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Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
For Your Information:
Coronavirus and the Importance of Wearing Masks to Contain the Spread of the Disease
No to Britain's Warmongering International Role in the Face of the Pandemic:
Provocative Ongoing NATO Military Exercises in Europe
No to Britain's Warmongering International Role in the Face of the Pandemic:
The US, Britain and their Allies Must Be Condemned for their Threats and Sanctions against Venezuela
For only the fifth time in her 68 years as "Queen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland" and "Head of State of the entire British Commonwealth of Nations", on Sunday, April 5, Elizabeth II gave a special address "to the nation and to her subjects".
The media and pundits lauded it to the skies saying that, even though it was less than five minutes long, its "We're all in this together" message was very sincere and heartfelt and brought tears to their eyes.
Like her counterparts in governments which make up the Anglo-American world and community of nations under their sway, she presented the battle against the coronavirus COVID-19 as a war. In her case, it was cleverly done by evoking the 1939 British wartime song, "We'll Meet Again", as sung by the enormously popular Vera Lynn. Lynn, who is still alive at 103 years of age, was widely known as the "Forces' Sweetheart", and came to symbolise the spirit of resistance in the fight against fascism. The lyrics of the song, which Vera Lynn made famous, say:
We'll meet again,
don't know where,
don't know when,
but I know we'll meet again some sunny day.
Keep smiling through
just like you always do;
'til the blue skies drive
the dark clouds far away.
So will you please say hello
to the folks that I know.
Tell them I won't be long.
They'll be happy to know
that as you saw me go
I was singing this song.
We'll meet again,
don't know where,
don't know when,
but I know we'll meet again some sunny day.
The Queen in her speech asserted: "We will succeed, and that success will belong to every one of us. We should take comfort that while we may still have much to endure, better days will return."
The context is the global pandemic and the extraordinary circumstances surrounding it, with whole societies in lock-down, people and nations isolated from each other, whilst working people are carrying out essential services at the risk of their lives. In the run-up to Sunday night's broadcast, much was made of the forthcoming speech. The BBC's Royal correspondent, Nicholas Witchell, kept appearing in mini-announcements to reveal what Her Majesty would be giving in a speech of momentous import. Parallels were drawn between this speech and the period of the Blitz in London during 1940-41 at the start of the Second World War. The reference to Vera Lynn aptly summed up the mood of the nation at the time of the Blitz and after to endure the hardships necessary to defeat fascism, whilst lifting the spirits of everyone fighting across the globe.
Whether by accident or design, no matter - the timing of the speech coincided with the announcement that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, already infected by the coronavirus, had been admitted into the ICU in a London hospital. The speech thus also served to rally the troops, so to speak, should anyone be worried about a power vacuum in command of the nation in time of crisis.
Since the suspension of the Parliament and declaration of emergency measures, it has become evident to all that the entire authority and decision-making power is concentrated in the Prime Minister and Cabinet-rule. Boris Johnson tested positive for the coronavirus on March 27, sending the government and chains of command into further crisis. The media and political opposition and pundits were at sixes and sevens. The prospect that the Prime Minister was himself critically ill, all of a sudden raised the scare of who would rule in his place. This became the prime concern for the ruling circles. Besides speculation about which cabinet minister was entitled to replace him, others indulged in hand-wringing suggesting that if only Britain had a written constitution, all would be clear. Or that suspending Parliament was all well and fine but the elected representatives must be given a say.
Step in the Queen to calm the nation in what is in fact a rather desperate measure to give the impression that the government has the consent of the people to implement whatever agenda it sees fit during this pandemic. The suggestion is that this is the British way. It must be done as was done in World War II and that is that. Trust us.
It is not for nothing that in the US and Canada the current battle against the coronavirus is also rendered as a war in which, this time, we are all on the same side. The US Surgeon General declared this to be "Our Pearl Harbour, Our 9/11". Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has been using this war metaphor over and over to communicate the message: "We will get through this together," "We look after each other - that is the Canadian way."
All of it raises a very pertinent question: Who is the "We" the Queen represents and others refer to? The peoples of England, Scotland, Wales and the north of Ireland? Certainly not, let alone of peoples of the "Commonwealth Nations" which she declared herself head of after her coronation some more than 60 years ago.
