The following is a report given by Evan Blake on August 1 to the Seventh Congress of the Socialist Equality Party (US) in support of the resolution titled “The COVID-19 pandemic and the fight for socialism.

Blake is a member of the National Committee of the SEP. Read the full report on the Congress and the resolutions adopted at it.

Revolutionary greeting to comrades throughout world. The fact that this is our second Congress and third summer event that we’ve had to hold online is incredible. The pandemic has remained a significant health risk for far longer than any of us initially expected.

This is an unprecedented, historical event that has impacted every person on the planet. There is not a country in the world where the word COVID is not recognized. From the beginning we’ve been the only political movement in the world that has taken the pandemic seriously, and today we are the only party that still recognizes the ongoing and, in fact, deepening dangers of the pandemic.

According to official figures, 582 million people have been infected with COVID-19 worldwide, including 93 million in the United States. But we know that the real level of infections is far higher.

This chart is from a seroprevalence study conducted by the CDC, which showed that by February 2022 almost 60 percent of the US population, or roughly 200 million people, had been infected with COVID-19. This included 75 percent of all children, or roughly 55 million kids, with a substantial surge from BA.1 which you can see from December to February.

Chart showing estimates of the percentage of each age group in the US population that have been infected with COVID-19, as of February 2022 (Credit: CDC)

Since February, with the spread of four more Omicron subvariants, the overall figure has likely increased to at least 75 percent of the US population, or 250 million people. If this figure were extrapolated for the world’s population outside China, likely somewhere from 4.5 to 5 billion people have actually been infected with COVID-19 at least once worldwide since the start of the pandemic.

According to the excess deaths tracker by The Economist, there have now been 22.2 million global excess deaths attributable to the pandemic, including 1.2 million in the US. In the span of just 2.5 years, COVID has killed as many people as died during the four years of World War I. If you take the estimate of 50 million deaths during World War II, then the rate at which people have died from COVID is roughly equal to the rates seen during the Second World War.

According to this tracker, every week 100,000-200,000 people are still dying worldwide due to the pandemic. This has gone down slightly in the past year due to vaccinations, but as you can see the Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 waves caused pronounced surges in excess deaths globally, and deaths from BA.5 are just beginning to show on this tracker.

When one looks at who has been killed by COVID, the overwhelming majority have been the elderly. In the US, over 760,000 people above 65 years old have died from COVID, or one in every 70 people in that age group. Another 260,000 working age adults have been killed in the US.

Despite the endless lies that have been told about the impacts of COVID on children—which only our movement has made clear have always been intended to force the reopening of schools in order to send parents back to work—the number of child deaths from COVID has been horrific worldwide.

This chart from Greg Travis, whom we interviewed for the Global Workers’ Inquest, shows that just in the past year 1,300 children died from COVID in this country, making it the second leading cause of death by disease after all forms of cancer. In total, somewhere from 2,000 to 5,000 children have died from COVID in the US, and the global figure is now in the tens of thousands.

Chart showing pediatric deaths by cause of death, July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2022 (Credit: Greg Travis)

In addition, roughly 10 million children worldwide have lost a parent or primary caregiver to COVID-19, which is a staggering figure. In the US, over 200,000 children have lost a parent or primary caregiver, the majority under the Biden administration.

The emotional and psychological trauma inflicted by this level of death is enormous. This is a quote from an article by Ed Yong published in April, which I think indicates the scale of the grief that millions are now going through. Yong is a reporter at The Atlantic who won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting last year due to his coverage on the pandemic. He wrote:

Each American who has died of COVID has left an average of nine close relatives bereaved, creating a community of grievers larger than the population of all but 11 states. Under normal circumstances, 10 percent of bereaved people would be expected to develop prolonged grief, which is unusually intense, incapacitating, and persistent. But for COVID grievers, that proportion may be even higher, because the pandemic has ticked off many risk factors.

