Socialist Demands for the COVID-19 Crisis

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Socialist Demands for the COVID-19 Crisis

Post by blindpig » Thu Mar 19, 2020 1:15 pm


As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, the government's response to the crisis has been criminally negligent, while capitalists would rather risk workers’ health than stop production for profit.

As the ruling class shows itself to be incapable of addressing the crisis, how can we, as working class and oppressed people, organize to meet our needs? What demands can we put forward in response?

Workers World Party proposes the following 10 demands – which are a work in progress based on the fluidity of the crisis – as an initial socialist response to COVID-19:

Socialist Demands for the COVID-19 Crisis
Free healthcare for all
Nationalize the healthcare system under community control. Build emergency hospitals
Full pay, benefits and guaranteed income for all
Food, housing, medical supplies, and utilities including internet for all
Suspend rent, evictions, mortgages, utility shutoffs and ALL debt
Prioritize resources for communities of color, migrants, LGBTQ2+ people, seniors, youth, people with disabilities
Empty prisons and detention centers. Shut down ICE. End racist attacks
Community control. No cops. No military
$2 Trillion to the workers, not the banks
End U.S. wars, sanctions, and environmental destruction

https://solidaritycenter.ourpowerbase.n ... 15&reset=1

Yeah, Workers World Party..............................still, a pretty decent set of demands, perhaps the final item might be left off until round 2.

It is easy to see how the bosses could use disease to forstall mass action.
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Re: Socialist Demands for the COVID-19 Crisis

Post by blindpig » Fri Mar 20, 2020 1:35 pm

US announced the onset of economic disaster

The hegemon does not cope with the support of the pants of capitalism

One of the largest US investment banks, Bank of America (BofA), announced the onset of a full-blown financial crisis in the United States of America. This was told by CNBC, referring to a report by Michelle Meyer , a leading analyst at BofA.


Meyer believes that the recession is inevitable, and the main reason for what happened is the spread of COVID-2019 .

“We officially declare that the American economy fell into recession, joining the rest of the world, and this is a very deep drawdown,” the analyst concludes.

Meyer suggests that the United States will cover a double increase in unemployment , despite the fact that population accumulation has been destroyed and consumer confidence has been lost. Her forecast for hegemonic annual GDP is a 0.8 percent drop. From quarter to quarter, the economy will collapse by 12 percent of GDP.

The number of unemployed will increase by a million people per month, eventually reaching 3.5 million people.

“Although the collapse is very hard, we expect it to not last long,” Meyer said.

She also noted that the state should not skimp on means of supporting the economy in a difficult period.

The global crisis continues, intensified by the coronavirus epidemic and falling oil prices as a result of the unsuccessful OPEC + agreement. US stock markets crashed 30 percent. Most nations seek to scale up financial stability on a massive scale by injecting billions of dollars into the economy. Russia did likewise in an attempt to save big business from the challenges of the crisis.

The world hegemon - the United States of America - has failed to maintain the national financial system. Capitalism crackled at the seams as soon as the world faced the global problem.

The capitalist economy was not able to reorganize to protect the life and health of mankind, and therefore these days small and medium-sized businesses, for the support of which the state has no incentive, are rapidly and massively dying . Big capital, supported by national budgets, will emerge from the crisis as a monopolist who will have no competitors.

If a person faces an even more serious challenge - a plague epidemic, a major catastrophe in space or on Earth - he cannot be saved by a market economy that is in distress from the slightest fluctuations in the situation in the world. Clear planning to protect humanity is what will become the leitmotif of a progressive, non-market model of the economy. ... heskoj-ka/ (Russian United Labor Front)

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Re: Socialist Demands for the COVID-19 Crisis

Post by blindpig » Fri Mar 20, 2020 10:52 pm

Governments Are Trying To Save Their National Capital, Striking Workers Are Saving Human Lives

Faced with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, states are organizing “shock” economic plans that are actually massive income transfers from labor to capital as the ongoing imperialist conflict deepens and takes on new forms. The logic of capital means that the more this epidemic spreads, the more reluctant the states become to actually enforce confinement in the only way possible: closing down businesses. But by refusing to do so they have set in motion the working class, which has responded with the largest international wave of simultaneous strikes in a century.

