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Lessons from Covid-19

Peace, health care and climate justice are indivisible

At government level Covid-19 has produced world-wide emergency action.

This must never allow us to overlook the potentially greater threats of the climate crisis and nuclear war.

Ceasefire now

In March the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, urged all nations to accept a ceasefire in support of the bigger battle against the common enemy of Covid-19. This was his message -

"The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. It is time to put the armed conflict on lockdown...Put aside mistrust and animosity. Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes. End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world. That is what our human family needs, now more than ever".

Consequently the Saudi-led coalition unilaterally declared a temporary ceasefire In Yemen.

Despite initial opposition from President Trump, the UN Security Council endorsed Guterres' initiative, excepting military action against terrorist organisations.

Read an update here.

We pledge our support for Antonio Guterres.

Recycling the armaments industry

As soon as they identified the need for ventilators, governments placed the necessary orders, and industry responded without delay. Arms companies were among the first to respond.

Can pundits continue to argue that the arms industry is incapable of redeploying to civilian production without creating unemployment?

Public will and government initiative are all that is needed.

Lessons of the lockdown

Covid-19 has strengthened community links and brought neighbours together. Lonely people have felt themselves cherished and protected as never before.

The pandemic has taught us how we might all live simpler and more caring lives. We need not return to "normal".
  • We want to smell clean air instead of choking on car fumes.
  • We want to hear the birdsong instead of roaring engines.
  • We want to feel part of the natural environment
  • We want to eat natural food.
  • We want to swim in clean water.
  • We want more cycle lanes and pedestrianised areas.
  • We want more bike parks instead of car parks.
  • We want to enjoy the blessing of sunlight outdoors (vitamin D) on our skin, to protect us from Covid-19, and also from hypertension, diabetes and obesity, (but don't oversoak in the ultraviolet rays).
  • We want to continue healing the world even under lockdown.
The pandemic also taught us where change is still needed - In the post-Covid future we will remember what Covid has taught us.

Creativity during lockdown

The Bradford Peace Museum, closed during the lockdown, shared on the internet Zoom has also brought a Scottish choir together.

NO to Nationalism

The pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of UK food supplies.

We will end the coronavirus crisis only if we work together to end it everywhere. National borders provide no protection against the spread of the pandemic, which may threaten international relations. (See survey of world-wide Christian responses).

Brexit is irrelevant! "Everything is connected!" Ventilators, masks and other protection should go wherever in the world they are most needed.

Senegal has announced that they will share their vaccine resources with their smaller neighbours.

The UK should be leading a coordinated response to strengthen the UN World Health Organisation.

Side-effects of the shutdown

The Covid-19 shutdown led to a fall in atmospheric pollution, with benefits to the climate, to human health and wellbeing, to wild life and to crops. This was due to a reduction in the burning of fossil fuels for industry and for transport including aviation. (Greenhouse gases fell too, but not in the same proportion).

There is some evidence that air pollution, by attacking our lungs, may make us more sensitive to Covid-19.

In the years to come, we will learn to do without Continental holidays and Transatlantic business flights, and to work more from home.

Harmful industries

Covid-19 and the shutdown seriously weakened the oil industry, aviation and private transport. These are all industries we need to curb to control CO2 and atmospheric pollution. In addition, aviation contributed to the global spread of the pandemic.

We must stop the government from "rescuing" those industries at home and funding fossil fuel overseas. Beware of bogus "net-zero" claims. We must promote "green" industries instead.

The Bank of England has been using its Covid-19 loans to keep the carbon economy alive instead of funding the green transition we desperately need. Since it began announcing these loans in May 2020, it has given 1.8 billion pounds in loans to airlines, 1.1 billion to the car industry, and 1.6 billion to pesticide companies.

We each need to question our own use of fossil fuels.

Fast fashion

After the aviation industry, the fashion industry is said to be the largest industrial polluter in the world, responsible for 10 per cent of all global pollution - contamination by chemicals and plastics, greenhouse gases and non-recyclable fibres.

A major culprit is "fast fashion" - selling large volumes of cheap, mass-produced, disposable garments, frequently made from artificial fibres; often unsold or returned stock is sent to landfill or simply incinerated. Much of the environmental impact, including pollution, is felt in the Global South, where the clothes are produced, sometimes by child labour or prison labour.

Are we choosing to use organic and Fair Trade materials, and second-hand clothing? And repairing where possible? And buying less stuff?

Profits from the pandemic

Who profits from Covid-19?

Beneficiaries include Google, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, Zoom, the multinational pharmaceutical conglomerates and favoured private contractors.