Right from the opening sentence of her speech, it was as if this pandemic has created a blip in the otherwise solid and constant path followed by Her Majesty's government. We were told that this was "an increasingly challenging time, a time of disruption in the life of our country", that there has been "grief for some", and "financial difficulties to many". But we will prevail.
By inference, the message was: "We're all in it together", the One Nation conception of everyone pulling together and putting aside their individual aspirations and needs to get the job done and defeat the enemy. In this case, though the Queen did not directly allude to it, is the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, she said at one point: "Together we are tackling this disease and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it."
All to say that the difficulties people are facing are not man-made by successive governments who have been paying the rich handsomely from the state treasury while the people are forced to fend for themselves. In the world of the rich, essential workers are expected to put themselves in harm's way for the greater good. We will mourn their passing and carry on... It is our duty.
What people see is something else. In contrast to the spirit of the Blitz when the conditions and authority at the time of the anti-fascist war in the 1940s were in sync, today's conditions and authority clash. We are not in this together because the authorities in command have for thirty years unleashed a vicious anti-social agenda on society which has all but destroyed the system of public health, education, transportation and the aim of society based on the motto One For All and All For One. The motto of the ruling classes today is: All for One. That's it. Let Everyone Fend for Themselves and so long as we get richer, the consequences be damned.
In this regard, the essence of the Queen's speech is an appeal to workers and people of the "British Isles" and the "Commonwealth" to entrust their fate to those who have destroyed the national health system and made the rich richer and the poor poorer. There is a subliminal message that if anyone gets sick it is their fault for somehow not social distancing despite properly or adequately or for who cares what reason. The lack of care for the care workers, essential workers, elderly and others is not mentioned. On the contrary, a false impression is given that the government is looking after everyone.
We have a context where of necessity people are physically isolated from each other but no mechanisms are in place to find collective solutions to problems at a time the government is only looking after number one.
The conditions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic bring out starkly that people are barred from participating in having a say in the decisions which affect their lives. It is very important that in this situation, unions and workers are speaking out and demanding the kind of protective gear and working conditions they require to do their job of caring for people while they also have a huge role in getting this virus under control.
There is a lot of diversionary discussion which juxtaposes the emergency police powers which Boris Johnson has concentrated in his hands and what it means for the Parliament to be shut down. The Parliament is said to be the only mechanism the people have to express their will via their representatives. But again, in comes the Queen to rally the troops to march on and accept that they will not be seeing many of themselves ever again but they can at least cling to the hope that they will and, in the meantime, their contribution to their loved ones is to do their duty and hope for the best.
Some would say that the Queen's sincerity would be a tad more to the point if she opened her castles to house the poor and the homeless and her warehouses, kitchens and estates to feed the working poor the system she is presiding over has created and discarded. But that too diverts from the pertinent fact that the pandemic not only poses a physical danger to all the members of society without exception but also stands as a metaphor for the paralysis of power and decision-making that has engulfed the whole society in Britain, and many societies across the world. In all respects, we have reached an impasse, the resolution of which requires the acknowledgement that the situation demands the people's empowerment because the rulers are unfit to govern.
To be in the hands of the likes of Boris Johnson, whether sick himself or in perfectly good health, is a disaster for the peoples of England, Scotland, Wales and the north of Ireland. The ruling class interests he and the successive governments before him represent, no matter what their political stripe, have caused havoc in the past thirty years, destroying the medical system, forcing everyone to fend for themselves, increasing the number of poor people and the extent of their poverty, while putting the onus on the people to sort out all the problems, including this coronavirus pandemic.
And the fact is that the Queen has presided over it all to hide from the people where the decision-making power lies. She is the stand-in for the fictitious person of state which represents the rule of the high and mighty against the rule of the alleged "mob". The Royal We is not you and I, it is not the people, her alleged subjects, those who are ruled over.
By speaking in our own name we can find out who we are and what we need and how we think we can get it. The only way forward is one which takes account of the ensemble of human relations, and to what they are revealing which is that the people cannot afford to entrust their fate to the self-serving ruling class.
