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Have business and political leaders decided to co-exist with COVID-19 instead of seeking its curtailment?

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Image: De an Sun/Unsplash

Politicians and corporations in the United States and Canada have started to open up their economies and relax strict safeguards against the spread of COVID-19. This is happening even though the coronavirus remains prevalent in both countries.

In the U.S., the pandemic still proliferates in several states, where the rates of infection and fatalities continue to escalate. In Canada, the extent of such irresponsible negligence is much less, but remains worrisome.

There are a couple of reasons for this dereliction. The most obvious is the urgency of political and business leaders to revive the stalled economy. With profits collapsing and many small and medium-sized companies already going bankrupt, the future of capitalism itself is at stake.

So, even though the capitalist system has been contaminating the air, soil and water, elevating global temperatures and threatening the ultimate extinction of humankind, our big corporations and governments are determined to reactivate it -- even if that means enduring a co-existence with the pandemic, at least until an effective vaccine is created.

Secondly, it's not just the big business moguls and investors and their political puppets who yearn for a resurgence of uncontrolled capitalism. Also dependent on this pernicious economic system are the many millions of private sector employees. They only get their paycheques when the oil and gas pipes are running, the jungles deforested, the seas cluttered with trash and the factories spewing toxic gases. 

One of the benefits of the coronavirus has been the temporary reduction of this economic vandalism. The air is fresh, the forests uncut, pollution of lakes and rivers curbed, the causes of global warming diminished. Unfortunately, such a wholesome reprieve from rampant capitalism will soon come to an end. And that end will come to the delight, rather than regret, of most Americans and a sizeable number of Canadians.

Which leads to the final ironic reason why the relaxation of anti-pandemic measures has been so popular with so many people, even though COVID-19 persists, and might well generate a new and virulent wave in the fall. 

It's because so many people who are young and healthy have either escaped infection by the disease or have remained unaffected by it. Many believe they are immune. If you take a close look at people who have thronged beaches and parks without self-distancing or wearing masks, those in their teens, 20s, 30s and 40s stand out. They may not constitute the majority, but their number is significant.

This age-based disregard for spreading the virus to others who are more at risk is despicable, and seems to come as much from a sense of inevitability as selfishness. A belief that the victims are the ones who are least needed in society and thus the most expendable. To these elitists --

The elderly are expendable.

The weak are expendable.

The poor are expendable.

The chronically ill are expendable.

The uneducated are expendable.

The homeless are expendable.

And since members of these "unimportant" groups seem to constitute most of the victims of COVID-19, the elitists resent the quarantine, self-distancing, travel restrictions, and loss of outdoor pleasures that they feel are being unnecessarily imposed on them.

This resentment seems to be shared by affluent business and political titans, most of whom also have the financial and medical means to escape serious infection.

So, collectively, they appear to have decided they can safely re-establish their environmentally and socially disruptive economic system. If the pandemic still rages, they assume nearly all its victims will continue to be among the "expendables," whose demise will not seriously impair their personal pleasures. 

The last time the big business barons behaved with such ruthless disregard for the poor and powerless was during the 19th century Industrial Revolution. That's when workers were forced to toil long hours at meagre wages in the factories and mines, while their corporate rulers -- with government aid and connivance -- amassed huge fortunes. 

There were widespread epidemics back then, too, some like the great influenza outbreak that killed hundreds of thousands shortly after the end of the First World War. Today, to be fair, it must be conceded that most governments (apart from the U.S.) have so far made some effort to contain COVID-19 and limit fatalities.

With the uprising of a resurgent capitalism, however, the odds now are that the large corporations, banks and insurance companies will learn to live with the coronavirus rather than tolerate a further financial decline. Profits will once more prevail over protection and prevention.

Ed Finn grew up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where he worked as a printer's apprentice, reporter, columnist and editor of that city's daily newspaper, the Western Star. His career as a journalist included 14 years as a labour relations columnist for the Toronto Star. He was part of the world of politics between 1959 and 1962, serving as the first provincial leader of the NDP in Newfoundland. He worked closely with Tommy Douglas for some years and helped defend and promote medicare legislation in Saskatchewan.

Image: De an Sun/Unsplash

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