New Zealand goes from zero COVID to some of the highest infections and deaths in the world: workers must fight for an elimination strategy

The dire situation in New Zealand reinforces the urgent need for workers to fight for a global strategy to eliminate COVID-19. We urge readers to share this statement and contact the Socialist Equality Group to discuss the practical steps and socialist perspective needed to save lives and end the pandemic.

Medical staff test shoppers who have volunteered at a pop-up community COVID-19 testing station in a supermarket car park in Christchurch, New Zealand. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

In the past six months since the start of the school year in February, New Zealand has gone from having one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates to one of the most dangerous countries in the world. The total number of deaths within 28 days of coronavirus infection rose from around 60 at the end of January to more than 2,000 at the end of July.

According to the Worldometers website, New Zealand recorded 36 COVID-related deaths per million people in the seven days ending July 29, the highest death rate of any country.

This horrific record is the result of deliberate policy decisions by the Labor led government, which includes the Green Party. For most of the pandemic, New Zealand has remained largely coronavirus-free, thanks to a relatively strict national lockdown imposed from March 26 to May 14, 2020, which reduced cases to zero, as well as further lockdowns in Auckland and the imposition of border quarantine. measures.

Last October, however, at the behest of New Zealand and international business elites, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the end of the previous pledge to bring COVID cases to zero. She falsely stated that the Delta variant could not be eliminated. A lockdown that was in place in Auckland, the center of a Delta outbreak, was weakened and then lifted in December, allowing the virus to spread nationwide.

Without any pretense of democratic process and against the advice of public health experts, the Labor Party decreed that there would be no more lockdowns and that schools should remain open for in-person learning. After Omicron arrived in 2022, vaccination mandates were scrapped, mask mandates removed from schools, and the border quarantine system was dismantled.

The Ardern government has joined the capitalist governments of all countries except China in adopting a criminal policy of mass infection. In the United States, a Biden administration official recently summed up the ruling class position, saying “everyone is going to get COVID.”

The working class, however, cannot accept the “new normal” of endless waves of death and serious illness. Policies adopted around the world have already resulted in more than 20 million COVID deaths, the vast majority of which could have been prevented. Millions more have long-term debilitating illnesses, known as Long COVID.

The Socialist Equality Group (SEG) calls on workers to wage a political struggle for a fully funded public health strategy to eliminate COVID-19. This fight must be waged in opposition to the government led by the Labor Party and all the parliamentary parties, as well as the trade unions. Unions act as enforcers of the “let it rip” agenda. On behalf of the state and corporations, they have played the central role in locking children in schools and adults in COVID-infested workplaces.

New organizations – rank-and-file security committees – must be built in schools, hospitals and other workplaces, to coordinate opposition to the murderous policy of mass infection, nationally and internationally. The SEG supports the call made last year by the International Committee of the Fourth International for the creation of an International Alliance of Rank and File Committee Workers “to develop the framework for new forms of independent rank and file organizations, democratic and militant. classify workers’ organizations in factories, schools and workplaces internationally.

Workers must reject the lies propagated by politicians, the media and the unions to justify the criminal policy of “let it rip”. These include claims that Omicron is ‘mild’, that children are not significant spreaders of the virus and that the crisis will resolve itself through so-called ‘hybrid immunity’ resulting from vaccinations and infections.

If the current trend continues, experts estimate that COVID deaths could reach 3,500 or more by the end of the year, increasing the overall mortality rate by more than 10%. More than 1.6 million cases of coronavirus have been officially recorded in New Zealand, and it is likely that more than half of the country’s 5 million people have had the virus.

More than 23,000 people have reported being infected more than once, and there is growing evidence that infection does not confer lasting immunity but can, in fact, significantly weaken a person’s defenses against the disease. .

Over the past month, the number of people hospitalized with COVID has more than doubled, from just under 400 in late June to over 800 by July 28. Dilapidated and underfunded public hospitals, also facing a resurgence of flu and other winter illnesses. diseases, are dangerously overcrowded and have been forced to postpone tens of thousands of surgeries, including for cancer and heart patients.