From the outset of the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that its recommendations, published in 2010, should be followed. These stated that, in addition to pharmaceutical measures to be employed at the front line of disease control, such as the use of vaccination and antiviral drugs, non-pharmaceutical interventions should be used alongside as important control measures. Such measures fall into four groups, aiming to (1) limit international spread of the virus; (2) reduce spread within populations; (3) reduce the individual risk of infection (through personal protection and hygiene measures); and (4) raise public awareness of the risks. These measures drew on the experience of both the SARS epidemic in 2003 and the H1N1 Influenza epidemic of 2009. An important part of reducing the risk of infection by and to individuals was the importance of widespread distribution and wearing of masks.
By contrast, the official recommendation in the UK was to advise that the public should not wear face masks. Indeed, official reports and advice cast aspersions on the efficacy and use of masks. Claims were made that there was no scientific evidence that masks were effective. However, the opposite is the case. In a casual review of scientific studies and papers written between 2010 and March 2020, from journals including the American Journal of Infection Control (2010), Risk Analysis (2010), the peer-reviewed PLOS Pathogens (2012; 2013), and the Lancet Journal of Respiratory Medicine (2020), all show that 'the use of masks during a pandemic can minimize the spread of influenza and its economic impact'. The American Journal of Infection Control (2010) wrote:
"Face masks are an effective, practical, non-pharmaceutical intervention that would reduce the spread of influenza among school children, while keeping schools open. Influenza spreads through person-to-person contact, via transmission by large droplets or aerosols (droplet nuclei) produced by breathing, talking, coughing, or sneezing, as well as by direct or indirect [i.e., via objects or materials which are likely to carry infection, such as clothes, utensils, and furniture] contact. â¦. poor understanding of influenza transmission risks and a lack of good public health education can lead to the 'worried well syndrome', but an effective, well-publicised science-based policy can minimise the probability of this reaction. Educating the public on the severity of influenza and the effectiveness of masks can reduce its economic impact and spread."
More recently, the UK government has admitted that the motivation in downplaying the use of masks was motivated by the need to save respirator masks for healthcare workers and that there were not enough masks to supply even the hospital health workers, let alone to supply the general population. Similar to the U-turn made by the government from encouraging so-called "herd-immunity" to the now the stated goal to "flatten the curve", it is now becoming apparent that were the government to make masks as widely available as possible, and given out freely at hospitals, care homes, schools, shopping centres, all places of work and places where people congregate en masse, then we would see a "significant reduction in the rate of Influenza-like illnesses (ILI)". Indeed, a PLOS Pathogens Journal (2012) study concluded that the spread of a Corona type virus could be reduced by up to 75% by the simple use of non-pharmaceutical measures such as face masks and hand hygiene combined.
In the Lancet Journal of Respiratory Medicine published Online on March 20, 2020, it quotes that the "WHO called for a 40% increase in the production of protective equipment, including face masks. Meanwhile, health authorities should optimise face mask distribution to prioritise the needs of front-line health-care workers and the most vulnerable populations in communities who are more susceptible to infection and mortality if infected, including older adults (particularly those older than 65 years) and people with underlying health conditions."
The latest edition of The British Medical Journal of April 9 also emphasises the view of experts that it is time to encourage people to wear face masks as a precautionary measure on the grounds that we have little to lose and potentially something to gain. Professor Trisha Greenhalgh at the University of Oxford and colleagues say that masks "could have a substantial impact on transmission with a relatively small impact on social and economic life". In an opinion piece, researchers recommend that health care workers should not be caring for COVID-19 patients without proper respiratory protection.
In summary, the mass production and use of masks should be promoted and encouraged as a matter of urgency in containing the spread of the Coronavirus COVID-19. All the resources and funding necessary should be done to support these measures. Of course, all necessary measures must be implemented to look after those already infected by the virus, and to roll out widespread testing of the population. But it is clear from all the scientific data we have available spanning a decade of research, that wearing masks works!
Can we reduce the spread of influenza in schools with face masks? (Del Valle and Tang: American Journal of Infection Control, 2010)
A Study of Barriers to the Wearing of Face Masks by Adults in the US to Prevent the Spread of Influenza by Yu-wen Hung (A Thesis Presented in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Science in Design; ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY December 2018.)