Deaths from COVID have been unexpected, untimely, particularly painful, and, in many cases, preventable. The pandemic has replaced community with isolation, empathy with judgment, and opportunities for healing with relentless triggers. Some of these features accompany other causes of death, but COVID has woven them together and inflicted them at scale.[1]

If you extrapolate his figure globally, roughly 200 million close relatives are grieving the loss of their loved ones, and at least 20 million people worldwide are suffering from prolonged grief, with millions more grieving each month.

In addition to the profound impact of the 22 million deaths from COVID, as we’ve noted, the pandemic is also a “mass disabling event” due to the ever-growing toll of Long COVID, which advocates have warned about since May 2020. As the resolution notes:

The chances of developing Long COVID are compounded with each reinfection and only slightly reduced by vaccination. In June, the US government officially acknowledged that roughly 20 million American adults were suffering from Long COVID, a figure that will continue to rise with each new wave of infections and reinfections. Extrapolated globally, there are likely over 400 million people worldwide now suffering from Long COVID, for which there remains no viable treatment.

Long COVID is a massive and deepening crisis which has horrific impacts on millions of people affected throughout the world. As shown in this graphic, it can affect nearly every organ in the body, and roughly a third of all Long COVID patients experience debilitating symptoms which prevent them from functioning normally at work or in their daily lives. Scientists have used the analogy of an iceberg to stress that in the long-term this will have vast consequences for society that we don’t yet see.

Some of the most prevalent symptoms of Long COVID (Credit: WSWS)

As a result of the mass death and debilitation caused by the “let it rip” policies of the past 2.5 years, life expectancy has plummeted in countries throughout the world. Life expectancy is the gold standard by which one can measure societal progress, and the vast declines that have taken place globally are perhaps the most profound testament to the impact of the pandemic and the utterly reactionary character of world capitalism. The resolution states:

Coronavirus infection has also been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, a range of neurological disorders, kidney disease, diabetes, immune dysregulation and other life-altering or lethal after-effects. The combined impacts of mass death and debilitation have lowered life expectancy in the US by over 2 years since the start of the pandemic.

Worldwide, life expectancy has dropped by 1.6 years, the first global decline since the end of World War II. This immense social retrogression, long advocated by eugenicists such as Ezekiel Emanuel, is seen as a positive good by dominant sections of the ruling class for reducing pension obligations and other social welfare spending.

This year’s Congress takes place amid the global surge of the Omicron BA.5 subvariant, which we’ve written on extensively on the site. This is by far the largest surge to take place during the summer in the Northern Hemisphere. The impacts of BA.5 across Europe have been terrible. Official deaths have surged in Portugal, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and other countries, while excess deaths are steadily rising in the UK and many other countries.

The case of New Zealand is particularly significant. At our August 22 webinar last year, in which Dr. Michael Baker participated, the virus was still eliminated in New Zealand and the country had only 27 deaths. But then the elimination strategy was abandoned by the Ardern government, and now we see the horrific results. The death toll is now at 2,212 and rising, as is the case in neighboring Australia, where physician Dr. David Berger faces state censorship for advocating a Zero-COVID policy.

As we’ve analyzed on the WSWS, the BA.5 surge has prompted a major shift in the Biden administration’s pandemic policy. Just as BA.5 was becoming dominant, the decision was made to lift most COVID-19 security measures protecting Biden, thereby allowing him to become infected with the virus.

Over the past two weeks, Biden’s infection was seized upon by the White House to openly proclaim what has been their unstated policy since the emergence of the Omicron variant: Everyone will be infected with COVID, repeatedly, year after year, forever.

This slide shows the quotes last week from White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and COVID Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha, which are really quite remarkable. While they’re now openly saying that COVID will never go away, they continue to conceal the disastrous implications of this “forever COVID” policy.

We pointed to some of these implications in our perspective on July 29 and will be writing on this further, but it’s incredibly dire. Essentially, we’re now in a situation where billions of people are being infected or reinfected throughout the world each year.

