March 21, 2020 - No. 9
Security Lies in the Fight to Defend the Rights of All
of the Fend-for-Yourself
Aspect of Federal Economic Response
of Canada's COVID-19 Economic Response Plan
• Canada's Plan to Mobilize Industry to
- K.C. Adams -
• What Can We Expect?
Workers Speak About
with the Employment Insurance Measures
• Public Sector Workers' Serious Concerns
Ministerial Order from the Quebec Government
Geneviève Royer -
Measures Should be Used to Address Crisis
in Seniors' Care in British Columbia
For Your Information
• "A Billion Reasons to Care" --
Report of the Office of the Seniors Advocate
International Cooperation to Help Countries Cope
Timely Assistance to British Passenger Ship
• Cuba a Beacon of International
Medical Excellence in Fight Against COVID-19
Bolsters Global Effort to Combat Coronavirus
U.S. Imperialists' Utter Contempt for Human Life
• U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Iran
• IMF Refuses Aid to Venezuela
• Update on Global Pandemic
Our Security Lies in the
Fight to Defend the Rights of All
This past week the federal government made a
series of announcements which it says are aimed at coping with the
consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Government ministers have
repeatedly stated that their aim is not perfection but speed and asked
for the cooperation of the public, if implementation does not go
smoothly. Overall, an impression is created that the government has
everything under control and Canadians can rest assured they are being
What criteria should Canadians use to draw
warranted conclusions about the government's measures? Clearly, a
neo-liberal government is not going to change its spots and suddenly
solve problems in any manner that is not advantageous to the narrow
private interests which have long-since seized control of all state
institutions, including the political parties that form a cartel party
system that keeps the broad masses of the people disempowered.
This issue of TML
Weekly is organized to inform Canadians about the
government's measures so that they can draw warranted conclusions about
these measures and make sure they do not hand over the initiative for
their own well-being to anyone but themselves. It is urgent this crisis
be resolved in their favour, not in favour of the rich and powerful. In
this regard, the government's economic response to COVID-19 falls into
two broad areas. The first category is stopgap social programs directed at the working class,
and small and medium-sized businesses, which on first inspection appear
inadequate. Besides which, everyone is forced to fend for themselves to
access these things. The second category is the pay-the-rich schemes to
help the financial oligarchy weather the storm. Within this, are the
measures that offer those companies able to provide the goods and
services required to fight the virus with incentives to do so.
The stopgap measures are said to give workers,
including those not covered under Employment Insurance, some financial
assistance during the crisis. They also offer a small amount of
one-time additional funds to families under the GST rebate program for
low income workers and child benefit payments, temporary tax relief for
individuals and businesses, and a capped rebate to small enterprises
for ten per cent of workers' wages. The measures to extend Employment
Insurance to those not normally covered are not permanent and not
adequate either. Some consider all these measures a cruel joke played
on those in need. Besides the amounts being insufficient to meet the
need, they are far from a guaranteed livelihood for many who, even when
there is no coronavirus epidemic, are already in dire need.
Despite the appearance that the government is
stepping up to the plate, the refusal of the ruling elite to increase
investments in social programs to meet the needs of the people under
all conditions has created many of the problems Canadians now face,
including those of a health care system and public service ill-equipped
to meet the current challenges.
schemes to protect the big financial institutions from losses arising
from defaults, bankruptcies and other problems during the pandemic are
similar to those during the economic crisis of 2008. They are meant to
preserve the private wealth, privilege and power of the ruling
The federal government ignores the two greatest
strengths of the modern economy of industrial mass production: the
modern educated working class and the socialized interrelated nature of
the productive forces.
Not only is production socialized as a matter of
fact but the modern educated working class is more than willing to be
mobilized on a mass scale to deal with the crisis. A lot is said by
government ministers to praise the front-line workers in all sectors of
the economy but in the absence of a spirit and atmosphere of
equilibrium and mutual respect and control, needless suffering is the
rule, not the exception. The ruling class is, of course, not inclined
to permit the unleashing of the power of the working class. Its entire
system is kept in place by preserving an oppressed reserve army of
unemployed and underemployed captured within an imperialist labour
market. This outlook comes to the ruling class naturally, coronavirus
crisis or no coronavirus crisis. One would not rationally expect them
to resolve a coronavirus crisis in any manner other than the one which
shores up their own narrow private interests. If this protects the
population as well, all the better. If not, too bad. The outlook and modus
operandi of those who own and control the productive forces
is to buy workers' capacity to work and use it to preserve and enlarge
their private fortunes even during periods of crisis. The ruling elite
see no utility in mobilizing the working class to work if that work
does not preserve or enlarge their private wealth and power.
A conclusion that will once again emerge
from this crisis, as it does in all the recurring crises of the
imperialist system, is that private ownership and control of the
socialized economy of industrial mass production in fewer and fewer
hands blocks the economy from unleashing its latent and complete power
of extended reproduction on a mass scale to meet the needs of the
people and humanize the social and natural environment.
The pay-the-rich schemes to funnel state funds
into the coffers of the private institutions of the financial oligarchy
are the refusal of the ruling elite to change the direction of the
economy to one that favours the working people, the interrelated
socialized economy, and society. This reveals that the people must
empower themselves. An immediate demand should be that all the state
public funds that have been and are being doled out to the big banks
and other monopolies of the imperialists should be used instead to
establish public financial and other enterprises to eliminate serving
private interests as a consideration and aim. Public banks should
become the primary source of borrowing for Canadian individuals,
businesses and even governments, eliminating public debts to private
lenders and their onerous and parasitical interest payments.
The billions of
dollars to respond to the COVID-19 crisis should be used to mobilize
the working class to greatly increase the public service, to establish
dedicated supply chains of goods and services, expand the health care
system and long-term care for seniors, and to look after those in
quarantine or otherwise in need of help such as the homeless. Funds
should also flow to the Indigenous nations to further their economic
development and improve their social programs under their control and
direction and strengthen their defence against the pandemic. The
production of health care supplies, especially those needed during the
emergency, and pharmaceuticals and their necessary related scientific
research, should be put in the hands of public, not private,
enterprises. It is made to appear that putting all aspects of health
care production, supply and delivery into private hands with even the
army mobilized, is a responsible way to go. It is in fact self-serving,
as well as socially irresponsible and irrational, to use the resources
of the state to advance private interests.
The current crisis reveals that the Canadian
economy needs internal strength and local control that does not depend
on trade from abroad for basic goods other than what cannot be produced
in Canada, such as certain food. An economy under the control of
Canadians would also manage the distribution of goods and services at
the wholesale level and the retail level as well, if the current big
grocery enterprises, for example, continue to prove incompetent and
often more interested in real estate, land speculation and development
than distributing food. Prices at the wholesale and retail levels
should closely match their prices of production and not those dictated
by the global financial oligarchy. Much can be done now to deal with
the emergency in ways that favour the people and a new pro-social
direction for the economy.
The federal government has announced $27 billion
in payments to Canadian workers and businesses. The Prime Minister has
recalled Parliament, as most of these measures require Parliamentary
approval and royal assent.
Other measures announced March 18 or earlier,
include deferrals in paying taxes and direct support for the biggest
Below are extracts from the government's
Temporary Income Support for
Workers and Parents
Canadians without paid sick leave (or similar workplace accommodation)
who are sick, quarantined or forced to stay home to care for children,
the Government will waive the one-week waiting period for those
individuals in imposed quarantine that claim Employment Insurance (EI)
will no longer be required to provide a medical certificate to access
EI sickness benefits.
Emergency Support Benefit
For Canadians who lose their jobs or face reduced
hours as a result of COVID’s impact, the Government is
introducing an Emergency Support Benefit delivered through the CRA to
provide up to $5 billion in support to workers who are not eligible for
EI and who are facing unemployment.
Emergency Care Benefit
The Canada Revenue Agency will provide up to $900
bi-weekly for up to 15 weeks. The payment will go to workers who do not
qualify for EI sickness benefits, including those classified as
The criteria to qualify:
- quarantined or
sick with COVID-19;
- taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19, such as an
elderly parent; and
- parents with children who require care or supervision due to school
closures, and are unable to earn employment income.
Applications will become available in April 2020,
and require Canadians to attest that they meet the eligibility
requirements. They will need to re-attest every two weeks to reconfirm
Three channels to apply for the benefit:
- by accessing
it on their Canada Revenue Agency MyAccount secure portal;
- by accessing it from their secure My Service Canada Account; and
- by calling a toll free number equipped with an automated application
process not yet available.
The government will extend to 76 weeks the EI Work
Sharing Program, which provides EI benefits to workers who agree to
reduce their normal working hours as a result of developments beyond
the control of their employers. No further information is available at
The government will pay, by early May 2020, an
average of $400 for eligible individuals and $600 for couples through a
one-time doubling of the Goods and Services Tax credit. Around 12
million families will receive the benefit based on their 2018 tax
For over 3.5 million eligible families with
children, the Government will increase the maximum annual Canada Child
Benefit by $300 per child to be paid in May and only for the 2019-20
The government will provide $305 million for a new
distinctions-based Indigenous Community Support Fund to address
immediate needs in First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation
The government has placed a six-month
interest-free moratorium on the repayment of Canada Student Loans for
all individuals currently in the process of repaying these loans.
The government will reduce the required minimum
withdrawals from Registered Retirement Income Funds by 25 per cent for
2020 for seniors who have reached pension age. Similar rules will apply
to individuals receiving variable benefit payments under a defined
contribution Registered Pension Plan.
The Reaching Home program dealing with
homelessness will be given $157.5 million. These funds are earmarked
for shelters to help them reduce overcrowding and allow for social
Women's shelters and sexual assault centres will
receive up to $50 million to help prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in
Tax Payment and Filing Deferrals
The Canada Revenue Agency will defer the filing
due date for the 2019 tax returns of individuals (other than trusts)
until June 1, 2020. A later filing could delay payment under the Goods
and Services Tax Credit or the Canada Child Benefit.
For trusts having a taxation year ending on
December 31, 2019, the return filing due date will be deferred until
May 1, 2020.
The Canada Revenue Agency will allow all taxpayers
(individual and corporate) to defer, until after August 31, 2020, the
payment of any income tax amounts that become owing on or after [March
18] and before September 2020. This relief would apply to tax balances
due, as well as instalments, under Part I of the Income Tax
Act. No interest or penalties will accumulate on these
amounts during this period.
