office towers in downtown Calgary will be receiving their government cheese from L’il PET, after looting the province via miniscule corporate tax and royalty schemes. Get ready for post-apocalypse austerity the likes of which have not been seen in Canada since the forties.
    The single biggest threat to the Anglo-American banking empire since the Treaty of Rapallo of 1922 is the Chinese Belt-Road initiative. Prophylactic social controls in the name of disease prevention, from one end of the Eurasian island to the other, seem to provide a better chance of derailing the Chinese strategy than the foundering 40-year-old Arc of Crisis strategy implemented by Carter’s masters in 1979 to destablize the region via “stirred-up moslems”, to quote the great nut-case Brzezinski.
    As to the absurdity of claims about the origins of the Covid disaster, we are living in a country whose close military and economic partner attacked and destroyed the sovereign nation of Iraq in 2003, resulting in ever-increasing regional instability, population dislocation, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of deaths. The act of starting a war constituted the Supreme Crime “investigated” at Nuremberg, but apparently it’s not such a big deal anymore. Which simply means that the US military is capable of undertaking any act that is possible within the limitations of the physical plane we currently occupy. And our awesome friends/masters have a notorious facility in Maryland that was dedicated precisely to making bio-weapons. It doesn’t exist as an internet meme. And they/we are at war with China.
    The funny thing about the internet is that it has allowed the revelation of details of dozens and dozens of criminal conspiracies in which Imperial Anglo-American intelligence, acting on behalf of their Wall Street masters, engaged in all manner of criminality, but the sudden ubiquity of information about the absolutely deranged and perverse nature of Imperial foreign policy has almost simultaneously permitted the distortion of the information and the resulting dog’s breakfast can be dismissed by the credulous as “conspiracy theory”.
    In Operation Gladio, our bestest most awesome pals in US and British intelligence staged monstrous terrorist attacks in Europe that were blamed on far-left groups like the Red Brigades. This is not a theory, it is a fact. It was part of the Strategy of Tension to scare Italians, and Belgians, and anybody else who might consider a signficant politcal shift to the left, into rethinking that notion.
    The US was accused of using biological agents during their attack on Korea, in which the Superfriends, including Canada, fought a war that killed, according to Curtis Lemay, the US Air Force general in charge, twenty percent of North Korea’s population with aerial bombing and subsequent collapse of infrastructure. When captured US airmen were interrogated by the Chinese and Koreans, the downed fliers revealed that they had engaged in bio-warfare. The Chinese, knowing a good thing when they saw it, paraded these unfortunates in front of newsreel cameras, where they revealed confessions of their war crimes. These guys had been subjected coercion techniques used for centuries that the Chinese had perfected in some awful domestic activities, but the US fabricated a story of nefarious communist brainwashing techniques, the only palatable explanation for the willingness of Apple-pie-fed Chevy-driving US airmen to bend to the will of the Red savages.
    Unfortunately for the CIA, a scientist named Frank Olson, who had himself been particpating in lethal applications of experimental interrogation methods at US bases in Europe, had also particpated in the development of US bio-weapons. Olson was an agricultural scientist at the Ft. Detrick lab who was overwhelmed by the trauma of building bio-weapons and applying massive doses of stuff like LSD to suspected double-agents, and he threatened to tell on everybody. So they interrogated him with LSD, determined him to be a possible security risk, and threw him out the window of a tenth story hotel room in New York. Twenty years later, Olson’s son was pushing for the case to be re-opened, just as CIA interrogation experiments were coming to light in Congressional investigations, so being the enterprising people that they are, CIA rolled the two cover-ups into one, claiming that Frank Olson had been unable to handle his Elecric Kool-ade and committed suicide, and also bolstering their phoney story about MK Ultra, their interrogation experiments, being a response to insidious communist brainwashing threats.
    Olson’s tale is a conspiracy story, but not a theory.
    Here is a link to a BBC documentary about Gladio, the CIA-MI6 fake-commie terror campaign. Although the BBC, since the Yugoslavia atrocity, has about as much crediblity as the Calgary Sun, this is nevertheless a well-documented piece of research.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YhRBxxyRqs
    Here is an interesting discussion of the Netflix program about the murder of Frank Olson:
    https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/12/errol-morris-wormwood-netflix-interview

    And here are some links to a CBC story about the obscene CIA experiments conducted in Montreal, which our government continues to obfuscate:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=990k-5Jm5aA
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=990k-5Jm5aA

    So when you want to feel better by dimissing the panic-inducing suggestions about malfeasance on the part of our government and that of our allies in relation to economic conditions and scary things like bugs and politicized religious fanatics, keep in mind that they have been proven over and over again to be conspiring against any part of the citizenry who serves their purposes at any given time.

    Reply
  8. Gail

    March 20th, 2020

    Latest huge conflict of interest is that “Health Minister Tyler Shandro is part owner of private health insurance corporation “Vital Partners” and his wife Andrea Shandro is co-founder/principal [Vital Partners Inc.]! Using his day job to decimate public health care so his private co. can capitalize on privatization.”
    https://twitter.com/karliwithakay/status/1240764822637047808

    This is hugely unethical. Our government should not be privatizing our health system at all but to do it in the middle of pandemic is even worse.