The death toll and the number of people suffering from Long COVID will continue to mount with each new variant, while each reinfection will increase one’s chances of death, Long COVID or associated health risks. Rates of heart attacks, strokes, cardiovascular diseases, kidney disease, neurological disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and more, will steadily rise, while life expectancy will continue to fall for the working class.

One of the central concerns of principled scientists is the inevitability of further viral evolution, which we’ve warned about since August 2020 before the vaccines were even approved and continually stressed in particular since the emergence of the Delta variant over a year ago. This is a visualization of the antigenic drift that’s taken place with SARS-CoV-2, where we see how distinct the Omicron subvariants on the right-hand side are from the rest of the variants.

Under the current scenario, in which all mitigations have been lifted and the increasingly infectious and immune-resistant Omicron variants are allowed to spread entirely unchecked, the process of viral evolution is speeding up. The Biden administration’s strategy, if you can call it one, now solely relies on existing vaccines and Paxlovid, which we’re already seeing are losing their efficacy due to viral evolution.

These statements from Dr. Eric Topol, which we quoted in the July 29 perspective, elaborate on this critical issue that we’ve stressed over the past year, in particular, and completely refute the lies told by the Biden administration. Regarding Paxlovid, Dr. Topol stated:

We’re going to see resistance to this drug, which, after the vaccines, is the second-most-important advance that we have had to take on the virus. But it may be short-lived, it could be that by year’s end or the beginning of next year, we won’t have Paxlovid as a remedy or rescue anymore[2]

Commenting on a recent CDC study, which showed significant drops in the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing hospitalizations from infections with BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 this spring, he stated:

To drop down almost 40 points in effectiveness against hospitalizations with only two shots—this should be a signal that something is going on with our vaccine protection. But you don’t see anybody raising concerns about this. All you hear is happy talk that we have great protection from hospitalizations and deaths.[3]

This data underscores the points raised by Eric Topol about the CDC study. On the left of this slide, we see the rise in child hospitalizations throughout the pandemic, which have surged in recent weeks due to BA.5 and will rise even further in the coming weeks as schools fully reopen once again. On the right, you can see hospitalization rates for each age band, and there’s also been a significant uptick in hospitalizations in the oldest age group at the top, those above 70 years old.

Comrade Benjamin Mateus and I also recently spoke with Dr. Arijit Chakravarty, the scientist from Fractal Therapeutics, that Benjamin interviewed extensively in May on the implications of “endemic” or “forever COVID.” When we spoke, he raised many of the same points as Eric Topol, while also elaborating on other dangers of viral evolution. In the interview in May he noted this back-of-the-envelope calculation:

If the whole world was vaccinated tomorrow, and we spent just three years “learning to live with COVID” under the current strategy, we could well have over a billion people living with Long COVID.

Fractal Therapeutics is currently running complex models on this issue and trying to forecast the implications of “forever COVID” in terms of the toll that Long COVID and associated health risks will have in the coming years. When we spoke last week, he also raised these critical issues on the “forever COVID” policy, stating:

You turn your back on viral evolution at your own peril. The current public health response is ignoring viral evolution, and the virus could change the deal on us at any time. Their whole strategy relies on the goodwill of the virus.

He continued:

Repeated reinfection with COVID is being viewed only through the lens of the mortality and morbidity of the virus as it is now, but it’s a moving target. If we expect the virus in the future to have similar properties, that’s a very optimistic position. COVID remains a serious threat to our society for several reasons:

1) You could end up in a situation where along comes a variant with a much higher infection fatality ratio, and you don’t know until the morgues start filing up. Because all precautions have been lifted, it remains a major unmitigated risk for some time.

2) Everybody gets COVID really often, and millions of people get at least a little messed up each time. If you do that for 5-10 years, what will be the cumulative impact? In doing risk assessment, one must always be conscious that a small hazard could turn into a great risk with increased frequency.