Effective immediately the Canada Revenue Agency
will recognize electronic signatures as having met the signature
requirements of the Income Tax Act, as a temporary
administrative measure. This provision applies to authorization forms
T183 or T183CORP, which are forms that are signed in person by millions
of Canadians every year to authorize tax preparers to file taxes.
Role of Financial Institutions
Canada's large banks have confirmed
support for those having financial difficulties will include up to a
six-month payment deferral for mortgages, and the opportunity for
relief on other credit products. [The support is on a
case-by-case basis, and conditional and vague -- TML Ed. Note.]
Mortgage Default Management Tools
through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC),
is providing increased flexibility for homeowners facing financial
difficulties to defer mortgage payments on homeowner CMHC-insured
mortgage loans. CMHC will permit lenders to allow payment deferral
beginning immediately. [This measure is also vague and
conditional -- TML Ed. Note.]
Support to Businesses
The government announced measures to support
businesses that are in addition to those presented on March 13, by
Minister of Finance Bill Morneau, Governor of the Bank of Canada
Stephen Poloz, and Superintendent of Financial Institutions Jeremy
Supporting Canadian Business
through the Canada Account
The government is changing the
Canada Account so that the Minister of Finance will be able to
determine the limit of the Canada Account in order to deal with
exceptional circumstances. The Canada Account is administered by Export
Development Canada and is used by the government to support exporters
when deemed to be in the national interest. This will allow the
government to provide additional support to Canadian companies through
loans, guarantees or insurance policies.
Helping Businesses Keep Their Workers
The government is proposing to provide eligible
small employers a temporary wage subsidy for a period of three months.
The subsidy will be equal to 10 per cent of remuneration paid during
that period, up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000
Businesses will be able to benefit immediately
from this support by reducing their remittances of income tax withheld
on their employees' remuneration. Employers benefiting from this
measure will include corporations eligible for the small business
deduction, as well as non-profit organizations and charities.
Flexibility for Businesses Filing Taxes
The Canada Revenue Agency will allow all
businesses to defer, until after August 31, 2020, the payment of any
income tax amounts that become owing on or after [March 18] and before
September 2020. This relief would apply to tax balances due, as well as
instalments, under Part I of the Income Tax Act. No
interest or penalties will accumulate on these amounts during this
The Canada Revenue Agency will not contact any
small or medium businesses to initiate any post assessment GST/HST or
Income Tax audits for the next four weeks. For the vast majority of
businesses, the Canada Revenue Agency will temporarily suspend audit
interaction with taxpayers and representatives.
Ensuring Businesses Have Access to
The Business Credit Availability
Program will allow the Business Development Bank of Canada and
Export Development Canada to provide more than $10 billion of
The Office of the Superintendent of Financial
Institutions announced it is lowering the Domestic Stability Buffer by
1.25 per cent of risk-weighted assets, effective immediately. This
action will allow Canada's large banks to inject $300 billion of
additional lending into the economy.
The Bank of Canada has cut its interest rate to
0.75 per cent.
Supporting Financial Market Liquidity
The government has announced an Insured Mortgage
Purchase Program. The government will purchase up to $50 billion of
insured mortgage pools through the CMHC. This is intended to
provide long-term stable funding to banks and mortgage lenders.
The Bank of Canada will broaden eligible
collateral for its term repo facility to include the full range of
collateral eligible under the Standing Liquidity Facility, with the
exception of the non-mortgage loan portfolio. This expansion of
eligible collateral will provide support to funding conditions for
financial institutions by providing a backstop to regular private
The Bank also announced that it stands ready, as a
proactive measure, to provide support to the Canada Mortgage Bond (CMB)
market. This would include, as required, purchases of CMBs in the
secondary market. Similar to the increase in Government of Canada bond
buybacks, this will support market liquidity and price discovery.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada's
Plan to Mobilize Industry to fight COVID-19. He said the plan will
"create pathways to deploy resources to domestic manufacturers and
businesses so they can help during this critical time. [...] The Plan
introduces new measures to directly support these businesses to rapidly
scale up production or re-tool their manufacturing lines to develop
products made in Canada that will help in the fight against COVID-19.
These products could include critical health and safety supplies and
equipment, including personal protective equipment, sanitization
products, diagnostic and testing products, and disease tracking
technology. [...] It focuses on domestic capacity building, innovative
solutions, and procurement of essential supplies."
The plan will "build the industrial capability
needed to manufacture critical supplies at scale in Canada." The
"resources" the government will "deploy" are mostly state public funds
available through Canada's existing industrial and innovation programs.
To qualify for funds, a company must agree to "prioritize the fight
The Strategic Innovation Fund will make funds
available to "Canadian companies" and the National Research Council of
Canada will "expedite research and development with small and
The government wants to use its Innovation
Superclusters "to tap into a national network of 1,800 members, and
Innovative Solutions Canada to help companies commercialize products
Commercialize means to put the "critical supplies"
on the marketplace for sale or to fill government orders.
The plan will "deliver direct support [funds] to
key Canadian companies that are working on large-scale and later-stage
research and development projects aimed, in the immediate term, at
producing countermeasures to COVID-19." Which "Canadian companies" are
doing such a thing, if any, is debatable as COVID-19 is a relatively
recent phenomenon. The plan "challenges innovative companies to develop
research-based solutions, technologies, and products that can address a
variety of COVID-19 issues."
This exposes a
basic weakness of the imperialist economic system. The people have no
control over the companies, whether innovative or not. The cartel
parties in the parliaments horse trade over which big
companies and financial oligarchs whose representatives they are should
get the biggest share of the pie. The aim of private companies
is to make money. This aim directs their research and development of
products but they are happy for the government subsidies. To counter
such narrow aims -- making money at the expense of the human
factor/social consciousness -- the government would have to
introduce public enterprises under its control with a different aim of
research and development of products to meet the health care needs of
the people and not private profit.
The present aim of maximum private profit has
obviously failed with regard to having a secure supply chain of
necessary health care products or it would not be a matter of
discussion and concern. In contrast, public health supply and
pharmaceutical enterprises would have a particular aim at this time: to
fight COVID-19. They would also have a general aim to serve
the health care needs of the people under all circumstances through
establishing a domestic self-reliant supply chain under Canadian
control stretching from research to production and seamless planned
distribution based on recognized demand.
The federal plan wants to "source equipment needed
to support Canada's response to COVID-19 here in Canada. The Government
of Canada will use existing supply arrangements and innovative,
flexible procurement approaches." But these "existing supply
arrangements" are those that have created the problem. None of the big
health care suppliers, including pharmaceutical companies, are Canadian
nor do they even have much of a research or manufacturing presence in
Canada. The last truly independent Canadian pharmaceutical research,
development, and production company was Connaught Medical Research
Laboratories, connected with the University of Toronto. Connaught
Laboratories was famous for its production of the diphtheria antitoxin
and discovery and mass production of insulin in the 20th century but
fell victim to the initial onslaught of the anti-social offensive. The
federal government privatized it in 1986, with a global pharmaceutical
monopoly seizing its facilities, research and scientists.
The government plan says, "It is also reaching out
to suppliers to identify and purchase equipment, supplies, and services
needed for Canada's response to COVID-19. With a view to longer-term
support, the Government of Canada will ensure procurement flexibility
to support innovation and build domestic manufacturing capacity to
supply critical health supplies to Canadians."
The problem with the plan lies in the absence of
control, on the part of even the government, let alone the people.
These companies are privately owned and controlled and obsessed with
their aim of maximum profit in competition with others to make their
particular empire dominant. Secrecy surrounding their research is
paramount. The ownership of most of them and the ensuing private profit
they expropriate is bound up in shares traded on the global stock
markets. The stock prices have taken a pounding since the seriousness
of the pandemic became known and the economy went into crisis. The
owners of the company shares want their companies to be put back on
track to make maximum profit and expand the market value of their stock
and the market share of their companies in competition with others.
That is the aim that will dictate their decisions. The fine words the
government may say about "supplying critical health supplies to
Canadians" are in contradiction with the reality of the imperialist
system and its aim and demands. Any "supplying" will be at the
discretion and prices dictated by the companies to ensure private
profit and the dominance of their particular empires.
The government's fine words also reveal an absence
of immediate purpose and direction to confront the problems in the
health care system as they pose themselves. The country needs certain
health supplies right now, including testing kits to track the spread
of the virus, as well as the appropriate clothing, respirators, etc.
The government has the power to commandeer factories and manufacture
the necessary products right now and at market prices determined by
their prices of production and not the global speculators. The
government should use its power to take over manufacturing facilities
and begin immediately to produce what is needed to serve the public
good. The issues of ownership and making private profit should not be a
factor at this time.
As far as research is concerned, the lack of
Canadian control over scientific research is a result of years of
wrecking of public research and the privatization of whatever research
councils that used to exist and the complete lack of independence of
university research from the dictate of the global financial oligarchy
and what it wants.
Research Council of Canada is a shell of its former self, but what is
left should be ramped up to deal with the concrete problems and
challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presents. The government has the
power to commandeer scientists and research from the private sector.
Scientists should be asked to join the National Research Council on
specific tasks and bring with them their already existing research on
such issues as more efficient COVID-19 testing kits and a vaccine.
The Public Health Agency of Canada and Health
Canada are capable of determining specific needs right now that should
be acted upon and produced, which include personal protective
equipment, sanitization products, diagnostic and testing products,
therapeutics, pharmaceuticals and disease tracking technology. The
government must commandeer existing factories to accomplish this
essential task. Relying on the financial oligarchy to do so is a
terrible gaffe that will have serious consequences.
The government says that the National Research
Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program has relationships with
researchers across Canada. Those researchers should be united and
moulded into a team dedicated to solve the country's most pressing
The people's immediate health care needs should
not be viewed as a marketplace to enrich a few at the expense of the
many and public health. As with any endeavour, the devil is in the
details. In the case of COVID-19, we need sufficient testing to see how
the virus is spreading and containment measures. After everything is
said and done, until a sufficient indicative percentage of the
population has developed immunity, either because they have had the
illness and survived or there is a vaccine, then social isolation to
curb the spread of the disease has to be maintained.
