To tame Covid, combat inequality

Over the longer term, several studies suggest that the biggest factor reducing Covid toll so far has been lower income inequality.

By Martin Thomas

Over the longer term, several studies suggest that the biggest factor reducing Covid toll so far has been lower income inequality. In separate studies Annabel Tan and others, and Tim Liao and others have found that for US counties; Carlos Oronce and others and Youyang Gu, for US states; Frank Elgar and others, for countries (among 84 that they studied).

There are obviously many other factors: vaccines, of course, and judicious lockdowns and quarantines which can usefully slow (but on all evidence, not end) Covid spread. Hospitals get less swamped, and, in the meantime, more people get vaccinated.

Israel, Malta, and the Seychelles have all had new Covid surges after widespread vaccination (Seychelles surge centred in June, Malta’s in July, Israel ongoing). That makes it likely that Britain will have new surges too. On the evidence of Israel and Malta, the death rates in new surges will be, not zero, but lower than before widespread vaccination. (The UK’s Covid case fatality rate is now about a tenth of what it was in early 2021, and comparable with the CFR for flu, though Delta-variant Covid spreads much quicker, and more pre-symptoms, than flu).

Israel is giving third booster jabs to all over-60s, with the experts there arguing that they don’t know what difference that will make, but in any case the experiment will give evidence for other countries to go by. Seychelles had a high death rate in its recent surge, which may be down to it using the less effective of the two main Chinese vaccines.

Long term

A discussion of longer-term prospects by Amalio Telenti and others suggests Covid may evolve into a disease which almost everyone gets from time to time, from childhood on, mostly mildly, and with a broadening immunity which can keep pace with variants until old age, when constantly-updated vaccines can protect. But we don’t know, and even if Telenti is right, we don’t know whether it will take only a few years, or many decades, for Covid to evolve that way.

New trials by the WHO and by the UK Recovery project are starting on treatments for Covid, but results are likely to be incremental rather than drastic.

The labour movement needs to keep pushing for the social measures which can transmit into lower income equality and blunt the inevitable Covid surges. Full isolation pay and secure jobs for all. Workers’ control of workplace safety. Affordable uncrowded housing for all. Social care under public ownership and with workers on NHS-level pay and conditions. Fund the NHS to create increased capacity and better conditions for workers and patients.

And for public ownership of Big Pharma, to make patent information and production technologies available worldwide for a full-speed drive to vaccinate worldwide. Worldwide, Covid deaths are still trending up. The world vaccination rate is now up to 0.5 jabs per 100 people per day, but Africa is still on less than 0.1 per 100 per day.

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