    Reply
  9. Dave

    March 20th, 2020

    I think it is fair to criticize the Chinese for their initially slow reaction, but it is also fair to wonder whether the west has handled it any better. There has been a range of responses by various countries, but some like Italy, the UK and the US sure seem to have not done any better.

    We can also question the clampdown in China that followed as the restrictions seem counter to the philosophy of how we live in the west, but this does seem to have worked. It also seems most western countries are now slowly and reluctantly resorting to similar measures and increasing restrictions as it is the approach that works in this situation. It might not exactly be the same as a war time emergency, but it is probably only the thing we can compare it to.

    Canada said a while ago it would not close its borders, but now we have. We initially said we would not close schools, but now they are. We have also now closed restaurants, theaters, large sporting and other events. We haven’t yet generally totally quarantined entire cities or regions here as the Chinese have (although that seems to be the approach in Italy), but that could still be coming.

    I think some of the initial thinking in the west was that when China was first hit with this, it would diminish China’s rising economic and political power for years. Now it is our turn to be hit with this and China seems to be recovering quickly, so the shoe is on the other foot and that has turned out to be fanciful thinking. I don’t think the west will necessarily fare worse than China from this in the end, but it is true, our system does not lend itself well to quick response or sometimes the drastic measures necessarily in situations like this. I suspect when all this is over, China and and the west will return to their relative positions before this.

    Reply
  10. Just Me

    March 20th, 2020

    At today’s press briefing, Kenney was jubilant with good news.

    He praised those he’s never cared for, like custodians, truckers, and stock clerks. Typically, these are the people he kicks around, so his praise for these mere peons is really hard to fathom.

    Moving on from that aberration, Kenney declared that Alberta had the highest test rates for COVID-19 testing per capita in North America, if not the Western World. He seems to be absolutely beaming over this news to the point of excitement. In the real world, higher rates of testing can reveal more infections, and the stats are saying that Alberta has a very high level infection rate of per capita early on. Taking the ‘3% Rule’ into account, more infections places not only more strain on Alberta’s woefully health care system, it also foretells of potentially higher mortality rates. When I heard Kenney’s jubilation, I was left with the impression that he may have revealed how deep his antisocial personality disorder goes.

    Higher risk of mortality. Whoo-hoo! Shout out to the crematoria operators.

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      March 22nd, 2020

      Actually, to date, testing has had a very low diagnostic yield. Of the over 23,000 COVID-19 tests done to date, only 0.96% have been positive. Remember, at this time of year there are dozens, if not hundreds, of upper respiratory viruses circulating in the community, including seasonal influenza, whose signs and symptoms are very similar to those of COVID-19. Public Health experts have not recommended mass screening using the test, probably for this very reason: every negative test is, in a sense, a limited resource wasted. Instead, they are recommending testing only those who meet certain criteria, as determined by AHS’ online self-assessment tool at https://myhealth.alberta.ca/journey/covid-19/Pages/COVID-Self-Assessment.aspx.

      I think those of us who are not experts in Public Health — myself included, since my area of practice is in chronic non-communicable disease — should refrain from taking positions on lab testing for this virus that are at odds from the recommendations of those who know best how to manage a pandemic.

      Reply
  11. Glenn Smith

    March 20th, 2020

    Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro is part owner of a private health corp “Vital Partners” and his wife (Andrea Shandro) is co-founder. Nice that he uses his day job to dismantle Public Health Care to capitalize on privatization.

    Reply
  12. alan

    March 20th, 2020

    But, in the meantime, they (the two bit hacks and phonies) just keep coming back, over and over again. Once is never enough it seems. Because,

    “Mr. Kenney also announced the formation of an economic advisory panel, led by economist Jack Mintz with members that include former prime minister Stephen Harper, to look at the medium- and long-term economic recovery.”

    Which is side splitting funny considering that the following observation is more accurate when the current situation in Alberta is considered:

    “Canada (Alberta) appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country (province), boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status, led by a second-world strongman (Special K) appropriately suited for the task.”

    And where bailouts, handouts, and various other financial backstops for the rugged, individualistic, business entrepreneurs in Alberta just never seems to go out of style. Even if they are referred to as “stimulus measures” and even if hard nosed free market ideologues have to keep on socializing their losses. No creative destruction for these types, because that would be too much reality and that, it seems, is never a good thing, until the good times and the profits are rolling in, that is, then reality is just fine, along with the personal and private profit.

    https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/alberta/article-alberta-offers-stimulus-measures-for-oil-and-gas-sector-hammered-by/

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      March 22nd, 2020

      I was entertained that one of the people selected to sit on this new, yet-another-panel, as Clive Beddoe, former CEO of WestJet. This panel is so heavily weighted on the right wing, it’ll likely just spiral out of control & crash like an airplane in a stall.

      Reply

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