The government has thus far given little
orientation of what Canadians can expect next, after they complete
their 14-day self-isolation and their children's scheduled time away
from school comes to an end. The fact is that life will not go "back to
normal" after the self-isolation ends and everyone will have to start
taking stock of what comes next.
epidemiologist Larry Brilliant explains what we are facing in terms of
bringing the coronavirus under control. The first step is to flatten
the curve. This means that first we want to spread out the disease over
time. "By slowing it down or flattening it, we're not going to decrease
the total number of cases, we're going to postpone many cases, until we
get a vaccine -- which we will, because there's nothing in the virology
that makes me frightened that we won't get a vaccine in 12 to 18
months. Eventually, we will get to the epidemiologist gold ring,"
"That means, A) a large enough quantity of us have
caught the disease and become immune. And B) we have a vaccine. The
combination of A plus B is enough to create herd immunity, which is
around 70 or 80 per cent." He adds:
"I hold out hope that we get an antiviral for
COVID-19 that is curative, but in addition is prophylactic. It's
certainly unproven and it's certainly controversial, and certainly a
lot of people are not going to agree with me. But I offer as evidence
two papers in 2005, one in Nature and one in Science.
They both did mathematical modeling with influenza, to see whether
saturation with just Tamiflu of an area around a case of influenza
could stop the outbreak. And in both cases, it worked. I also offer as
evidence the fact that at one point we thought HIV/AIDS was incurable
and a death sentence. Then, some wonderful scientists discovered
antiviral drugs, and we've learned that some of those drugs can be
given prior to exposure and prevent the disease. Because of the intense
interest in getting [COVID-19] conquered, we will put the scientific
clout and money and resources behind finding antivirals that have
prophylactic or preventive characteristics that can be used in addition
Brilliant points out that increasing the amount of
testing is crucial. "Tests would make a measurable difference. We
should be doing a stochastic process random probability sample of the
country to find out where the hell the virus really is. Because we
don't know. Maybe Mississippi is reporting no cases because it's not
looking. How would they know? Zimbabwe reports zero cases because they
don't have testing capability, not because they don't have the virus.
We need something that looks like a home pregnancy test, that you can
do at home."
He points out that, "The world is not going to
begin to look normal until three things have happened. One, we figure
out whether the distribution of this virus looks like an iceberg, which
is one-seventh above the water, or a pyramid, where we see everything.
If we're only seeing right now one-seventh of the actual disease
because we're not testing enough, and we're just blind to it, then
we're in a world of hurt. Two, we have a treatment that works, a
vaccine or antiviral. And three, maybe most important, we begin to see
large numbers of people -- in particular nurses, home health care
providers, doctors, policemen, firemen, and teachers who have had the
disease -- are immune, and we have tested them to know that they are
not infectious any longer. And we have a system that identifies them,
either a concert wristband or a card with their photograph and some
kind of a stamp on it. Then we can be comfortable sending our children
back to school, because we know the teacher is not infectious. And
instead of saying 'No, you can't visit anybody in nursing homes,' we
have a group of people who are certified that they work with elderly
and vulnerable people, and nurses who can go back into the hospitals
and dentists who can open your mouth and look in your mouth and not be
giving you the virus. When those three things happen, that's when
normalcy will return."
Air Canada, WestJet and Porter have all grounded
much of their fleets, news reports inform. What is not discussed are
the ramifications of the cargo void this creates.
More than half of the world's air cargo business
is carried on passenger aircraft, Amsterdam-based air cargo analyst
WorldACD writes. That volume rises to more than 60 per cent for cargo
shipped by plane between the United States and Europe.
This means that travel bans imposed on both sides
of the Atlantic will "cause a severe drop in capacity offered," the
firm told Morning Trade. That puts increased
pressure on express delivery firms like UPS, FedEx and DHL to take up
the slack and has left importers of high-value items like medicine or
perishable goods, such as fish and other food products, scrambling to
make new arrangements, John Drake, executive director for supply chain
policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said.
"You're talking about medicines for diabetics,
insulin for example, and other critical products where there may be a
limited supply in the U.S.," Drake said. The ability to ship those
goods in the cargo holds of passenger planes "has largely dried up," he
The severity of the situation was reflected in a
tweet on March 18 from the International Civil Aviation Organization,
an international standard-setting body for aviation at the United
Nations, which wrote: "There is an urgent need to ensure the
sustainability of the global air cargo supply chain and to maintain the
availability of critical medications and equipment such as ventilators,
masks, & other health & hygiene items which will help
reduce the spread of #COVID19."
What it means is that Canada could commandeer
grounded planes and crew to move cargo internally in Canada and to
bring into Canada crucial food, medicine and health supplies from Asia,
Europe, Mexico and elsewhere. China is offering medical supplies to the
world now that its internal demand has eased.
In its March 21 announcement, the Trudeau
government said it is working with Canadian airlines and foreign
governments to provide access to commercial flights for Canadian
travellers who want to return home. The flights will prioritize
stranded travellers who are Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent
residents, or immediate family members of Canadian citizens. In
addition, only travellers who are asymptomatic will be allowed to
board, and all travellers will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days
upon entry. "In the first series of flights to help Canadians return
home, Air Canada will operate a special flight today from Morocco.
Flights will also be planned for Peru and Spain, and other countries as
soon as possible. Factors such as the number of Canadians, airspace
closures, and the local situation are being taken into consideration in
order to identify the locations for these flights. We are currently
working with Air Canada and are engaged with other airlines as we
assess global needs," the government press release informed.
Workers Speak About Their
The $82 billion aid package for Canadians
announced by the Trudeau government on March 18, to cope with the
COVID-19 pandemic, includes $27 billion for direct supports to
Canadians. Some of the measures concern Employment Insurance (EI) and
it is already clear that they are inadequate.
Access to EI is a
problem that successive governments have refused to address. Only about
40 per cent of unemployed workers are eligible for EI. During this
crisis, what is needed is a social program that provides a guaranteed
income to all those who find themselves without a job. In March alone,
the projected unemployment rate is expected to leap to over seven per
cent, with an additional 300,000 workers becoming unemployed. These are
workers who could all be mobilized to work safely in public enterprises
serving the people and economy at Canadian standard wages and benefits.
Instead, the government has created two programs -- the
Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit -- making it
clear that these are temporary and of an exceptional character.
There are three EI measures in the aid package:
1. The government is waiving the one-week waiting
period for those workers in imposed quarantine who are eligable to
claim EI sickness benefits. This is a temporary measure that takes
effect as of March 15.
2. The government is waiving the requirement that
a medical certificate be provided to access EI sickness benefits.
3. The government is implementing the EI Work
Sharing Program, which provides EI benefits to workers who agree to
reduce their normal working hours as a result of developments beyond
the control of their employers, extending the eligibility of such
agreements from 38 to 76 weeks, easing eligibility requirements, and
streamlining the application process.
For example, the government is waiving the waiting
period before a second request for shared work can be made. This was
announced by the Prime Minister on March 11, and repeated on March 18.
Those who need to access these measures say there
are immediate issues that require answers. Activists who work with
defence organizations of unemployed workers are trying to sort out
various things. For example, there is no announced extension of the
period of time during which workers will receive benefits.
In 2018, as a
measure to address the problem of the "black hole" faced by seasonal
workers -- the period of time during which these workers are without
income after having exhausted EI benefits and not yet being back at
work -- the Trudeau government offered supplemental income to those
workers who would get training during that period. This was not a sound
measure because training does not solve the problem of the "black hole"
facing workers who live in areas in which seasonal work is the main or
only work. And what will happen to these workers now that the training
institutions have closed because of the pandemic?
Workers in the oil industry in the west are also
facing a serious problem. Unemployment in their ranks is increasing
because of the crisis in that industry, a crisis compounded by the
COVID-19 pandemic. The duration of their benefits and the benefits of
all workers should cover their actual needs within this crisis
Can we expect that these workers will be protected
under the new Emergency Support Benefit which is said to be a program
for those who are not eligible for EI? No details have been provided.
While they are
struggling to find out exactly what benefits the new Emergency Care
Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit will provide and how to
access them, the defence organizations of unemployed workers
maintain that immediate reforms are needed in the EI regime to make
sure that all unemployed workers are protected.
For example, they are demanding that the Canadian
government address the issue of the long delays (sometimes many months)
before a benefit claimant gets a decision on their claim. This is far
from a simple matter of waiving the waiting period so that workers get
the benefits to which they are entitled. Service Canada people are
already overwhelmed and have been for some time. This is a problem
which must be addressed on a permanent basis. How will the new claims
be processed in a timely fashion by a system already seriously
Defence organizations are also demanding that the
threshold of accessibility be drastically reduced so that more workers
are eligible for EI benefits. At present, a worker needs to have 600
insurable hours of work to qualify for sickness benefits. For regular
benefits, the number of insurable hours required to qualify runs
between 420 and 700 hours, depending on the official regional
unemployment rate decreed by the government. This requirement is
problematic because it is an arbitrary figure arrived at in part by
merging regions that may have very little in common in terms of their
industries and economic development. Of equal concern is the fact that
less than one per cent of workers who are called self-employed are
eligible for EI because they are considered to be outside of an
employer-employee relationship. So what becomes of all of these
existing problems and how are individual workers supposed to navigate
all of this?
One of the defence organizations in Quebec, the
Autonomous Movement in Solidarity with the Unemployed (MASSE), is
demanding that the threshold of eligibility across the country be 350
hours of work, that benefits last a minimum of 35 weeks (currently they
range from 14 to 45 weeks) and that they be based on a minimum of 70
per cent of the average weekly earnings (currently 55 per cent). Other
defence organizations have different specific targets while also
demanding that the threshold of accessibility be drastically reduced.
The National Council of the Unemployed, also based in Quebec, and the
Action Committee on Employment Insurance for Seasonal Workers in New
Brunswick are demanding an immediate threshold of eligibility of 420
hours of work for 35 weeks of benefits for areas with seasonal
economies. The threshold is currently often higher than 650 hours in
these areas depending on the official unemployment rate declared by the
measures taken by the government will not miraculously get rid of all
these problems unemployed workers face as a result of the
fend-for-oneself system governments have enforced during the cutbacks,
which are an integral part of neo-liberal "austerity" measures. This
means that during the crisis, the demands of the defence organizations
of the unemployed and organized workers must be taken seriously.