The Effect of Mask Use on the Spread of Influenza During a Pandemic (Brienen and Teunis: Risk Analysis, Vol. 30, No. 8, 2010)
Facemasks, Hand Hygiene, and Influenza among Young Adults: A Randomized Intervention Trial (Aiello and Monto; PLoS ONE www.plosone.org 8 January 2012, Volume 7, Issue 1, e29744)
Rational use of face masks in the COVID-19 pandemic (Lancet Respiratory Medicine 2020 Published Online March 20, 2020. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(20)30134-X/fulltext
Influenza Virus Aerosols in Human Exhaled Breath: Particle Size, Culturability, and Effect of Surgical Masks (Milton and McDevitt: PLOS Pathogens, www.plospathogens.org, 7 March 2013, Volume 9, Issue 3: e1003205)
In the face of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, while the rest of the world is working to arrest the virus and stabilise the dangerous situation at hand, it is a provocation against all humanity that the NATO members continue to engage in aggressive military exercises.
Throughout the spring and summer, numerous military exercises had been planned under the umbrella of US Defender Europe 2020. Defender Europe 2020 is a US-led multinational exercise and is the largest deployment of US-based forces to Europe in more than 25 years with 20,000 soldiers deployed directly from the US to Europe. Deployment of US based forces to Europe for these exercises began in February. The British NATO Defender official website confirmed Britain's continued warmongering role in these aggressive military war games, which include approximately 2,600 British service personnel. Declared to be "the biggest of its kind since the Cold War", the exercises are provocatively aimed against Russia after Brexit. It "clearly demonstrates the UK's commitment to NATO and shows that whilst the UK is leaving the EU, it is not leaving Europe and remains utterly committed to its security".
While the US military announced on March 16 that these exercises were being scaled back, with some elements outright cancelled in light of the pandemic, still many of the exercises continue. The purpose of these exercises, according to the US military, is to build "strategic readiness by deploying a combat credible force to Europe in support of NATO and US National Defence Strategy" and to test the ability of the US military to "move seamlessly from country to country", mobilising its forces and equipment from the US and other military bases in Europe and around the world.
Even with the interruption of some of the planned exercises, the US military's European Command (EUCOM) declared on March 17: "This effort has exercised the Army's ability to co-ordinate large scale movements with Allies and partners. Since January, the Army deployed approximately 6,000 soldiers from the United States to Europe including a division headquarters and an armoured brigade combat team. It has moved approximately 9,000 vehicles and pieces of equipment from the US military's Army Prepositioned Stocks and approximately 3,000 pieces of equipment via sea from the United States. And, in coordination with Allies and partners, it also completed movement of soldiers and equipment from multiple ports to training areas in Germany and Poland."
Defender Europe 2020 was a huge logistics of war exercise. For example, 14 air and seaports in eight European countries were used to stage incoming equipment. Another 13,000 pieces of equipment were to be drawn from the Army Prepositioned Stocks in north-west Europe and deployed across 18 countries for training. The exercises were to test the capabilities of European infrastructure - roads, bridges, train routing etc. The British Army has moved large numbers of troops and heavy equipment, such as the retooled US Abrams battle tanks and US Bradley fighting vehicles into Belgium and from West to East and into the Netherlands and across mainland Europe into Poland. As well as transporting and servicing Apache attack helicopters and Chinook helicopters right across Europe, it demonstrates that the British army's new role as one of welcoming, transporting and servicing the US army and its equipment and soldiers in Europe.
The US is now returning troops deployed for Defender Europe 2020 back home "to protect them" from COVID-19, while NATO is carrying out smaller-scaled military exercises, all of it aimed at containing Russian "aggression".
An example of these reduced exercises is one being carried out in the Black Sea in Russia's backyard to provoke Russia. Since March 24, Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2) along with the Romanian Navy and Air Force are carrying out mine-sweeping and other operations. This NATO formation includes the warships ITS Fasan (Italy), HMCS Fredericton (Canada), TCG Salihreis (Turkey), ROS Regina Maria (Romania) and BGS Verni (Bulgaria). One of the exercises conducted this past week had the SNMG2 missile frigates providing "protection" for NATO ships while Romanian Air Force MiG-21 jets simulated attacks on the ships.