The situation in hospitals, which doctors are increasingly calling a “catastrophe”, is fueling anger and opposition. Hundreds of doctors and experts have signed a petition urging the government to adopt a “Vaccines Plus” strategy to suppress COVID transmission. Thousands of healthcare workers have staged strikes against unsafe staffing levels and low pay. In Australia and New Zealand, Zero COVID advocates such as Dr David Berger, who is facing unwarranted disciplinary action from Australian authorities, are enjoying growing support.

The government, however, rejected all calls for stricter mitigation measures. Ardern said at a July 25 press conference that “the parameters we have [limited mask mandates and self-isolation requirements] will in fact make a marked difference” and that New Zealand was in a better position than “a number of other countries”. None of the journalists present asked the Prime Minister to explain why, if true, New Zealand’s daily COVID death rate is among the highest in the world.

The government’s position emphasizes that the fight against the pandemic is not just a medical issue: it is a political issue that requires a coordinated struggle by the working class.

The entire parliamentary and media establishment insists that the population must “live with” the virus. Opposition National Party leader Christopher Luxon has made a favorable reference to European countries “leaving” COVID, even as Omicron sweeps across the continent, killing thousands every day.

These parties speak for the corporate and financial aristocracy, which views lockdowns and other proven, effective public health measures as an intolerable imposition of the “right” to profit from working people. Schools must remain open so parents can keep working, no matter how many thousands of people are expected to fall seriously ill and die.

Workers must recognize the reactionary role played by the union bureaucracy in the implementation of this program. In a July 25 interview with NewstalkZB, Post-Primary Teachers’ Association President Melanie Webber again echoed the false propaganda that schools are “safe,” absurdly adding that “many transmissions actually occur outside of schools rather than inside schools.”

Internationally, the pandemic has laid bare the character of trade unions, which have long since ceased to be workers’ organizations in any meaningful sense. They are controlled by privileged bureaucracies that work with big business and the state to divide and suppress the working class.

Rank and file committees, democratically controlled by the workers themselves, will break the shackles of the unions and fight to unite the working class in New Zealand with workers internationally behind political demands based on the principle that no expense should be spared to save thousands of lives.

Schools and non-essential businesses should be closed immediately until the number of COVID-19 cases is reduced to zero. The most effective public health measures, such as those used in China, must be adopted, including mass testing to identify and isolate all chains of virus transmission. A hotel quarantine system must be reestablished for people entering the country, with safe and adequately staffed facilities to prevent the virus from escaping.

All workers and small business owners unable to work during lockdown should be fully compensated, including part-time and casual workers. No one should have to choose between risking their life in a dangerous workplace and being unable to feed their family and pay their rent.

Workers in essential industries, including health care and food production and distribution, should be provided with high-quality N95 masks, along with air filters and carbon dioxide monitors, and other measures to ensure their safety.

Businesses, union leaders and bourgeois politicians will insist that a strategy of elimination is unaffordable and will hurt the “economy”, i.e. profits. Workers should reject these demands with contempt. Over the past two years, the government has made available tens of billions of dollars to subsidize big business, while the Reserve Bank has printed more than $50 billion for quantitative easing to support commercial banks. .

While wages are slashed by inflation, the rich are richer than ever. The Treasury estimates that corporate profits have increased by 60% over the past two years. If funding is needed to support the zero COVID strategy, then it should be confiscated from the record profits of banks and corporations.

Those who claim that society cannot afford to stop COVID-19 are defending a rotten social system that is incompatible with the most basic rights to life and health. The Socialist Equality Group calls on workers to draw the necessary and ambitious political conclusion: that capitalism must be abolished and society restructured along socialist lines, so that the vast resources accumulated by the rich can be used to eliminate inequality social rights, ending wars, ensuring decent health care and other social rights, and developing a science-based and internationally coordinated response to the pandemic and climate crisis.

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