Appropriate measures must be taken which actually deliver for the
working people. The direction has to be to sustain and guarantee the
livelihood of all as a matter of right, implementing modern social
programs through which people can affirm their humanity. While the
measures sound good on paper, those who face the crisis of unemployment
know that they are forced to fend for themselves and, in the end, are
not provided with a living stipend. They are not, like the deputy prime
minister kept repeating, small problems of implementation that
Canadians should put up with in the name of the greater good.
Not One Person Must Be Left
to Fend for Themselves!
Every Unemployed Worker Must Receive a Suitable Stipend!
Pierre Chénier is Secretary of
the Workers' Centre of the Communist party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist).
Public sector workers are expressing serious
concerns about the content of Ministerial Order 2020-04 published on
March 15 by Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services Danielle
McCann, which talks about suspending clauses of their collective
agreements. This ministerial order was published in accordance with the
decree issued by the Government of Quebec, on March 13, declaring a
state of health emergency throughout Quebec and granting exceptional
powers to its Minister of Health, as described in the section 123 of
the Public Health Act.
Central to the ministerial order is the issue of
providing childcare services to workers who are deemed to be essential.
The order quotes the decree which provides that "childcare services
must continue to be organized and provided for a child if one of the
child’s parents is employed by or exercises a profession in
the health and social services network, including in private
professional practice, community pharmacies and pre-hospital emergency
services, or is a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, correctional
services officer or special constable." Since the publication of the
order, the list of workers deemed essential, that is posted on the
government website dedicated to information on COVID-19, has grown.
While public sector workers are fully mobilized to
contain the disease, they have expressed serious concerns over the
order which says that "Notwithstanding the provisions of the collective
agreements that apply to public service employees, a person may
be reassigned to another function or another place, as needed,
even if the person’s level of employment is not respected."
The order further specifies that the labour
contracts between the school boards and all unions are amended to allow
that the work schedules prescribed in collective agreements no longer
have to be respected, "to allow the employer to meet needs" and that
"the articles on the granting of remuneration or compensation that is
additional to the remuneration or compensation paid for normal
hours and overtime when services must be maintained, in particular by
reason of a force
majeure, do not apply."
According to the
unions, there was no consultation with them before declaring that the
rules governing part of the performance and remuneration of
their duties were changed. They learned about it by reading the decree.
The Centrale des syndicats du Québec
(CSQ), which represents nearly 200,000 workers, the majority of whom
work in the public sector, immediately warned the Legault government
that the need "to respond quickly to the crisis to ensure the health
and safety of the population, must not be done at the expense of the
basic rights of the personnel. We reiterate that it is extremely
important to ensure the mobilization and commitment of workers to
maintain essential services and ensure an effective fight against the
pandemic. We therefore urge the Legault government to be cautious and
to avoid adopting extreme measures, without consultation, which could
have the opposite effect."
The National Union of Employees of the Montreal
School Board (SNEE-CSN) also spoke out. The organization represents
housekeeping, maintenance, transportation and cafeteria staff of the
Montreal School Board. Those are the workers who work daily to clean
and maintain schools and who are currently doing a tremendous amount of
work to disinfect every room in every school to make them safe for the
return of students and education staff. The SNEE says that it is with
pride that all of its members respond as one to their duties as
citizens. It also notes that "The use of these measures [to suspend
collective agreements] can only be done as a last resort and after
having done everything possible to avoid it. This is not a management
tool to facilitate the work of our managers, but rather an exceptional
measure that cannot be used lightly. "
The views of
public sector workers must be respected. They are not talking about
things up in the air when they speak out against decrees which impose
conditions with which the workers do not agree, and which become
instruments of neo-liberal management in the hands of the authorities.
This is how so-called exceptional conditions become the norm, such as
compulsory overtime among nurses. The argument of the Government of
Quebec, that it already has exceptional powers under the law and that
it is just adopting the regulations that implement these powers, is not
The opinion and voice of workers, their say in the
conditions under which their services are delivered in emergency
situations is not only a question of right but a question of ensuring
the success of emergency measures. Public sector workers have been
maintaining social programs and public services for more than 30 years
against all odds in the face of the anti-social offensive of the rich
and their governments. Today it is they who are on the front lines of
the defence of public services and the population in this pandemic.
Their voices, expressed in their organizations, cannot be ignored. The
urgency of the situation makes it essential that the experience and the
solutions that are proposed by frontline workers be respected and
Meeting on the crisis in seniors' care, Comox Valley, February 24, 2020.
The neo-liberal anti-social measures that have
been implemented by successive governments over the last several
decades have resulted in a crisis in seniors' care in many parts of the
country. The proliferation of private seniors' homes, many replacing
what were public homes, has created a perfect storm, which has been
activated in all its fury with the current COVID-19 pandemic.
A report issued on February 4 by the Office of the
Seniors Advocate, entitled "A Billion Reasons to Care," proved, through
analysis of the revenue and expenses of these homes, that a significant
portion of the public funding that is given to private-for-profit
operators specifically for care instead becomes part of the profit
taken by the owners. This profit is generated by denying care to the
seniors as well as overworking and underpaying the workers. Funding
from the province accounts for $1.3 billion of the $1.4 billion in
revenue the contracted homes generate annually. The balance of the
funding comes from seniors in care, who pay 80 per cent of their
after-tax income to a maximum of $3,278.80 per month, as well as from
fund-raising and payment for outpatient services such as Adult
Day Care programs, bathing for people from the community, etc. The
report analyzed only privately owned and operated homes, both those
operated by not-for-profit societies and those operated by private
for-profit operators. The report did not analyze the homes operated by
the Province through the regional Health Authorities.
Among the findings were that "the not-for-profit
sector spends 59 per cent of its revenue on direct care compared with
49 per cent in the for-profit sector," that "the for-profit sector
failed to deliver 207,000 hours of funded care and the not-for-profit
sector provided 80,000 more hours of direct care than they were funded
to deliver," and that "the for-profit sector spends an average of 17
per cent less per worked hour, and wages paid to care aide staff in the
for-profit sector can be as much as 28 per cent below the industry
Demonstration for public seniors' care,
Over the last decades of the 20th century, a
concerted and successful effort was made by health care unions to
ensure that all workers were compensated at the same level, whether
they worked in hospitals or seniors homes, both private and public.
Prior to 2002 the vast majority of workers in hospitals and almost all
seniors' homes -- whether owned and operated by the province,
non-profits, including churches and community based societies, or a
small number of private homes operated for profit -- received the same
wages and benefits and were covered by one master collective agreement.
Legislation passed in 2002 allowing the contracting out of health care
services in hospitals and seniors' residences to private operators
opened the health care sector to multinational corporations like
Compass, Aramark, Sodexho and Acciona, which now provide food and
housekeeping services in most hospitals. Subsequent legislation opened
the door for the awarding of contracts for seniors' care homes to
private operators, who themselves typically subcontract to other
companies. The profits that are generated come directly from public
funds provided by the government through suppression of wages and
substandard services provided to seniors.
In many communities in British Columbia, there are
significant problems with staffing levels and quality of care, cleaning
and food in the corporate-owned homes. The largest operator is
Retirement Concepts, a company which is owned by a multinational
investment firm based in China. The purchase of the homes was approved
by the federal government in 2017 and the previous owners now manage
and operate the homes through West Coast Senior Housing Management.
Since September of 2019, four of these homes have been put under
administration by Health Authorities, three by Island Health -- in the
Comox Valley, Nanaimo and Victoria -- and one by Interior Health, in
Families of residents in care have spoken out in
every community in the province, informing the Health Authorities and
the Ministry of Health of the extent of the problems, including lack of
care due to inadequate staff, facilities that are not cleaned properly,
poor food and lack of stimulation and recreation activities. As an
example, it took months of complaints from families and investigations
by Licensing before the local Medical Health Officer ordered Island
Health to put Comox Valley Seniors Village under administration. The
Medical Health Officers in Nanaimo and Victoria subsequently issued
similar orders and Nanaimo Seniors Village and Selkirk Seniors Village
in Victoria were also put under administration. On February 24, it was
reported that a fourth Retirement Concepts facility, Summerland Seniors
Village, has been put under administration by the Interior Health
On a daily basis many of the private for-profit
homes operate without sufficient staff to provide the level of care
that is required by their contracts with the province, as confirmed by
the report of the Office of the Seniors Advocate. On their part, the
for-profit operators, through their organization, the BC Care Providers
Association, have blamed the problem on difficulty in recruiting staff
and lack of funding from the provincial government.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned an unacceptable
situation into a crisis. On identification of the pandemic, immediate
measures needed to be taken to increase staffing in order to provide
increased and more rigorous cleaning, and to support seniors who are
being required to stay in their rooms and avoid communal areas like
dining rooms and lounges, exercise programs and outings. Instead what
has happened is that the number of workers has decreased, not
increased. Some workers who are casual have chosen not to accept
shifts. Employers are also requiring that workers not work in more than
one home and many who have the choice between working for lower wages
and poorer conditions in a private home or working for industry
standard wages in a Health Authority home are choosing the Health
Authority home. As the needs of seniors increase due to the measures
required to flatten the curve of the epidemic and treat those who
become ill, the number of workers is decreasing.
consequences of this situation are seen in the COVID-19 outbreak at the
Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, a private facility where
subcontracting has resulted in three different employers operating in
the home. Several residents have died, other residents and staff have
been infected, and family members report an increasingly severe
shortage of staff resulting in terrible living conditions for the
residents and increasing danger for residents, staff and family members.
It's time for the province to listen to what
communities and families have been telling them -- that it is the
responsibility of the province to ensure that seniors in care receive
necessary and dignified care and that the workers who provide that care
receive industry standard wages, with adequate staff and appropriate
training and supplies. It is not acceptable at any time that the
province simply hands over the funds and refuses to take any
responsibility for what the operators do with it. The COVID-19 pandemic
and its impact on seniors makes this situation an emergency. The
province should use its emergency powers to put all seniors' homes that
do not meet the standards of care under administration, which would
permit Health Authority employees, workers from other sectors and new
hires to be deployed where needed.
Nanaimo meeting in defence of public senior's care, February 29, 2020.
On February 4, the Office of the Seniors Advocate
for BC issued a 51-page report entitled "A Billion Reasons to Care: A
Funding Review of Contracted Long-Term Care in BC." The report provides
very important factual information about what happens to the public
funds that are provided by the province to contracted care providers,
both those which are not-for-profit societies and those that are
private corporations whose aim is profit, most of which are part of a
chain like Revera, Park Place or Retirement Concepts, each of which
operate several homes in British Columbia.