Last night on BBC Boris Johnson persisted in his “strategy” of avoiding confinement at any cost. Britain already counted 144 dead and 3,269 infected, but Johnson and his scientists no longer talked about achieving “herd immunity”. Partly because relapses and contagion of new patients by theoretically “recovered” ones make it difficult to sustain. But mostly because the government’s own circulating papers estimate that the National Health Service (NHS) will eventually handle eight times as many patients as it can manage given its capacity. The result of a sharp increase of nearly eight million patients in a constantly overcrowded system can only be a worsening of mortality and an escalation of death figures beyond the hundred thousand. It is not even easy to predict numbers. One doctor wondered “how many people will die because we accepted to work on the brink of collapse for too long?“. Significantly, many migrants, including Italians, preferred to leave their jobs and give up their residence permits rather than stay in the UK in the face of such a prospect.

In Germany, Merkel’s speech on the national TV channel two days ago made it clear that the German bourgeoisie is well aware of what it is dealing with…

Germany has an excellent health system, perhaps one of the best in the world. But our hospitals would also be overwhelmed if too many patients with severe coronavirus disease were admitted in a short time. These are not abstract figures in a statistic, but a parent or a grandparent, a partner. They are people. And we are a community where every life and every person matters.

But when it comes to the truth, every person “matters so much” that confinement is not imposed, let alone business closures, only mass acts and some trips are restricted, presenting the measure as an “extraordinary sacrifice of democracy” that would be extremely dangerous if extended to compulsory confinement. This sudden and hypocritical concern worthy of an irresponsible anarchoid is combined with the sober estimate, stated by the Chancellor herself, that if this were to continue, between 60 and 70% of the population would be infected without any scandal or mass protest. But if there is no scandal or protest, it is only because the German numbers are hard to take seriously: many infections and practically no deaths. One of three: either the Germans have a very unlikely genetic immunity to covid-19, there is a mistake in the numbers because of their method of calculation or the epidemic started in so many simultaneous outbreaks that it has not yet had time to cause deaths but they will come anyway and in bulk soon. Obviously, misinformation about the real risks of death for hundreds of thousands of Germans is no “danger to democracy”.


Pretty much the same thing happens in the United States. Let’s not forget that the much-vaunted confinement decreed by the state of California not only does not affect businesses… it is voluntary and will not be monitored by the state. Like Trump’s anti-epidemic actions, this is more “security theater” than real action. If they do anything, it’s to highlight structural shortcomings. For instance, the promised deployment of hospital ships to New York, that is, the use of the military, not only shows the absence of minimally scalable health and emergency systems, it shows that even the military is not capable of responding, in any one place, to a health emergency: hospital ships will take several weeks to arrive.

And on a national level, the reader is probably able to imagine the scene. Not only is there a lack of ventilators throughout the country, but the absence of a universal health system means that in any of the spreading scenarios, the saturation of the hospitals will be almost immediate and with it the increase in mortality. Mortality and contagion will be aggravated by a massive precariousness fueled even more by the health crisis itself… and by the Trumpist shock plan which, like those elsewhere, is attempting to fix the damage to the national capital by organizing a massive transfer of income from the workers to capital through coordinated fiscal and monetary policy.


Not unlike the government’s reaction in Chile: “state of catastrophe” without confinement and estimation of future critical cases and deaths as if the country were a ranch with sick cattle. In Argentina, by contrast, the government decreed confinement last night after school and border closures proved insufficient and hospital construction times deemed too long to have any impact on the spread. In any case, Argentina, like all semicolonial countries, adds an extra problem: even if it were to close the productive structure left standing despite the economic crisis -something that the national bourgeoisie wants to avoid even at the cost of thousands of deaths- the 40% of workers in the informal sector would go straight into hunger. In fact, a good portion of them, the most precarious, are already starving.

…and the working class response


In Italy at this point, it is obvious to everyone that if the death toll is higher than in China, it is because Italian capital is trying to keep exploitation no matter who dies. And thousands have already died. The disaster in Bergamo, where the army has had to intervene in order to bury the bodies that were piling up, is explained, even by the mayor of the city, by the actions of the factory owners… and a law of confinement which, like the Spanish, French or Argentinean law, did not include the closure of factories and workplaces.

It was actually clear from the beginning. And so the strikes that began at Fiat Pomigliano, Leonardo, the port of Genoa, all of Piedmont, Electrolux and the metal spread massively throughout the country.


