If the objective is to save lives, the optimal/utilitarian solution would be to maximise the self-isolation of as many people as possible for an indefinite period, so that asymptomatic carriers of the virus won’t transmit it among their community, thereby lessening the number of eventual cases, so that hospitals can cope with the extra strain. However, to do this effectively, society needs to act collectively rather than competitively.
Only work that is necessary for defeating this virus should be performed. This means subsidising workers if their labour is unnecessary, both with transfer payments and rent/mortgage freezes, or allocating them work that is necessary. It means the state forcing factories to produce what is necessary at cost. Grocery stores, pharmacies, petrol stations etc. are necessary, therefore their staff should be provided with what is necessary to keep them safe at work.
If it gets worse, the entire existing medical workforce should be conscripted into a labour army and private medical infrastructure should be expropriated for the purpose of achieving the public health objective. Health workers should be provided with accomodation away from their places of work, preferably as close to the hospital as possible, ideally with meals provided.
The Chinese approach has been along these lines, perhaps not at the level of absolute marginal utilitarianism because they too have a compromise equilibrium between capital and labour, but given how they’ve handled it, it’s clear that their equilibrium is tilted more in favour of labour than in the so-called “democratic” western Anglo/NATO countries.
Regarding who should pay for this, ideally it should be those with the greatest capacity to pay, those with the largest bank accounts, people whose incomes can be squeezed without it plunging them into poverty. In China capitalists are taking one for the team to an extent, but in the Anglo/NATO countries the primary focus has been for the media to cover stock prices and the complaints of companies, like for example Qantas here in Australia.
Rather than acting collectively, which is what the Chinese state can coerce capital to do, even going so far as to force foreign owned factories to produce on command what the state demands, Anglo/NATO states prioritise treating Covid19 as just another arena for capitalist competition and imperial aggression.
The US tried to buy the intellectual property for a promising vaccine from a German biotech firm, presumably so that Trump can secure monopolies over the American “market” for big pharma. And instead of putting aside geopolitical differences to fight this common threat by temporarily lifting the sanctions on Iran, Venezuela and Cuba, the US has done the opposite, strengthening the sanctions on Iran while the IMF has refused to offer emergency loans to Venezuela.
Italy has been completely neglected by the European Union, which instead of sending medical aid, decided recently to slap Italy with an €8.5 million fine for propping up its tourism industry, presumably because the other major EU states, namely France and Germany, saw that move as a threat to their own tourism sectors. Meanwhile China is now respected across Italy but also the world for exporting large shipments of medical supplies.
There’s the story of the two Italian engineers, Cristian Fracassi and Alessandro Romaioli, who used 3D printers to copy and reproduce existing valves that sell for $11,000, reducing their unit cost down to $1, and for that, they’re being sued by an undisclosed company.
What highlights the gross incompetence of the Anglo/NATO states (i.e. the West) is that they had advance warning from China that this virus was coming, which is an advantage that China did not have by the fact of it being affected first. China acted rapidly and decisively to control the outbreak, whereas in the West, despite seeing this all coming, they’re still stuck at the stage of debating how much economic growth should be sacrificed to flatten the curve by how much.
When you observe graphs of global Covid19 cases/deaths, you’ll notice that at the beginning of March, the curve began flattening, owing to the efforts primarily of China (the largest absolute movement), followed by South Korea, Japan, and Singapore, but now that curve is looking like exponential growth once again, largely due to cases/deaths in Europe & North America, that is, largely due to western incompetence.
Then there are stark cultural differences. The Chinese wear face masks to protect those around them, working on the assumption that they could be asymptomatic carriers, whereas in the West, the assumption is that people wear masks because they care only about themselves getting sick, or because they are sick.
Totally different culture, the Chinese one is based on collective solidarity, ours on narrow individualism, which is why it’s unsurprising to hear that in Hobart, a Chinese student from Hong Kong was physically assaulted for wearing a mask, presumably because the attacker felt threatened, ironically, by someone who was actually trying to protect him!
“The student, who asked to be known as Ted, was with a friend in the New Town Plaza car park on Thursday evening when a man shouted “you’ve got the virus” and “go back to your country”. Ted said he tried to ignore the man but was followed to his car and punched in the face, breaking his glasses and bruising his eye.”
According to Chinese-Tasmanian community leader Yongbei Tang, “the West regards wearing a face mask as a way to protect yourself after you are sick, but the East thinks of it as a way to protect both yourself before you get sick and others in case you are sick yourself”.
Similarly, “Hui Yang, a senior research fellow and manager of China GP programs from Monash University, said the Chinese community’s mask-wearing habits needed to be viewed from a cultural perspective rather than a medical one. People in China wear masks to protect themselves and others, Dr Yang said, whereas in Australia it is seen as an indication that the mask-wearer is unwell”, according to ABC report by Christina Zhou and Bang Xiao.
We Australians, unfortunately, belong to a barbarian culture.