The provincial government,
through the five regional health authorities, owns and operates 33 per
cent of the residential care beds in the province. It contracts with
private operators in 174 long-term-care homes for the other 18,000
beds. Homes operated by for-profit companies make up 35 per cent and
not-for-profit societies 32 per cent. The province provides funding for
all long-term care facilities, a total of about $2 billion per year or
which $1.3 billion goes to contracted operators.
The executive summary of the report notes the
following "very significant differences in several expenditures"
(between the not-for-profit and for-profit homes):
- The not-for-profit sector spends 59 per cent of
its revenue on direct care compared with 49 per cent in the for-profit
sector. This equals almost $10,000 or 24 per cent more per resident,
per year spent on care in the not-for-profit sector.
- The for-profit sector failed to deliver 207,000
hours of funded care and the not-for-profit sector provided 80,000 more
hours of direct care than they were funded to deliver.
- The for-profit sector generated 12 times the
amount of profit/surplus generated by the not-for-profit sector ($34.4
million versus $2.8 million).
- The for-profit sector had high building expenses
at 20 per cent of revenues compared to the not-for-profit sector at 9
- There were 18 care homes with an annual profit
in excess of $1 million and all but one was in the for-profit sector.
These 18 care homes also expensed $23 million in capital building costs.
- The not-for-profit sector may not be receiving
adequate compensation for its building capital given its low rate of
both capital building costs and profit/surplus.
- The for-profit
sector spends an average of 17 per cent less per worked hour, and wages
paid to care aide staff in the for-profit sector can be as much as 28
per cent below the industry standard.
The report details some of the myriad ways in which private operators
are able to use public funds to increase their profits while failing to
meet even their contractual obligations to provide an agreed upon
number of hours of care per resident. The report cites various ways in
which the public authorities have failed to regulate and monitor
private for-profit operators and ways in which the private operators
have failed to meet the needs of the seniors in their care and placed
impossible workload burdens on too few workers.
The conclusions reached by the Office of the
Seniors Advocate in the report are basically that there are "financial
incentives" in the current practices for funding in long-term care that
"may be producing some unintended consequences" and that funding and
financial reporting is "disjointed, unfair to the not-for-profit
sector, and unaccountable to the public." The report recommends that
five steps should be taken:
1) Funding for direct care must be
spent on direct care. Remove the financial incentive for
operations to do anything other than provide as many care hours as
possible with the public money they receive to deliver direct care. If
an operator can find staff who will work for lower wages than their
funded rate, they should use their surplus funds to provide more hours
of care or return the funding. Anything short of this will not provide
operators with the incentives we need in today's labour market to
ensure residents have consistent and sufficient care staff to meet
2) Monitoring for compliance with
funded care hours must be more accurate. We need tighter
standardized reporting for direct care hours. All beds need to be
counted at 100 per cent occupancy and we need to verify self-reported
working hours. Consideration needs to be given to regulation changes
that will empower licensing to monitor staffing levels
similar to the current regulatory and licensing practices in licensed
3) Define profit. There
are a number of reported expenses that may or may not be fair and
appropriate. There needs to be a decision about how to treat building
capital along with management feeds, head office allocations,
administrative expenses, and subcontracts with related parties. The
decisions made need to be uniformly applied to all care homes in the
province and to transparently demonstrate value for money to the
4) Standardize reporting for all
care homes throughout BC. We need to be collecting the
same information, using the same calculations and the same
measurements, for all care homes regardless of health authority and we
should report this at the provincial level.
5) Revenues and expenditures for
publicly funded care homes should be available to the public.
The public is entitled to know how their money is spent, in detail, and
residents and families are entitled to know how many care hours are
delivered by their care home.
International Cooperation to
Help Countries Cope
Shortly before dawn on March 18, the British
passenger ship MS Braemar of the Fred. Olsen Cruise
Lines, with over 1,000 passengers and crew aboard, docked in the port of
Mariel, Cuba. Since March 12, the ship had been denied permission to
dock in several of its scheduled ports of call around the Caribbean or
in the U.S. by authorities of those countries, due to the fact that one
of its passengers and four crew members had confirmed cases of
COVID-19, with a further 28 passengers and 27 crew members, including a
doctor, in isolation after displaying symptoms.
The Cuban government arranged for tour buses to
transfer all those on board to Havana's José
Martí international airport, where four chartered British
Airways planes were waiting to fly them back to Britain that evening.
Those without symptoms were flown on three of the planes to Heathrow
airport in London. Those with flu-like symptoms, those who had tested
positive for COVID-19 and their companions were taken aboard a separate
flight to an airbase in England. Those not well enough to travel were
given the opportunity to remain in Cuba for treatment.
The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a
statement informing that its decision to receive the MS Braemar
was in response to a March 16 request by the British government. It
said that given the urgency of the situation and the risk to the life
of those who were ill, the Cuban government decided to allow the ship
to dock and to receive all those on board, while strictly following the
protocols established by the World Health Organization and the Cuban
Ministry of Public Health. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in
conclusion, "These are times of solidarity, of understanding health as
a human right, of reinforcing international cooperation to face our
common challenges, values that are inherent in the humanistic practice
of the Revolution and of our people."
Photos and videos
posted on the internet showed passengers rejoicing at being told of
Cuba's decision to assist them, with crew members holding up a banner
reading "Te Quiero Cuba" (I love you, Cuba) as they disembarked the ship.
In a statement, Peter Deer, the managing director
of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, expressed his gratitude to Cuba, saying,
“I would like to extend my sincere thanks on behalf of Fred.
Olsen to the Cuban Authorities, the Port of Mariel and the Cuban people
for their support. Other countries would not allow Braemar to dock once
we had confirmed cases of coronavirus on board. Thanks to their
kindness we are now able to get people home. Your support will not be
forgotten. From the bottom of my heart, thank you."
The British Secretary of State for Foreign and
Commonwealth Affairs, Dominic Raab, also thanked the Cuban government in
parliament on March 18, saying, "I spoke to the Cuban Foreign Minister
twice over the weekend and we are very grateful to the Cuban government
for swiftly enabling this operation and for their close cooperation to
make sure it could be successful."
Writing in the Mexican daily, La Jornada,
of Cuba's humanitarian action in throwing a lifeline to those aboard
the ship, Cuban journalist Rosa Miriam Elizalde explains:
"I am very grateful to the Cuban government for agreeing to carry out
"The odyssey began when the British company Fred.
Olsen's cruise ship arrived in Cartagena, where a
woman from the U.S. disembarked and was diagnosed shortly afterward
with coronavirus. From that moment on, five Caribbean ports denied
entry to the ship and the families of the cruise passengers turned to
the media to express their fears for the fate of their loved ones and
the possibility that they would be forced to make the long journey back
to Europe, exposed to massive contagion and perhaps death on an
industrial scale before the ship could reach Britain."
Elizalde writes of a passenger who posted videos
and regular reports from the ship using the hashtag #DunkirkSpirit
alluding to the evacuation of 330,000 allied soldiers from the coast of
France in May 1940, at the beginning of World War II, when Hitler
"For us, Dunkirk does not only speak of heroism,
but of humanity. It means that there are solutions in the worst of
circumstances, and this time we will have Cuba to thank for it," the
Elizalde concludes her article, titled "Cuba
Saves," drawing attention to the paradox of ships contracted by Cuba to
import oil and food being harassed by the U.S., while ships with sick
people onboard that nobody wants in their ports, including the U.S.
which refused to let the British ship dock, receive solidarity and
respect in Cuba.
Internationalist solidarity is not an exception
but the rule for Cuba.
Command of the MS Braemar recognizes heroism of
Cuban marine pilot
for helping the ship dock at the Port of Mariel.
Cuban medical team of 50 arrives in Suriname March 20, 2020, to assist
with COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 21, 53 physicians and nurses from Cuba's
celebrated Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade of health
professionals, trained in disaster medicine and infectious disease
containment, arrived in Italy's northern Lombardy region at the request
of its health authorities. They will join a dozen Chinese doctors to
work in a new field hospital being built in Bergamo in Italy's hardest
hit area, where over 63 per cent of the country's deaths due to
COVID-19 and 42 per cent of its active cases are concentrated, with
over 1,000 patients undergoing intensive treatment. It is the sixth
contingent of the specialized brigade to go abroad to fight the
COVID-19 pandemic and the first sent to Europe.
Other contingents of the brigade recently left to
assist a number of countries in the Americas. One hundred forty-four
doctors arrived on the weekend in Jamaica and 136 in Venezuela; five
intensive care nurses recently arrived in Grenada and 51 health care
professionals in Suriname. Those in Venezuela will be part of a group
of 2,000 Cuban doctors working with communities there. Still others are
already at work in Nicaragua. At the moment, Cuba has 28,000 medical
professionals working on missions in 59 countries, the majority of
which are affected by COVID-19.
Cuba's contributions to the fight against the
global pandemic also extends to the scientific investigation taking
place at its Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) in
Havana where researchers are engaged in numerous studies of the novel
coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19, and working on developing
a vaccine for it. In the meantime, many countries have been asking Cuba
to provide them with human recombinant interferon alfa-2b, the
anti-viral medication developed at the centre, which has shown promise
in the treatment of COVID-19 patients in China, south Korea and Germany.
Click to enlarge.
A recent report in the online publication Peoples'
Dispatch, reports on the medication's use in combating
COVID-19, calling Cuba "a beacon of international solidarity and
medical excellence in leading the fight against the coronavirus" in
spite of the vicious all-sided blockade the U.S. maintains against it. It says
that the interferon alfa-2b prevented thousands of deaths from the
coronavirus in south Korea and Germany, both of which have reported low
death rates -- especially Germany with a high incidence of the disease
in its population. Given its promise for treating COVID-19, Cuba has
already sent a team of doctors and supplies of interferon alfa-2b to
Italy to work alongside Chinese experts. The medication is also being
used in Panama, Venezuela and elsewhere, with Cuba having produced an
adequate supply for treating thousands of patients at home as well if
Cuban-developed interferon alfa-2b has been
produced in China since January 25 as part of a joint venture of the
two countries and is one of 30 drugs chosen by the Chinese National
Health Commission to combat the respiratory disease. It was first
developed in 1986 by a team of researchers from the CIGB and has
benefited thousands of Cuban patients. It is marketed as
Heberon® Alfa R. and has been used as a treatment for HIV-AIDS,
hepatitis B and C, herpes zoster (shingles), dengue and different types
of cancers. The medication increases the natural production of
interferon in the human body and strengthens the immune system of
Doctor Luis Herrera, one of the creators of
interferon alfa-2b, told teleSUR in an interview that the medication's
main purpose is to avoid complications in patients, especially
vulnerable and older people who are susceptible to or have a poor
Members of the Cuban Henry Reeve medical brigade arrive in Nicaragua,
March 18, 2020.
leads global efforts against COVID-19 in spite of blockade," Tanya
Wadhwa, Peoples' Dispatch, March 16, 2020.