It is unconscionable that, while the whole humanity is united in trying to face the pandemic together and to find solutions, the US, Britain and their NATO allies continue to spend billions on military exercises and war games. Enlightened humanity on the other hand demands that we put an end to militarism, war and aggressive military alliances such as NATO.
Dismantle NATO and Bring British Troops Home!
Last month the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for the easing of economic sanctions imposed by the US, Britain and the other big powers against various countries. "At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries," she said, "sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended. In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us."
However, despite this warning the government of US, as well as the governments of other countries, including Britain, continue to apply a variety of sanctions, including economic sanctions during the Covid-19 pandemic against Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and other countries such as the DPR of Korea and Zimbabwe. In many cases such sanctions are used to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign countries or to further the regime change agenda of the big powers.
The governments of the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions against Venezuela for many years, the US for over ten years. The US government has intensified sanctions since 2019, and again this year, in an attempt to bring about regime change in that country. Sanctions are imposed not only on scores of individuals but against Venezuela's oil industry, the state oil company, the financial sector and the central bank.
US imperialism, with the support of the government of Britain and other allies, has done everything possible to destabilise the government and economy of Venezuela, in order to force from office Nicólas Maduro, who was twice elected as president of Venezuela in elections in 2013 and 2018. Even before President Maduro took office, in January 2019, US imperialism and its allies acting under the auspices of the Organisation of American States and the Lima Group had declared, without any credible evidence, that the May 2018 election was "illegitimate". The US government urged President Maduro not to take office, but instead to transfer executive power to the National Assembly, controlled by opposition parties and under the leadership of Juan Guaido, until new elections could be held. The government of Britain, for its part, took a similar stand to the US government. In January 2019, Jeremy Hunt declared: "Nicólas Maduro is not the legitimate leader of Venezuela," and "the United Kingdom believes that Juan Guaido is the right person to take Venezuela forward." The governments of the United States and Britain as well as their allies, have continued to apply economic sanctions that impact on the well-being of the Venezuelan people.
Speaking early last month on the situation in Venezuela, Michelle Bachelet stated: "With regard to economic and social rights, the imposition of new economic sanctions is concerning, notably those affecting airline CONVIASA, as well as sanctions on the oil industry, which reduce the Government's resources for social spending." As a paediatrician, she drew particular attention to the problems of medical care for children, and added: "Despite exceptions to allow imports of medicines, food and humanitarian supplies, public services and the general population continue to suffer from the impact of over compliance from the financial sector." A recent survey by the World Food Programme indicated that 2.3 million people in Venezuela are severely food insecure and 7 million are moderately food insecure. In response to the dire situation in the country, Venezuela has recently received medical aid directly from the WHO and the UN.
However, the US government has intensified measures to oust the government of Nicólas Maduro during the current pandemic. First the US government indicted President Maduro and fourteen other leading figures of the government and army, including the defence minister and chief justice, on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering. The US government offered a reward of $15 million for information leading to Maduro's capture and prosecution. The US State Department also hinted that Venezuela might be invaded as Panama was in 1988 and its president removed from office.
At the end of March, the US government stated that it, together with the EU and Britain would only lift sanctions against Venezuela, if the current government accepted what was referred to as a "democratic transition framework". This "framework", imposed by the US and its allies, requires both the president of Venezuela and Guaido to stand aside in order that the US can establish an interim government favourable to its interests. Commentators point out that a transitional agreement was already being discussed by politicians within Venezuela, but this was not acceptable to the US government. Most political parties in Venezuela have already condemned such brazen interference in their domestic affairs.
At the start of April, the US President Donald Trump declared that the US was sending warships, other naval vessels and aircraft to double its military capacity in the Caribbean, not to aid the people of the that region facing the pandemic, but to further threaten the government of Venezuela. Trump announced that other countries would support such sabre-rattling and gunboat diplomacy, which is not in accord with the UN Charter nor with the view of CARICOM, the organisation of Caribbean States. The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, for example, reiterated the CARICOM view that the Caribbean must be remain a zone of peace.
Increasingly, people and countries throughout the world are raising their voices to oppose the blatant interference of the US, Britain and their allies in Venezuela. Such warmongering and interference must be condemned, as must all attempts to use the pandemic to further attack the rights and well-being of the people.
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