But reflect with Bill Gates on the real meaning of the coronavirus.

We must ensure that multinational companies pay their fair share of taxes in the countries where they operate, not just in tax havens.

Banks and fossil fuels

  • Despite their 2050 pledge, Barclays invested more into fossil fuels in 2020 than in 2019.
  • Globally, bank financing for fossil fuels has increased every year since the Paris Agreement.
  • 33 global banks have provided $1.9 trillion to fossil fuel companies since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015.
  • Over the past three years those same banks provided financial services worth $600 billion to the 100 companies with the largest investments forecast in new fossil fuel extraction, infrastructure, and power generation.
  • Find the biggest funders of fossil fuels in the Banking on Breakdown 2020 Report.
  • Find the biggest funders of nature destruction in the Bankrolling Extinction Report 2020.
  • Find the biggest funders of pollution from plastics packaging in the Bankrolling Plastics Report 2021.

Preparing for COP26?

COP26 is the biggest conference the UK has ever hosted. It should be a showcase for UK climate action. Instead, in the run-up to COP26, the UK government has

Agriculture and the pandemic

When we destroy natural habitats and exterminate wild animals the native germs are liable to cross the species barrier. The Covid-19 pandemic is widely believed to have originated in animals. The present outbreak has been traced to wildlife markets in China, but the danger of zoonotic transmission is now inherent in all forms of livestock farming.

The global food system is also said to generate up to one-third of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Animal Rights are inseparable from Human Rights.

What do the combined imperatives of Covid-19 and the climate crisis mean for carbon emissions, for biodiversity, for regenerative agriculture, and for our own patterns of consumption?

Should we be eating less meat and daily products? How can we reduce food waste?

"Trust the science"

In determining when it is safe to ease the lockdown, the government claims (questionably?) to be "science-led".

But when Greta Thunberg says "Trust the Science", she is ignored.

Greta speaks for us too - "How dare you!"

Victims of the pandemic

Covid-19 has spread most rapidly among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable citizens in the UK - elderly people, care homes, ethnic minorities, victims of "austerity", prisoners, and slum-dwellers in overcrowded homes. Vulnerable people have become even more vulnerable.

Job losses are greatest among women and also among younger and low-paid people; these tend to work in pubs, restaurants and shops most affected by the lockdown.

We are challenged and shamed.

Black lives matter

Covid-19 has targeted black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people more severely than white people, even when the effects of sex, age, deprivation and region are eliminated. The reasons are clearly complex. Structural inequality is more to blame than genetic factors. So far as social and institutional considerations are concerned, BAME people are liable -
  • to be exposed to higher risks at work
  • to live in cities
  • to live in overcrowded homes
  • to live in deprived areas
  • to live in neighbourhoods liable to summertime overheating
  • to live in flats with flammable cladding
  • to use, or even drive, public transport
  • to be homeless or in prison
  • to postpone seeking help from NHS staff who are instructed to check patients' immigration documents before providing medical treatment.
Covid-19 magnifies existing structural inequalities.

Some BAME people have underlying health issues, e.g. many Bangladeshis and Pakistanis have higher rates of cardiovascular disease than white people; many Black Caribbean and African people have higher blood pressure. They are correspondently more vulnerable to Covid-19.

There is growing evidence that common diseases, like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and obesity, may be grounded in physical and emotional adversity occurring during the prenatal period and the first few years of life.

Black lives matter

Covid-19 in the Global South

Covid-19 is especially challenging in Africa, India and the Middle East, where health services have limited facilities for intensive care, and are already coping with Aids, malaria, tuberculosis and the threat of famine. Here again lockdowns hit the poorest hardest.

Refugees and oppressed minorities are especially vulnerable.

Countries like the Central African Republic have just three ventilators for almost 5 million people. And Malawi has only a quarter of the nurses needed to provide healthcare for all its citizens, whilst at the same time having to pay off huge amounts of debt.

As developing countries observe rich countries setting aside fiscal constraints when people in the Global North are threatened by the virus, there will be pressure to rethink the whole system of international debt.

Meanwhile UK overseas aid is misdirected at subsidising private health care at the expense of public health services.

Covid-19 forces us to recognise our own responsibilities and privileges.

"Big Pharma"

A new vaccine seems the likeliest way to end the pandemic. Large commercial pharmaceutical companies face an inherent commercial conflict between treatment and prevention. A cure may take years of research, by which time the emergency may be over, and with it the demand for the new vaccine.

But vaccines and medicines are not just luxuries which consumers can do without if the price is over the top. They can make all the difference between health and illness - even between life and death. They should not be rationed by price.

International action is needed.

