The phrase “no-one is safe till we are all safe” has been bandied about by governments’ of all stripes but few have actually been willing to put those words into action, not at the national level and certainly not at the international level.
While we should – must – condemn the UK, US and EU governments for their poor response to COVID, the number of deaths in these countries is dwarfed by some of those other parts of the world. At the end of April the UK was reporting a 17% increase in excess deaths over the pandemic period, an appalling tragedy, but very much less than Brazil’s 34%, Bolivia’s 56% or Peru’s 123%.
And that was back in April. While the latest wave of the COVID, caused by the spread of the delta variant, has caused a rapid and very large increase in cases in the US, UK and EU the increase in deaths has been far more limited than in previous waves. The relatively high vaccine take-up in these counties has been able to weaken, although not eliminate, the link between cases and hospitalisations/deaths. In the UK almost 57% of the population have now been vaccinated, in the US and the EU ~49%.
The contrast with other countries is marked. South Africa and Indonesia have only about 5% of their populations fully vaccinated, with the result that deaths in both countries have risen rapidly with record number of cases being reported last month. The same pattern is increasingly being seen across much of the “less developed world”, at the beginning of July a 43 per cent week-on-week rise was recorded for COVID deaths (probably a significant underestimate due to incomplete reporting).
South Africa and Indonesia are not the only countries reporting significant surges Namibia, Tunisia, Malaysia and many more are in the same boat. The combination of the delta variant entering new countries, low vaccine coverage and health services that have been weakened by dealing with 18 months of a pandemic are causing deaths to rise.
It need not have been this way. If there truly had been a global response to the COVID pandemic, with an international vaccine program not hampered by intellectual property laws and support provided to those countries with weaker health services, hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved. Even now international action taken promptly could save hundreds of thousands more lives. But for all the fine words the governments of the “more developed” world are once again not willing to take action.
This lack of proper action is not only deeply immoral but also dangerous to everyone regardless of the country they live in. The tragedy is that the saying is right, no-one is safe till we are all safe but action is not being taken to match those words. New variants will crop up, potentially with the ability to escape the vaccine, new waves will come again and reappear. And with the weak travel restrictions many countries are applying, such new variants will have ample opportunity to spread around the globe.
The COVID pandemic in 2022 is going to look very different to that in 2021, here in the UK things will be much improved (despite the government’s lunatic strategy). Nearly all adults will have been vaccinated (possibly with some having had booster shots), the vaccination of under 18’s may have started, most services, shops and events will have re-opened. While COVID will still be a serious danger, it should not be the danger it was in 2021. But for other countries COVID could very well be more of a danger in 2022 than in 2021.
The increasingly centralised nature of states, and supra-state bodies, combined with the complexity of the problem, makes it a challenge for workers to organise at an international level in the short term. But we can, and must, take what action we can to improve international solidarity, pushing governments to make vaccines and other required health resources available to the whole world. The jurisdictions in the “more developed” world with “successful” vaccination programmes should be offering more help with rolling out the vaccine, for example. And what international self-organisation we can achieve is going to be vital, not only in combating COVID but also other attacks on the working class, perhaps most importantly those arising from climate change. Capital and states are not in these struggles together but we workers are.