Assistance to Italy and Other EU Countries
Chinese and Cuban doctors arrive in Italy to help treat COVID-19
On March 12, a group of nine Chinese aid
professionals arrived in Rome with tons of medical supplies, including
700 ventilators, monitors and defibrillators, as part of China's
efforts to help Italy contain the novel coronavirus outbreak.
"This evening I wanted to show you the first aid
arrived from China," Italy's Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio said during
an emotional speech in a Facebook live broadcast, shortly after the
Chinese team's landing. He pointed to his laptop which showed a group
of Chinese nationals coming off the plane.
"These are the specialized medical staff who faced
the coronavirus emergency in China, and at this moment have arrived in
Rome," Di Maio said. "This is what we call solidarity."
Chinese medical team in Padua, Italy, March 18, 2020.
The expert team was organized by China's National
Health Commission and the Red Cross Society. The group is the third
sent abroad by China following previous ones to Iran and Iraq.
Also that week, medical protection supplies
donated by Fosun Foundation of the Shanghai-based Fosun Group, Longfor
Group and Beijing Taikang Yicai Foundation, including 5,500 protective
suits and 40,000 N95 respirator masks, arrived in Milan, Italy.
On March 17, a cargo plane loaded with donated
supplies departed from Hangzhou in eastern China and arrived at Liege
Airport in Belgium. The goods were handed over to the French health
ministry, said the Alibaba Foundation and the Jack Ma Foundation in a
press release. On board the plane were also medical goods donated to
other European countries, including Belgium and Slovenia.
Also on March 17, another batch of medical
supplies sent by China arrived in Paris, including protective masks,
surgical masks, protective suits and medical gloves, according to
China's Ambassador to France Lu Shaye.
"At the crucial moment when China waged war
against the epidemic, France provided us with precious support and
assistance," said Lu. "Now as France and the whole of Europe are facing
the serious challenge of the pandemic, China is ready to provide aid as
far as possible."
"This is a gesture that must be appreciated,"
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. "We showed our
solidarity with China by delivering protective equipment, especially to
Wuhan. The Chinese, who are gradually starting to emerge from these
difficulties, have returned this solidarity," Le Drian said.
"We're grateful for China's support," European
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on March 17. "We need
each other's support in times of need."
Chinese medical team in Padua, Italy, March 17, 2020.
Team Sent to Iraq
A seven-member Chinese medical team is in Iraq and
is going all out to help that country fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their activities include advising the government to take stricter
prevention measures, sharing China's treatment experience with their
Iraqi counterparts and promoting pandemic control know-how among
Iraq is in urgent need of nucleic acid test kits,
team members told the Global Times. The dearth of
test kits may have been the reason for fewer confirmed cases in the
country, and therefore the Chinese experts are assisting Iraq in
building a polymerase chain reaction laboratory in Baghdad and donated
50,000 nucleic acid test kits to improve Iraq's diagnostic capability.
The Chinese volunteer medical team was dispatched
by the Red Cross Society of China at the request of the Iraqi Red
Crescent Society, and arrived in Baghdad on March 9.
Beijing Municipality Sends 30 Tons
of Aid to Iran
Chinese delegation meets Iranian medical team in Tehran, March 2, 2020.
Beijing Municipality has sent 30
tons of medical and health care items to Iran in the fight against the
spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Islamic Republic News Agency
reported on March 18.
The donation has been delivered to the capital city of
Tehran by 11 trucks. Thanking China for the measure, Tehran Mayor
Pirouz Hanachi called for mutual cooperation in various areas.
Iran's Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi said
on March 18 that there are 17,361 people in Iran infected with COVID-19
of which 1,135 have died.
Azadi tower in Tehran is lit up with the Chinese flag and the
words Stay Strong Wuhan,
Stay Strong China, February 18, 2020.
Serbia Seeks Aid from China Due to Lack of EU
Chinese Ambassador to Serbia, Chen Bo, informed
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić on March 17 that Beijing had
approved a donation and decided to send experts to help Serbia fight
the coronavirus pandemic.
President Vučić said Serbia was not yet in the
same crisis as European Union (EU) countries when it comes to the
coronavirus but that it would soon happen. "Serbia now turns its eyes
to China," he added.
"To avoid that worst-case scenario, we need your
help and support. That is why I am asking that you send us anything you
can. Money is not a problem, we need everything, from masks, gloves to
ventilators, literally everything, and most of all we need your
knowledge and people who would be willing to come here and help," Vučić
"All my personal hopes are focused on and
directed toward China and its president," he said, emphasizing that
Serbia was not asking for money.
"We are waiting for our Chinese brothers here.
Without you, it turns out that Europe is having difficulty defending
itself, we do not hide the fact that we cannot [defend ourselves].
Without China and our Chinese brothers, we are incapable of doing so,"
The Chinese ambassador said that "ordinary
citizens" in China had reacted very positively to Vučić's call for
help, and that more than 300 million people had watched a video
recording of his statement.
The first batch of Chinese aid in the struggle
against the novel virus has already arrived in Serbia, and comprises
COVID-19 test kits donated by the Mammoth Foundation, a humanitarian
organization based in Shenzhen.
The aid operation was coordinated by the Chinese
embassy in Belgrade, in collaboration with the Serbian government. The
number of test kits delivered was not specified.
The requested aid from China became all the more
urgent since the European Commission decided to limit exports of
medical equipment outside of the EU.
Vučić further said that he had guaranteed
Serbia's "strong as steel friendship" to the Chinese president.
"European solidarity does not exist. That was a
fairy tale on paper. I have sent a special letter to the only ones who
can help, and that is China...," Vučić said on March 15, the day when
Serbia declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus. He said at
the time that governments in Western Europe had pressed Serbia to
change its tender procedures to reduce imports of Chinese goods and
import from Europe instead. But now the same governments do not want to
help Serbia, even in exchange for money, he said.
The EU later issued a statement saying there was
no ban in the EU on the export of medical equipment, masks and
ventilators. Rather, the EU adopted a regime of permits for the sale of
medical equipment to non-EU states which may submit a request to
continue deliveries to the Balkan and other countries outside the union.
On March 17, European Commission Spokesperson Ana
Pisonero said the EU was looking at ways to connect the Western Balkans
with the initiatives taken by the EU in curbing the coronavirus
"Close coordination and cooperation at
the regional level and with the EU are key factors in the response to
this emergency situation. In these difficult times, solidarity is
needed. This is not the time for a polemic or unfounded accusations,"
She added that the EU was looking at how to best
provide support in mitigating the social and economic consequences of
the pandemic, including the possibility of redirecting EU pre-accession
(IPA) funds and flexibility regarding state aid rules.
The Serbian Minister of European Integration,
Jadranka Joksimović, has already sent a letter to the Commission asking
the EU to enable the repurposing of unspent IPA funds, to fight the
"We need to understand that we are pretty alone in
all of this," Serbian Health Minister Zlatibor Lončar commented.
The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and
Democrats of the European Parliament also issued a statement calling on
EU authorities not to ignore the western Balkan region in the fight
against the coronavirus.
"[We must] include the Western Balkan countries in
our common European response, and in measures to prevent and combat the
effects of the epidemic," Socialists and Democrats Vice-President Kati
In an interview with Prva TV on March 17, Minister Lončar
said that Serbia had a system in place for 2,000 patients, while
preparations are under way to accept 5,000 more in hospitals
nationwide. According to official data, there are currently 65
confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Serbia, out of a population of 6.96
Chinese medical team sees patients off from temporary hospital in Wuhan.
U.S. Imperialists' Utter
Contempt for Human Life
On March 17, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
announced further sanctions on Iran amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The
sanctions are ostensibly in response to March 12 rocket attacks in
Taji, Iraq, that killed two members of the U.S. occupation forces, for
which it claims Iran is responsible. According to a statement by
Pompeo, the sanctions target entities and individuals mostly related to
Iran's petrochemical industry that "provide revenue to the regime that
it may use to fund terror and other destabilizing activities." These
include five companies based in the United Arab Emirates, three
companies in China, three in Hong Kong and one in South Africa.
Minister Javad Zarif denounced the new sanctions as taking the U.S.
policy of putting "maximum pressure" on Iran to a "new level of
inhumanity." In a tweet, he condemned the Trump administration for
"gleefully" taking pride in "killing Iranian citizens" on Nowruz, the
Persian New Year, celebrated on March 20 this year. He further decried
the U.S. policy for its "utter contempt for human life."
"Washington's increased pressure against Iran is a
crime against humanity [...] all the world should help each other to
overcome this disease," Reuters quoted an Iranian official as saying on
March 20. The course of the pandemic shows that the U.S. sanctions not
only endanger the people of Iran, but the peoples of the world, as the
coronavirus does not respect borders and the pandemic can only be
overcome if all countries and peoples unite, share resources,
experiences and work collectively based on a spirit of mutual benefit
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed on March 20
that the U.S. sanctions were not directed at medication or humanitarian
assistance going into Iran. This is a sophistic claim to absolve the
U.S. imperialists of their criminality -- namely that U.S. financial
sanctions have prevented Iran from buying the necessary supplies to
combat the pandemic and shipping sanctions have interfered with
China has called on the U.S. to offer sanctions
relief to Iran, with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Beijing
tweeting on March 17 that the sanctions are "against humanitarianism
and hampers Iran's epidemic response," as well as deliveries of aid by
the UN and other organizations. In sharp contrast to the U.S.
sanctions, China has sent a team of experts to assist Iran to fight
COVID-19. It has also sent humanitarian aid, as have other countries.
Iran is one of the countries in the world hardest
hit by COVID-19, and the hardest hit in the Middle East. As of March
20, Iran has seen at least 1,433 deaths from COVID-19, with
19,644 confirmed cases. A spokesperson from the Iranian Health Ministry
said on March 17 that one person in Iran was dying "every 10 minutes"
from the virus, with new infections increasing at a rate of 50 per hour.
