Politics Opinion

Government's COVID Christmas plan was capitalism at its worst

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

The Federal Government's plan to get people back out and spending over Christmas has worsened the COVID-19 crisis, writes Davey Heller.

IT IS NOT THE TIME to tell a merry Christmas story. Christmas last year was weaponised by the Australian capitalist class to inure the population to the growing onslaught of COVID-19 cases. The ruling class used the natural desire for people to spend times with their loved to achieve two things. 

Firstly, it meant many people welcomed the reckless winding back of public measures. Secondly, it was used to herd people back into spending money as part of the Christmas rush. The ruling class are cynical creatures, they know what they are doing. They know the price of weaponising this basic human desire for togetherness.

The sad truth is that many people will have caught COVID-19 attending Christmas parties, doing Christmas shopping or working serving the Christmas rush. They will have taken this disease to family gatherings, resulting in some of their loved ones getting sick and even some of them dying.

This is part of a pattern for the ruling class of creating impossible “choices” for ordinary people to undermine support for measures that could control the pandemic. It is a deliberate policy to make people feel there is no real choice but to “live with COVID”. 

Over Christmas, the ruling class presented two lies. The first was that high vaccination levels would allow people to return to “normal”. Of course, vaccines are an important defensive weapon against the virus. However, relying solely on high vaccination levels in a handful of countries was never going to end the pandemic. It was always going to leave the unvaccinated, including the immune compromised and young children, vulnerable.

It was also going to allow the virus to continue to circulate globally allowing partially vaccine resistant variants like Omicron to develop. It was never going to stop many people developing long COVID.

The second lie used to justify this chaotic deadly Christmas surge is that it is impossible to suppress COVID-19. This position is absurd on its face. It has been proven time and time again when the basic principles of Test, Trace, Isolate and Quarantine (TTIQ) are applied rigorously and on a mass scale, COVID-19 outbreaks can be suppressed.

In Australia, combined with early short, sharp lockdowns to stop cases exploding, this policy kept every state except Victoria and NSW largely COVID-19 free for most of 2020 and 2021. It is a policy that is still being used in Taiwan and the world’s most populous nation, China.

It works. Where it failed in Australia, this was largely due to the virus leaking from hotel quarantine facilities. This was a consequence of the realted failure to address airborne transmission (remember our mask-less Sydney chauffeur driver?). There was also a reluctance to lock down early enough in Sydney and Melbourne during outbreaks.

This brings me to the other ways the Australian ruling class have sought to weaponise the desire to be connected against support for public health measures. Limiting travel was a crucial tactic in maintaining suppression of COVID-19. However, this policy was implemented in a heartless way. Thousands of Australian citizens were locked out of the country or home states and families were separated. People were denied travel even for the most compassionate reasons.

All of this was avoidable. It simply would have required replicating the success of the Howard Springs quarantine facility in the Northern Territory, where thousands of people passed through without a single incidence of the virus leaking. Nearly two years into the pandemic and not a single extra purpose-built quarantine facility has been completed. In addition, citizens trapped overseas could have been flown home on flights paid for by the Australian Government instead of being left at the mercy of the market.

These policies inflicted real suffering that helped build the pressure to reopen the borders. The population was effectively kept hostage behind harsh rules. The Government did not hide the fact that limitations on travel and quarantine were hurting the profits of Big Business by keeping out international students, tourists and cheap labour.

However, they could not sell the message that the country needed to be exposed to COVID-19 purely on these grounds. This is why on the day the borders reopened, we were greeted with wall-to-wall coverage of crying reunited families. CEOs crying with glee at restored profits doesn’t make as good propaganda.

Suffering was also used to undermine public support for lockdowns, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne in 2021. The rules of the lockdowns were heavily weighted towards curtailing the rights of individual movements whilst non-essential business was allowed to continue. When the lockdowns were predictably unsuccessful in fully suppressing COVID-19, of course, millions of ordinary people were clamouring for “freedom” day.

In a similar vein, the Federal Government removed crucial income support from people on welfare and individuals and small businesses. They barely hid the aim of increasing people’s suffering to a level that made states continuing to lock down politically untenable.

The suffering created by all of these deliberate policies has been to bolster the narrative that public health protections are “restrictions” and their removal leads to “freedom”. Such freedom is in reality the “freedom” for the working class to consume and get sick working to keep profits flowing.

There is a better way. In addition to vaccines, basic public health measures of TTIQ and quarantining of incoming international travellers can once again return Australia to a largely COVID-19 free status. Of course, all those impacted during the necessary measures should receive full income support and compassionate and safe quarantine facilities must be built.

These measures, combined with a massive vaccine program should be extended to other countries. Such a path is far more “realistic” than the path of ongoing illness and chaos of the “let it rip” policy.

Then perhaps we can look forward to Christmas in 2022 when where we can hug our relatives, travel at least within Australia and safely go to cultural events. However, we must stand and fight together to stop transmission, to stop every infection. It can be done. We do not have to let capitalism make us try and “choose” between ongoing illness and death for many and our healthy desire to spend time with each other.

Davey Heller is a writer and campaigner. You can follow him on @socialist_davey.

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