3) You could very easily have a situation where there are simultaneous pandemics of genetically distinct variants of the virus, as has been seen with dengue. If the virus continues to mutate as rapidly as it has, the density of COVID waves will keep getting tighter and tighter, and their frequency could increase.

These potential scenarios outlined by Dr. Chakravarty completely expose every claim made about “herd immunity” and the bankruptcy of the mitigationist and vaccine-only approaches.

It’s important to recall that the outbreak of Omicron was positively welcomed by the Biden administration and other world governments, because they felt that they had something which would infect so many people that it would send the virus into “endemicity.” As we wrote, it was the embrace of “herd immunity” by the entire political establishment.

Once again, they were completely wrong and shortsighted. The more people are infected, the more the virus mutates. Their problem was that the virus was smarter than they are. Their strategy relies on the goodwill of the virus not to evolve, which is patently unscientific.

I’ll come back to some of these issues at the end of my report and also go into the situation with monkeypox and what we can expect in the coming months. But I want to turn now to really focus on how this monumental tragedy has unfolded, including the historical background of the pandemic and the response of the ICFI. This is the focus of the third section of the resolution, which is really the core and most important section. It begins:

The record of the WSWS and ICFI on the pandemic is unparalleled and a triumph of the Marxist movement. Since January 2020, we have published over 5,000 articles on the pandemic, continuously alerting the international working class to the mounting global catastrophe and advocating for policies to eliminate SARS-CoV-2 globally.

From the beginning, the ICFI insisted that the pandemic was not simply a medical issue but primarily political, social and economic arising from the broader world capitalist crisis. The response to the pandemic would be determined by preexisting social conditions.

In the US, decades of unending war, financial parasitism, deindustrialization, the corporatist degeneration of the unions, the evisceration of democratic rights, and the cultivation of far-right politics embodied in the presidency of Donald Trump were the determining forces at the start of 2020.

One must ask: Why is it that the ICFI responded to the pandemic unlike any other political tendency in the world? What is it that prepared our movement to carry out such a vast, thoroughgoing analysis of this world historic event?

The most important aspect of our response to the pandemic has been the political and programmatic perspective that we have outlined for the international working class. The insights that we’ve made flowed directly from the preparatory work that was done during the 4th Phase in the history of the Trotskyist movement from 1986-2019. On this slide, I’ve listed some of the key gains that were made during this 33-year time period that are most relevant to our work on the pandemic:

  • First, this period saw the renaissance of Trotskyism, rooted above all in internationalism and the fight for permanent revolution. This is the central significance of our coverage and the work of our party during the pandemic. It’s always been guided by an internationalist perspective, proceeding from the world situation to the national.
  • Second, the thoroughgoing analysis of globalization and the trade unions that we made beginning in the 1980s.
  • Third, our analysis of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which set into motion a process of global counterrevolution to reverse all the social gains won by the working class in prior struggles.
  • Fourth, the founding of the World Socialist Web Site in 1998.
  • Fifth, our response to the 2008 financial collapse and its ramifications.
  • Sixth, our continuous struggle for science and historical truth against the Frankfurt School, postmodernism, the 1619 Project and religious obscurantism, including the case of Terry Schiavo.
  • And seventh, our hostility to Malthusianism, the pseudo-left, the Green parties and all other forms of petty-bourgeois politics.

During this time period, the 33 years from 1986 to 2019, every other political tendency in the world which claimed to be Marxist or Trotskyist abandoned the working class and accommodated themselves to world capitalism and imperialism.

In contrast, the preparatory work and theoretical clarification that was done by the ICFI left us extremely well-positioned to respond to the pandemic. We immediately understood how disastrous this would be, due to the preexisting crisis of capitalism and the virtual destruction of the labor movement.

The question of public health and the fight for socialized medicine has always been central to the Marxist movement. One of the most critical elements of the pandemic is the way in which the centuries-long struggle for public health has been completely repudiated, especially in the United States but also throughout much of the world.

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The historical background of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fight for global elimination

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