Venezuela receives aid from China, March 19, 2020, to combat
the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 16, 2020, the chief of the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) Kristalina Georgieva wrote a blog post on the
Fund's website; it represents the kind of generosity necessary in the
midst of a global pandemic. "The IMF stands ready to mobilize its $1
trillion lending capacity to help our membership," she wrote. Countries
with "urgent balance-of-payments needs" could be helped by the IMF's
"flexible and rapid-disbursing emergency response toolkit." Through
these mechanisms, the IMF said that it could provide $50 billion to
developing countries and $10 billion to low-income countries at a
The day before
Georgieva made this public statement, the foreign ministry of the
government of Venezuela sent a letter to the IMF asking for funds to
finance the government's "detection and response systems" for its
efforts against the coronavirus. In the letter, President
Nicolás Maduro wrote that his government is "taking
different preventive measures and following through strict and
exhaustive controls to protect the Venezuelan people." These measures
require funding, which is why the government is "turning to your
honourable organization to request its evaluation about the possibility
of authorizing Venezuela a financing line of $5 billion from the Rapid
Financing Instrument emergency fund."
Georgieva's policy to provide special assistance
to countries should have been sufficient for the IMF to provide the
assistance that the Venezuelan government had requested. But, very
quickly, the Fund declined the request from Venezuela.
It is important to underline the fact that the IMF
made this denial at a time when the coronavirus had begun to spread in
Venezuela. On March 15, when Venezuelan President Nicolás
Maduro's government sent the letter to the IMF, Maduro met with senior
government officials in Caracas. The Venezuelan pharmaceutical body
(CIFAR) and the Venezuelan medical equipment companies said that they
would be able to increase production of machines and medicines to stem
the crisis; but, they said, they would need key raw materials that have
to be imported. It is to pay for these imports that the Venezuelan
government went to the IMF. The denial of the loan will directly punish
the Venezuelan health apparatus and prevent Venezuela from properly
tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is the most serious situation we have ever
faced," said President Maduro as he put in place new measures. The
Venezuelan government imposed an indefinite national quarantine and has
put in place -- building on the local self-government (communes) -- a
process to distribute food and key supplies. All the institutions of
the state are now involved in doing their part in helping "flatten the
curve" and "break the chain" of contagion. But, because of the IMF loan
denial, the country will have a harder time producing testing kits,
respirators, and key medicines for those infected with the virus.
Meeting in Venezuela, March 18, 2020, to deal with the COVID-19
The IMF Takes Sides
In January 2019, the U.S. government attempted a
coup against the government of President Maduro. It chose as its
instrument Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. named as the actual
president of the country. U.S. banks hastily seized the Venezuelan
state assets held by them and turned them over to Guaidó.
Then, in a startling move, the IMF said that the Venezuelan government
would no longer be allowed to use its $400 million in special drawing
rights (SDRs), the currency of the IMF. It said that it had taken this
action because of the political uncertainty in Venezuela. In other
words, because of the attempted coup, which failed, the IMF said it
would not "take sides" in Venezuela; by not "taking sides," the IMF
refused to allow the government of Venezuela to access its own funds.
Strikingly, Guaidó adviser Ricardo Hausmann, a former IMF
development committee chair and head of the Inter-American Development
Bank, said at that time that he expected that when the regime change
occurs, the money will be available to the new government. This is the
IMF directly interfering in Venezuelan politics.
Neither at that time nor now has the IMF actually
denied that the government of Nicolás Maduro is the
legitimate government in Venezuela. The IMF continues to acknowledge on
its website that the representative of Venezuela in the IMF is Simon
Alejandro Zerpa Delgado, the minister of finance in Maduro's
government. One of the reasons why this is so is that Guaidó
could not prove that he had the support of the majority of the
member-states of the IMF. Since he could not prove his standing, the
IMF -- again extraordinarily -- has denied the Maduro government its
legitimate right to its own funds and to borrow against facilities
provided by the Fund to its members.
The United Nations continues to recognize the
Venezuelan government. That should be the official standard for the IMF
to make its determination. But it is not. It is taking dictation from
the U.S. government. In April 2019, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence went
to the UN Security Council, where he said that the UN should accept
Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela; he
turned to the Venezuelan ambassador to the UN -- Samuel Moncada Acosta
-- and said, "You shouldn't be here." This is a moment of great
symbolism, the United States acting as if the UN is its home and that
it can invite whomsoever it wants.
The IMF denial of the $5 billion request from
Venezuela follows Pence's sentiment. It is a violation of the spirit of
international cooperation that is at the heart of the UN Charter.
On March 20, World Health Organization (WHO)
Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus took part in a virtual
press conference where he highlighted certain aspects of the pandemic
at this time. He highlighted the example of China, where the outbreak
of COVID-19 has been halted, pointing out that even the most dire
situations can be turned around.
Dr. Tedros pointed out that the WHO has called for
testing of all suspected cases, and to that end, the organization is
working hard to increase the global supply of diagnostic kits, as well
as personal protective equipment (PPE). In his March 19 briefing, he
reported that the WHO has shipped PPE to nearly 70 countries, while 120
nations have received 1.5 million diagnostic kits. "Our aim is to build
a continuous pipeline to ensure continuity of supply," he said. The WHO
is finalizing export arrangements with producers in China so that more
supplies can be sent to countries.
Tedros also warned younger people against
complacency. "Data from many countries clearly show that people under
50 make up a significant proportion of patients requiring
hospitalization," said Tedros. He stressed that solidarity between
countries as well as between age groups is the key to defeating
Number of Cases Worldwide
As of March 20, 6:00 pm GMT, the worldwide
statistics for COVID-19 pandemic as reported by Worldometer are:
Total Reported Cases: 266,208
- 164,418 active cases
- 101,790 closed cases
New cases from March 19 to 20: 21,314
The disease is now present in 160 countries.
This compares to figures from a week earlier on
March 13 of 145,634 reported cases (67,669 active; 77,965 closed);
5,436 deaths; 70,931 recovered; 11,058 new cases over the previous day;
in 138 countries.
The five countries with the highest number of
cases on March 20 were:
China: 80,967 (compared to
80,815 on March 13); 56 cases per one million
Italy: 47,021 (compared to 17,660 on
March 13); 778 cases per one million
Spain: 20,412 (compared to 5,232 on
March 13); 437 cases per one million
Iran: 19,644 (compared to 11,364 on
March 13); 234 cases per one million
Compared to a week earlier, these figures show
that Europe remains the epicentre of the pandemic and that the
situation there has rapidly worsened in the past week. Of the top 20
countries with the highest number of reported cases, 14 of these are in
Europe, four in Asia and two in North America. South Korea, which on
March 13 had 7,979 reported cases for the fourth highest total, on
March 20 had 8,652 cases.
Cases in Selected Countries by Region
In Europe on March 20, the five countries with the
highest number of reported cases were:
Italy: 47,021 (37,860 active;
5,129 recovered; 4,032 deaths)
Spain: 20,412 (17,781 active; 1,588
recovered; 1,043 deaths)
Germany: 18,794 (18,561 active; 180
recovered; 53 deaths)
France: 10,995 (9,328 active; 1,295
recovered; 372 deaths)
Switzerland: 5,369 (5,298 active; 15
recovered; 56 deaths)
Amongst all affected countries, Italy now has the
highest number of deaths, surpassing China on March 19. Its rate of
infection in the past week is reported to be higher than that of
China's at its peak. Overall in Europe in the past week, the rate of
new infections was more than 10,000 per day.
France, Belgium, Italy and Spain have instituted
"lockdown" measures to restrict people to their homes except for going
out to buy food or medicine, going to work, hospitals or banks, or
excursions for caregivers for the young or elderly. These include bans
on gatherings. As for March 17, France has issued 4,000 fines for
violating the restrictions. The EU has closed its borders to travellers
from outside the EU. About 250 million people in the EU are presently
under social-distancing and other restrictions due to the pandemic.
Turkey: 359 (355 active; 4
Russia: 253 (240 active; 12 recovered; 1
Azerbajian: 44 (36 active; 7 recovered;
Turkish newspaper the Daily Sabahreported on
March 20 that "Turkey is almost in a state of
self-quarantine with streets emptied over virus fears as the country
announces both new cases and new precautionary measures." The report
adds that while "No comprehensive lockdown is in place [...] escalating
measures coupled with public compliance of health advisories" have left
streets empty. On March 20, the Turkish presidency issued a decree,
postponing all science, culture and art events until the end of
April. Earlier in the week, President Recep Tayyip Erdo urged
citizens to stay home for at least three weeks.
In West Asia:
Iran: 19,644 (11,466 active;
6,745 recovered; 1,433 deaths)
Israel: 705 (690 active; 15 recovered)
Qatar: 460 (450 active; 10 recovered)
Saudi Arabia: 344 (336 active; 8
Bahrain: 291 (178 active; 112 recovered;
The unjust U.S. sanctions against it are the "main
obstacle" to the country's effective fight against the coronavirus
pandemic, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a March
20 phone call with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Moteg. The bans
are obstructing Iran's access to medicine and medical equipment, he
added. He requested the Japanese government increase its efforts to
help remove the unilateral and illegal U.S. sanctions against Iran and
thanked Japan for its assistance to fight the pandemic. The Japanese
Foreign Minister highlighted the two nations' friendly ties, and said
that his country plans to send to Iran the drug Avigan, which has been
used in Japan to treat new strains of influenza and appears to be
effective in coronavirus patients.
Minister Zarif has also written a letter to UN
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling for the removal of the U.S.
Iran's deputy health minister Alireza Raisi said
on March 20 that of Iran's 31 provinces, provinces of Tehran,
Isfahan, and Gilan have registered the highest number of cases of
infection while 13 provinces have seen a big drop.
In South Asia:
Pakistan: 500 (484 active; 13
recovered; 3 deaths)
India: 249 (221 active; 23 recovered; 5
Sri Lanka: 73 (70 active; 3 recovered)
Afghanistan: 24 (23 active; 1 recovered)
Bangladesh: 20 (16 active; 3 recovered;
The newspaper Pakistan Today
reported on March 20, "The government of Pakistan has [...]
decided to close its border with Iran for two weeks, and the government
will again review the situation after those two weeks. During this
time, system of screening against COVID-19 will be made stronger. The
Ministry of Education also decided to close all schools till April 14
due to the COVID-19 threat.
