Coronavirus: Western governments ‘weighing GDP and stocks against human lives’

SAVING lives from Covid-19 is considered less important than protecting the economy by many Western governments, a leading expert told Redaction Politics.

Author and anthropologist Dr Jason Hickel felt concerns over threats to continued GDP growth has resulted in a fatal delay to take action against the pandemic in the West.

This comes as US President Donald Trump claimed a recession was more dangerous than coronavirus and America should be “opened up and raring to go” by Easter next month.

Mr Hickel said: “East Asian countries [such as China and South Korea] were quick to react and contain the virus. Western governments were slow; despite weeks of advance warning, they failed to prepare. 

“It’s clear that Western governments were reluctant to take strong measures because they feared the impact it might have on the economy. They were literally weighing GDP and stocks against human lives.

“It was only once the true scale of possible deaths became clear that they opted to act, but now they are severely behind. Tens of thousands of otherwise avoidable deaths will happen as a result.”

Mr Trump’s comments came as the World Health Organisation warned that the US could become the next epicentre of the outbreak after Europe.

Mr Hickel welcomed the UK’s move to impose stricter isolation measures on March 23 but argued it had come too late.

“The UK has finally ordered a lockdown, which is a welcome step, but it should have come earlier.

“The next step is to immediately scale up widespread testing and tracing, just as South Korea has done. This is the only way to drive the virus to extinction.”

“It is not too late, but it must be done immediately,” Mr Hickel argued.

A partial economic response had also debilitated the UK’s response to the virus according to Mr Hickel.

“They have not done anything about debts and rents, which will pile up and create a crisis,” he said.

A payment ‘holiday’ of three months for mortgages has been introduced, giving homeowners some short-term respite but facing the prospect of having to pay off more debt down the line.

No such measure is available as yet for renters, who fear not being able to make ends meet.

Mr Hickel called for all governments to take much more radical economic action to avoid mass bankruptcies and crippling global poverty.

It’s clear that there is only one workable option: governments must step in to pay the debts and rents of small businesses that have been forced to close, and to pay the wages of workers (including self-employed workers) that have lost their jobs for the duration of this crisis. 

“The only way to pay for this in a progressive manner is to use a wealth tax. This approach will ensure that the richest in society will bear the burden, as they are best placed to do so.”

Dr Jason Hickel serves on the Labour Party task force on international development.

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