Pandemic demands the mobilisation of society

Contributed by Joe Montero

Recent days have seen the beginnings of real leadership in the response to the Covid-19 epidemic. Not from the Australian government, which continues to lag behind what is needed.

The leadership is coming from those groups and individuals who are selflessly coming out to do their part for others.

Hard times brings out the best in people. Those getting up to do something to help, challenge the culture of selfishness and not giving a stuff about anyone else, which has been pushed on us for years. This is a very good thing.

Working together and supporting one another, is the best way to overcome difficult times and ensure that the interests of each one of us.

If more take a leaf out of this book, and not resign to merely complaining and then waiting for someone else to do something, we’d be on the way to mobilising society for an effective response.

Community involvement should be at the centre of the effort. Unfortunately, our government seems to see this as no more than a side show. It prefers a top down response bottom up.

Early beginnings of a rent strike movement for those no longer able to afford their homes exists. A number of major retailers are moving towards their own rent strike, as they face closure for the period. Calls for action against major profiteers taking advantage of the situation are being heard. Some unions are contemplating industrial action against employers who do not do the right thing. GetUp is calling for the nationalisation of private hospitals shedding jobs and not up o the job

Circumstances have, in living memory at least, never changed so rapidly before. They change from day to day, creating a wake that is revealing a lot about the society we live in, the responses, and where we are heading.

A world already running towards greater instability has been pushed further down this road. We can see this in Australia.

It needn’t have been so bad. China gave an early warning of what was in store. Their example showed the need for urgent action. The word did not listen. Long standing sectional interests and political games remained more important.

Sure, it took China a little while to act from when the first infections appeared in November last year. But to be fair, they weren’t at first aware of what this was. Individuals were presenting with flu like symptoms. When the truth was revealed, China acted quickly and comprehensively enough, to contain the pandemic.

Photo from AP: Doctors attending seriously ill patients in Wuhan

Then the warning came from Italy, as it became the next epicentre. Once again, the world failed listen. Infection spread more quickly. Italy, Spain and France are now in an almost total lock down, and its spreading though Europe. All continents are infected.

Now the United Sates has become the new epicentre and finds itself on the verge of a catastrophe. The number of registered infected reached 121,478 and 2026 had died by 28 March. It is only the beginning there.

The Washington has been pathetic. Donald Trump may have signed off a trillion dollars. Most of this is for big business bailouts, and the other measures are loaded with so many contradictions, that they are virtually worthless..

The bulk of the population is left high and dry. There is no real mobilisation strategy. Most of the public burden is being left on state administrations, which are not coping.

Hospitals are overwhelmed. Supplies are critically short and medical staff overworked and stretched to the limit. An inadequate health system and the reality that millions cannot afford access to it, makes matters much worse.

Lacking leadership from the President, government and health authorities, doctors are increasingly turning their Chinese colleagues for help. Available help, which many governments are ignoring. After all, they’re the ones who have had the most experience fighting Covid-19.

Here in Australia it’s a little better, although still broadly along the same lines. The peak has nowhere nearly been reached. It will come soon enough. Hospitals will be overwhelmed. Society will find it very hard to cope.

Decades of privatisations of the health system, the corporatisation of the rest of it, and budget cuts, have ensured the profit motive is the driving force of the health industry. It has been taking on the shape of the pharmaceutical industry, notorious for for its monopoly practices to control supply and charge huge prices, at the expense of and affordable supply.

Couple this with the degree to which the health system has been broken down into separate parts, which do not necessarily work in harmony. The capacity to mobilise and respond to a national health emergency has been compromised.

Those nations with comprehensive public and affordable public health systems, are showing that they are better placed to cope with a tsunami of infections.

A network of field hospitals should be springing up. Infection checking stations should be operating everywhere. Production of supplies should have already been organised and should already be in the process of being delivering.

A much bigger effort should be in place to ensure that individuals and communities have support systems. It requires extensive enough infrastructure to take shape. It is not there. This fact is a major failure of political leadership.

Why it’s like this can be easily answered. A deep-seated reliance on the private sector and market to lead the way, remains intact, despite its failure on all counts. And those who run the government, are frightened of the citizens they claim to be working for. knowing that few trust them, and that the institutions they control have lost a great deal of credibility.

It is a chasm that stands in the way of effective action.

Distrust has in part manifested into disbelief, and for some, ignoring what is coming down from the top. A far more important impact is the failure to conscientiously mobilise the population into a social movement, waging war against the pandemic.

If there is one overriding lesson this pandemic is showing, it’s that the mobilisation of people and resources is critical.

Much more must be done to save lives and minimise the economic cost.

Those who are most vulnerable and those who face hardship, because of a loss of income and rising prices, must be looked after. There has been tilt this way from the Australian and state governments. The problem is that focus ad hoc and very short-term responses, rather than coming up with a medium and longer term-plan.

Photo from Getty Images: People laid off because of virus line up at Centrelink office at Bondi (Sydney)

Whether we like it or not, the impact is going to be around for a long time. and a astrategy worth its while, must take this on board.

A pertinent question is, who is going to pay for the measures the government has come up with and what might come in the days to come? Is it going to be the working men and women of this nation and those on social security payment, in terms of government cuts and tax grabs?

The truth of this must come out. To join in the battle, Australians must feel secure about the future and be sure they have a government batting for them. They want to know, whether they are not going to be mugged around the corner and left in a bad way, through cuts to government services and rising taxes.

A growing sense that this pandemic and is associated with the worsening of the economic and social instability of society already taking place.

Putting the burden on the working population and the poorest, would counter productively undermine the economy and more social turmoil.

The burden must be borne by those in a privileged position and better able to weather the storm, the wealthiest corporations and individuals. Part of this would be to put an end to the massive corporate tax evasion industry.

Taking this measure would give the nation confidence. If some do not want to contribute their share and investment as a result, society should consider whether such greed makes these people suitable to continue running enterprises.

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