"The government has not yet decided to declare
emergency, because the deceleration of emergency in Pakistan due to
lethal threat of COVID-19 will result in creating more panic among the
masses. This decision of not imposing an emergency is a good and
necessary step of the government. The government has also decided to
run a media campaign on the issue of COVID-19, to create awareness
among the masses regarding prevention of this deadly disease. The
[Special Assistant to the Prime Minister] on health also said that the
government would also request the Chief Justice of Pakistan to close
the civil courts and adjourn cases for at least three weeks."
Regarding the very low number of cases for India
despite its population of 1.3 billion people, Ramanan Laxminarayan,
Director of the Center for Disease Dynamics in Washington, DC, and a
lecturer in Economics and Policy at Princeton University, in a recent
interview with The Wire, said that India could be
the next coronavirus hotspot. The Wire writes:
"Using the United States estimates for itself that
20-60 per cent of the population could be infected, Dr Laxminarayan
said that means in the worst case scenario, 60 per cent of the Indian
population could be infected -- which is some 700 or 800 million
people. However, Dr Laxminarayan added that the vast majority would
only be mildly affected. A very small percentage would become seriously
ill and an even smaller percentage would, sadly, lose their lives.
"[...] Dr Laxminarayan said that he found it hard
to believe the Union health ministry's official figure which, on their
website at 12 pm on Wednesday [March 17], said that India had 130
people with the coronavirus infection in addition to the 14 who have
recovered and the three who have died.
"He says if the United Kingdom can accept that
they have underestimated the number infected by a factor of 12, at the
very least the situation would be the same in India. That means there
are over 1,500 undetected cases. In fact, given our size and population
density Dr Laxminarayan estimates that India is bound to have 10,000 or
more undetected coronavirus cases.
"Dr Laxminarayan also told The Wire
that he disagrees with the Indian Council of Medical Research's [ICMR]
official stand that India is still in stage 2 of the epidemic [local
transmission] and has not entered stage 3 [community transmission]. Dr
Laxminarayan said India probably entered stage 3 two or three weeks
ago. He said he was saying this on the basis of the experience of the
rest of the world and on the best scientific modelling projections. He
also said that if you look at the steps that the government has taken
-- shutting schools, colleges, theatres and cinemas -- this clearly
suggests the government knows we are in stage 3 even if, for arguably
good reasons, it does not want to publicly admit it.
"Dr Laxminarayan told The Wire
that India needs to sharply ramp up its testing. He said we should be
testing 10,000 people a day. Instead, according to the ICMR, as of 5 pm
on March 17 India has only tested a total of 11,500 people.
"While Dr Laxminarayan agreed with the ICMR policy
not to test asymptomatic people who have either come from
coronavirus-affected countries or been in touch with
coronavirus-infected people, he felt it was essential to test those who
have symptoms such as coughs, cold, fever or respiratory distress even
though they have no travel history or have not come in contact with an
infected person. This second category must be tested otherwise we will
not know what percentage of people with such symptoms are
coronavirus-related as opposed to sufferers of ordinary seasonal colds,
coughs and flu.
"Asked by The Wire for his
assessment of the Indian government's handling of the coronavirus
crisis, Dr Laxminarayan said that whilst it had acted promptly to check
entry into the country and while sensible steps like shutting schools,
colleges, theatres and cinemas had been taken, he was critical of the
level of testing which he felt was woefully inadequate for a country
with a 1.3 billion population.
"Dr Laxminarayan told The Wire
that on the assumption somewhere between four and eight million people
could need ICU treatment, India needs to urgently import ICU equipment,
ventilators and a range of medicines. He said this has been right at
the top of the advice he has given the government."
In Southeast Asia:
Malaysia: 1,030 (940 active; 87
recovered; 3 deaths)
Singapore: 385 (254 active; 131
Indonesia: 369 (320 active; 17
recovered; 32 deaths)
Thailand: 322 (279 active; 42 recovered;
Philippines: 230 (204 active; 8
recovered; 18 deaths)
The Jakarta Post on March 19
reported that "The World Health Organization on March 16 called on
countries in the Southeast Asia region to urgently scale up aggressive
measures to combat COVID-19, as the number of cases continues to rise
globally. The virus, which was first detected in China, spread rapidly
to 152 countries and territories, infecting nearly 175,000 people and
"'The situation is evolving rapidly. We need to
immediately scale up all efforts to prevent the virus from infecting
more people,' said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, director of the WHO
South-East Asia Regional Office (SEARO).
"'Urgent and aggressive measures are the need of
the hour. We need to act now,' the WHO official said in a statement.
"Eight of the 11 countries grouped under WHO-SEARO
have confirmed cases of COVID-19, and numbers are increasing quickly
Khetrapal Singh said.
"Malaysia became the first country [in the region]
to announce a two-week lockdown of the country, days after the
Philippines moved to shutter its capital Manila and later the entire
island of Luzon. Laos has sealed its borders with China and Myanmar,
while people in Brunei, Singapore and Thailand have been ordered to
restrict their movements."
In East Asia:
China: 80,967 (6,569 active;
71,150 recovered; 3,248 deaths)
South Korea: 8,652 (6,325 active; 2,233
recovered; 94 deaths)
Japan: 963 (715 active; 215 recovered;
Taiwan: 135 (105 active; 28 recovered; 2
On March 19, China reported that there were no
new locally transmitted cases or suspected cases in Wuhan for the first
time since the outbreak began, a result that was repeated on March 20.
Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program,
stated at a March 20 press conference that the results in China show
that the coronavirus can be suppressed and its transmission chains
broken through a massive all-sided societal effort, with coordination,
solidarity, commitment and workable supply chains, as well as
engagement of activated communities and brave health workers. "That is
a message of hope to many other countries around the world who have
very low number of cases right now," said Ryan.
In south Korea, one of the main measures taken
against the pandemic has been widespread testing. The Hankyoreh
reported on March 19: "As of March 17, South Korea has tested over
270,000 people for the novel coronavirus throughout the past two
months. The number is noticeably higher than the 138,000 tests
performed as of March 16 in Italy, which has experienced a steep rise in
diagnoses. The cumulative number of patients who had tested positive as
of the same day stood at 8,320 for South Korea and over 28,000 for
Italy. Indeed, while other countries have been scrambling to restrict
arrivals from abroad, south Korean disease prevention officials have
focused more on swift testing for those with apparent symptoms and
populations with a high risk of cluster infections. Kwon Gye-cheol,
chairperson of the Korean Society for Laboratory Medicine (KSLM),
explained, 'Once the virus has spread to a certain extent, it is not
easy to stop infections simply by blocking overseas arrivals.'"
In North America:
USA: 16,517 (16,167 active; 125
recovered; 225 deaths)
Canada: 924 (901 active; 11 recovered;
Mexico: 164 (159 active; 4 recovered; 1
New measures announced in the region this week
include agreements reached to block non-essential travel (e.g., for
tourism or recreation) across the Mexico-U.S. border and the
Canada-U.S. borders. Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf
told reporters at the White House on March 20, "We want to make
sure that cargo continues, trade continues, heath care workers continue
to be able to traverse that border. But tourism, some recreational
activities and other things needs to stop during this crisis." As part
of the new measures, the countries agreed to immediately turn back
anyone attempting to “illegally” cross the borders.
Irregular border crossings from the U.S. by those seeking asylum in
Canada have increased due to attacks on undocumented migrants and
others since the Trump administration took office.
In Central America and the Caribbean:
Panama: 137 (135 active; 1
recovered; 1 death)
Costa Rica: 89 (87 active; 2 deaths)
Dominican Republic: 72 (70 active; 2
Cuba: 16 (15 active; 1 death)
Jamaica: 16 (13 active; 2 recovered; 1
In South America:
Brazil: 654 (645 active; 2
recovered; 7 deaths)
Chile: 434 (428 active; 6 recovered)
Ecuador: 367 (359 active; 3 recovered; 5
Peru: 234 (229 active; 4 deaths)
Colombia: 145 (144 active; 1 recovered)
Egypt: 256 (207 active; 42
recovered; 7 deaths)
South Africa: 202 active
Algeria: 90 (47 active; 32 recovered; 11
Morocco: 74 (69 active; 2 recovered; 3
Senegal: 38 (36 active; 2 recovered)
African countries have been relatively unaffected
at this point in the pandemic. However, the WHO and others point out
that the potential for the situation to rapidly degenerate is a real
possibility. "We have seen how the virus actually accelerates
after a certain [...] tipping point. So the best advice for Africa is
to prepare for the worst and prepare today," said Dr. Tedros on March
"We have different and significant barriers to
health care in Africa, which could be a real challenge," said Dr. Ngozi
Erondu, a senior research fellow at the Chatham House Centre for Global
Health Security. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa do not have the
isolation wards or large number of health care workers to respond to a
surge of COVID-19 patients, she said.
Dr. Bernard Olayo, founder of the Kenya-based
Centre for Public Health and Development, said most countries in Africa
cannot afford ventilators. Even if ventilators were provided by other
countries, it's not sufficient because of the lack of qualified people
to use them. "It's complex, it's very very complex because the patients
that end up on ventilators require round the clock care by larger
teams," he said.
Many patients could do well with just oxygen, he
said, but close to half of health facilities in African countries do
not have reliable oxygen supplies. Oxygen concentrators can be used,
but given the frequent electricity cuts in many countries, oxygen
generators and pressure cylinders are needed because they can function
while power is out.
The WHO regional Africa director, Dr. Matshidiso
Moeti, said the lack of ICU facilities and ventilators is one of the
biggest challenges facing the continent. "We have been able to identify
importing a field hospital-type of facility that can be set up and
equipped with some of the key items needed, such as ventilators," she
said. Training has begun in Republic of Congo and Senegal so health
care workers will be ready to operate it, and World Bank funding is
being made available, she said.
Elsie Kanza, head of Africa at the World Economic
Forum, said many countries are deploying lessons learned from the Ebola
outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2016 that killed over 10,000 people.
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was created to
respond to that Ebola outbreak. As of March 18, 43 African countries
can test for the coronavirus, the organization said.
Australia: 876 (823 active; 7
New Zealand: 39 active
Guam: 14 active
French Polynesia: 11 active
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