Repression and continued inequality VERSUS democracy, humanity and equity

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Looks clean and modern – but are these beds really 1.5 meters apart, as considered minimally necessary for social distancing in Europe?

The world has changed and humanity is at a crossroads. The coronavirus provides an opportunity to reassess the values and priorities of society. During and after the pandemic there is a choice. We can continue with the inequalities we have suffered over the last few decades or we could try and create a fair, democratic and equitable society.  The choices we make now in two key areas could perhaps prefigure the society we create after coronavirus. These are our attitudes to the wearing of facemasks and to the use of isolation centres.

There is almost no scientific evidence that the wearing of facemasks by the general public will reduce the level of infection by coronavirus.  But it appears to be common sense that the wearing of facemasks may reduce the extent that somebody who is infectious may pass on the virus. There appears to be a growing mood, at least amongst the governors of the south-western states, that everyone should wear facemasks when going out in public.

Thus, the governor of Lagos State has indicated that face masks should be worn in public. To help to achieve this objective, he is said to be arranging for one million facemasks to be produced by the Lagosian tailors.  This is a start but will clearly be inadequate for the approximately 20 million inhabitants of Lagos State.

Whilst it may be a good idea for people to wear face masks when they go out to the market, it will clearly lead to greater harassment by the police if it is suggested that this practice should be made mandatory. One taxi driver has already been killed by the police because his passengers were not wearing face masks.

If we want the public to wear facemasks or otherwise cover their mouths and noses, then we have to ensure that face masks are widely and freely available. We can then encourage people to use these facemasks in public and we can use social pressure to ensure that this practice is widely adopted.  So we have a choice, we can adopt repressive measures and suffer greater police harassment and violence; or we can ensure that face masks are freely available to all who need them and rely on common sense for these masks to be worn.

Another issue is the use of isolation centres. It appears that if people go to Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) centres and are tested for coronavirus, they face the risk of being incarcerated in isolation centres like the ones at Yaba or Onikan stadium in Lagos and the one being prepared at Bayero University of Kano.  By early April the military had developed 21 such centres. However, perhaps these isolation centres are only for poor people.  The rich and powerful, like the four governors who tested positive for coronavirus, did not suffer the indignity and dangers of being sent to such centres.

The people who faced the most danger from coronavirus are the health workers that are exposed to the virus on a daily basis. This explains why perhaps one in 10 of people who died from coronavirus in Italy were health workers. Most people in Europe who are infected by coronavirus do not need medical attention and are told to self-isolate at home.  They are only admitted to hospital if and when they developed breathing difficulties.  It is extremely dangerous to herd together those testing positive to coronavirus.  They will continue to infect each other and greatly increase their chances of dying. Is it any wonder that three individuals who tested positive to coronavirus ran away rather than being locked up in isolation centres in Kano and another person “escaped” from a similar facility in Osun State?

So again we face a choice, we can either lock-up anybody who tests positive to coronavirus in what are effectively dangerous concentration camps or we can rely on these people to self-isolate at home. Clearly this is very difficult for people who are living in high density communities including “face-me-I-face-you” accommodation. As in any decent society people who live in such accommodation should be provided with more appropriate places for human beings to live. These could include hotels or the many large empty houses which are widely available in most of all cities.

Any humane society would ensure that all its members had access to appropriate food water and accommodation. During the coronavirus pandemic this becomes particularly important. That is why we say No Palliatives = No Lockdowns! We demand that the government provides adequate food water and accommodation for everybody. We do not expect the poor unfortunate people in society who actually catch coronavirus to be herded into concentration camps to die alone.

The same approach will be needed after the coronavirus pandemic.  We need to organise as a society to ensure that all everybody has the food, water, accommodation and other basic necessities that they need. We want a society that is based on human need, not on human greed. We need a society that is planned round the needs and requirements of all its citizens and not just the profits of a few. This sort of society also needs to be democratic, we call this socialism.

by Drew POVEY

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