COVID-19: Why it is not wrong to panic

March 21, 2020
Community groups, such as this one, are forming to provide much needed assistance in these tough times.

Fresh from the bushfire crisis, communities across Australia are being asked — no, instructed — to “look after each other” during the COVID-19 crisis. That would be fine if governments were not making this simple thing so hard to do.

The federal government initially refused to be guided by the best health advice and has still not comprehended the true scale of the COVID-19 crisis. 

The situation has been made worse by state governments quickly moving to enact old and new authoritarian powers, all while implying people's panic is totally irrational.

It's not.

Confusing advice from governments, inadequate access to testing and no extra hygeine measures in schools, public transport and other public places — all of this has inevitably fueled the panic.

People are also panicking because successive Labor and Coalition governments have stripped away safety nets, privatised public services and casualised the workforce: more than one third of workers do not have paid leave entitlements, including 2.4 million casual employees and 2.2 million people who are self-employed.

Social distancing means many workplaces are partially closing or shutting down altogether and tens of thousands are being laid off or have had their working hours reduced. 

An ABC article on March 19 made a generous estimate that half of Australians who earn less than $800 a week do not have paid leave entitlements. It could well be more. But even if people have some leave, they may not be able to claim them immediately.

Contrast this with the federal government's rush to bail out Qantas with a promised $715 million rescue package

Qantas CEO and renown union buster Alan Joyce waited for confirmation before declaring the next day he was, in effect, sacking up to 20,000 employees (even if they receive some paid leave). Meanwhile, Joyce continues to boast about his cut-throat business model, while skiving off with an incredible $23.88 million last year.

Next in line for hefty government and Reserve Bank support were the big banks, which are now enjoying the cheapest ever credit and support for loans to businesses that have become more precarious as the crisis bites harder.

Shocking stories of the most vulnerable people being left to cope on their own continue to flood social media feeds. 

There is no federal or state push to train and hire more staff to look after elderly people, the most likely to succumb to the virus, and for whom social isolation can mean death. 

Rather than detail teams of people to support remote First Nations communities, where people's health needs are very high, people there are being left even more isolated.

Understandably, young people who live payday to payday and are already struggling to deal with high rents and the cost of living are feeling really anxious.

Young people may be suffering high rates of infection, but not showing it. Yet, they are the ones being turned away from test stations and hospitals, even if they feel sick.

While elite private schools have gone online — following best medical advice — federal and state governments continue to insist that public schools stay open.

Why? Prime Minister Scott Morrison says, without any evidence, that if schools closed they would not reopen for months.

Meanwhile schools are denied extra staff to help with social distancing and cleansing, so there is no way they can continue as normal.

Understandably, teachers and parents are furious. Some are taking matters into their own hands, pulling their children out of school.

Like in the bushfire emergency, acts of community solidarity, such as local networks organising to deliver medicine to vulnerable people, lift spirits and remind us of the potential oc solidarity.

During the catastrophic bushfires, we saw communities organising together with volunteer firefighters to save lives, homes and businesses.

During the COVID-19 crisis, we will also have to rely on community solidarity. But the scale is vastly different: everyone is affected.

This makes it all the more important to have the discussion about what is wrong with the lack of political leadership coming from federal, state and local governments.

The truth is that we are not all in this together. 

Those with the means will be able to get tested and will not be booted out of their homes. It is the rest of us — the majority — who will suffer.

If it was not for years of cuts and privatisations to the public health system, we would have more front line staff to carry out testing. 

If pharmaceutical manufacturing was not in private hands, we would not only have more test kits, but perhaps an antiviral — like Cuba has. 

If schools were properly resourced, they would be in a good position to help parents navigate the current ordeal.

For the second time in three months, we have a crisis of emergency proportions.

We need to demand all levels of government pull out all stops. 

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is calling for a mobilisation of social resources on a scale not seen since World War II.

He says US$2 trillion is needed for emergency funding to cover free healthcare and direct cash payments of US$2000 a month to every US citizen. 

Sanders sees it as a way to “mobilise on a scale not seen since the New Deal and World War II to prevent deaths, job losses, and economic ruin”.

Sanders' Green New Deal plan also involves guaranteeing all healthcare needs related to COVID-19 are free and available to all, including testing, treatments and — when available — vaccines. 

It would also mobilise the National Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and military resources to build healthcare capacity nationwide.

Now is the time for vision regarding how to utilise society's resources to get out of this crisis alive.

The Socialist Alliance has called for private hospitals to be nationalised. 

In addition, we want: free, mass testing for the virus; guaranteed paid sick leave and a minimum income for all workers and those who need to self-isolate; rationing and effective distribution of essential items to all; rent deferrals and mortgage holidays; and for Newstart and all benefits to be raise to at least the poverty line, scrap the wait period and end all "mutual obligation" activities.

The pending global economic crisis, which began before COVID-19, will be made worse by the refusal of the 1% to come up with a humane plan to deal with it. 

It's not an overstatement to say that humanity is facing two options: ecosocialism or barbarism. We know what the 99% want. The question is how do we get it.

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