Funding for pharmaceutical research

This means that research for a Covid-19 vaccine will inevitably be funded by public money, from Government and charities.

We should insist that All Covid-19 research funded by UK taxpayers should meet the following considerations -
  • The world cannot produce enough vaccine doses. The biggest obstacle is the patent system which prevents manufacturers making medicines they do not 'own' the patent to. The current patent system did not exist until the 1990s, when it was pushed by big business at the WTO. It played a disastrous role in preventing countries dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic at that time.
  • A lot of manufacturing capacity is not currently being used to produce Covid vaccines, including three of the biggest vaccine manufacturers in the world who are producing tiny amounts because these companies don’t have their own patented vaccine.
  • There is particular potential to scale up manufacturing of the new MRNA vaccines which could prove much easier to produce as they do not use live viruses. Moderna’s MRNA vaccine is being produced by a company with no previous medicines experience.
  • To produce vaccines, we need to pool not simply patents but also the know-how and science. This can be done through an international mechanism which has already been set up by the WHO known as CTAP. Big Pharma has refused to participate in CTAP to date.
  • These proposed reforms have won the explicit endorsement of the WHO, presidents and former presidents of countries across the world, medical experts, academics and health officials
  • International action is urgent. While Britain leads the world in Covid deaths, others also face a really extreme situation. Latin America has faced a very serious health crisis, with hospitals in Brazil, Peru, El Salvador overwhelmed.
  • It is not right that rich governments have bought up far more vaccines than they need, while many countries cannot hope to get their whole populations immunised until late 2023 or even 2024. It also leaves the virus to spread unchecked, meaning more variants.
Once the crisis is over, some private companies may attempt to use corporate courts (ISDS) to claim compensation for loss of earnings due to state action acainst coronavirus. This must not be allowed.

We must all accept our responsibilities as Citizens of the World.

Key workers

"Key workers" are now NHS employees, bus drivers, dustbin men, supermarket cashiers, shelf stackers and other underpaid underdogs; not the overpaid adversarial professionals - politicians, lawyers, bankers, generals, media moghuls and corporate CEOs.

Another world is possible: we have glimpsed it!

Homeless?

As soon as rough sleepers were seen as a possible source of infection, accommodation was found for them in hotels, etc.

Why did we allow ourselves to believe that "the homelessness problem" would take years to solve? Will these provisions continue to cover all homeless people?

Coronavirus hotspots

Cruise ships, where social separation is difficult, are especially liable to the spread of corona virus. Warships at sea, with shared accommodation, are even more problematic.

Trident submarines could be death traps.

Is the British nuclear deterrent still credible?

Leadership in the pandemic

See the UN Report on Covid-19 and human rights. Various parts of the world have had different experiences of the corona virus -
  • "Neo-liberal" populist leaders, including Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Benjamin Netanyahu and Rodrigo Duterte, were slow to react to the pandemic, undermining their credibility.
  • Security-minded democracies such as the United States, Israel, Hungary, Turkey and Poland, took the occasion to suspend civil liberties.
  • Press freedom has been under more severe attack in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India and Iran. The Russian government has been accused of deliberately spreading disinformation.
  • Liberal democracies, Sweden, Holland, Germany and New Zealand, relied mainly on trusting their governments and their fellow-citizens to act responsibly. Corrupt nations have a poor record of protection from corona virus.
  • Beware of covid-deniers and conspiracy theories attributing the pandemic to 5G or to political manipulation.
We must be watchful.

Civil liberties

Charles Eisenstein has listed some possible creeping threats to our civil liberties, in the name of defence against Covid-19:
  • Tracking people's movements
  • Suspending freedom of assembly
  • Military policing of citizens
  • Extrajudicial, indefinite detention/quarantine
  • Banning physical cash
  • Censorship of the internet
  • Compulsory vaccination and other medical treatment, establishing the state's sovereignty over our bodies
  • Classification of all activities and destinations into the expressly permitted and the expressly forbidden (you can leave your house for this, but not that). This is the language of totalitarianism.
Attacks on the Human Rights Act are anticipated, and should be opposed.

UK government proposals attempting to water down planning legislation, which protects the countryside, must be resisted.

Some aspects of the UK lockdown and government planning have been debatable. They have been criticised by disabled people, by disability rights advocates, by the traveller community, by some libertarians and naturally by assorted conspiracy theorists.

We must remain vigilant.

Peace, health care and climate justice are indivisible

At government level Covid-19 has produced world-wide emergency action.

This must never allow us to overlook the potentially greater threats of the climate crisis and nuclear war.

Remember the lessons of Covid-19. No turning back!