The unions could not avoid the strikes by throwing themselves into the arms of the companies and disqualifying the workers together with the president of the industrial employers’ association. Companies from all sectors, from Piaggio to Amazon and from Cornelliani’s textiles to Pozzo d’Adda’s Lear, did not settle for symbolic measures and masks sold by the unions. The extension of the strikes is in fact leading to the closure of the main Italian industrial nodes or, at least, as in Arcelor Mittal, to reductions of more than 40% of the workforce with paid leave.

The movement had its first aftershocks in Belgium. It was followed by a string of struggles in Spain, especially in the automotive sector –Mercedes, Renault and IVECO– jumping this week to electrical appliances –Balay– and aerospace –Aernova. If the movement seems to have slowed down in the last two days, it is because the government immediately began to facilitate temporary layoffs and their extension. That is, temporary layoffs during which the worker will receive unemployment benefits.

In France the first news of the strike came from Amazon in Chalon-sur-Saône and from the famous Neuhauser bakery. Shortly afterwards, the workers stopped Bombardier. The permanent workers will be paid a partial strike at 82% of the salary, although the situation of the temporary employees is not yet clear. The latest high-profile ones are the Saint Nazaire shipyards and the Saverglass factory. There is no sign of stopping. Only yesterday, a worker from ID Logistics, also on strike, declared: “They are sending us to the slaughterhouse”. At least two factories in Austria are also on strike to stop production.

The movement has not remained in Europe. The workers of Fiat Chrysler are on strike in Canada. In Brazil, workers at the port of Santos (state of Sao Paulo), Brazil’s main port, were followed by those at CAOA-Chery and three car assembly plants.

Where are we?


On the one hand, we have practically all governments trying to evade even the confinement declaration and when they do so they avoid closing down workplaces. Governments that, at the same time as, as in Spain, plan to deny respirators to patients -that is, to deny saving the lives- of the elderly, governments that design and test “shock plans” against the economic impact that are nothing more than massive transfers of income from work to capital to “pay back” capital’s losses.

And on the other hand, we are facing the most extensive, simultaneous and internationalized wave of struggles of the last century. A wave of struggles in which the workers of dozens of factories in at least two continents have raised the same demand that clearly expresses the open antagonism between the logic of capital and its states – to maintain exploitation at all costs, even if thousands of people die – and the logic of the workers – to save lives, avoid spreading the epidemic, avoid infecting families which would condemn the elderly to death.

In other words, the pandemic has suddenly raised the level of contradictions in the system to the point of exposing at least two fundamental truths: the radical antagonism between human needs – the first of which is to stay alive – and capitalism, and the second truth, that workers are the only political subject capable of representing and asserting these universal interests throughout the world. ... man-lives/

Damn Trots just gotta bad mouth unions, wtf is wrong with those people?
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Re: Socialist Demands for the COVID-19 Crisis

Post by blindpig » Sat Mar 21, 2020 11:58 am

Coronavirus, capitalism and the forces of nature


The Covid-19 pandemic which is wreaking such havoc is first and foremost an environmental disease. Or, more exactly, it is caused by how our society – capitalist society – interacts with the natural world. This includes both wilderness areas and modern capitalist agriculture, and the relationship between these two. As with all resources, from human labor power to raw chemicals to everything in between, capitalism views everything as potential capital to be exploited and profited off of. Their idea is that modern technology can control the laws of nature, can dominate the natural world and bend it to their will, just as they try to do (largely successfully) with labor power, meaning us, the working class. Time and again we witness the results – from cancer pandemics to global warming. Almost all of these, however, have crept up on us gradually, but the Covid-19 pandemic is hitting with a bang. As they say, “the (immediate) prospect of hanging causes the mind to focus wonderfully” and this immediate and sudden crisis can help our minds to focus.

Zoonotic diseases

“Zoonotic” diseases
It can help us think about how human society must interact with the natural world. That interaction is what is driving the Covid-19 pandemic, since it’s a zoonotic disease, meaning a disease that has breached the species barrier – jumped from another species to humans.

A UN report estimates that seventy-five percent of all new infectious diseases are zoonotic. These include Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Ebola, bird flu, Rift Valley fever, West Nile virus, Zika virus disease and in the United States Lyme disease. The path for transmission is often, but not always, from a wild animal to a domesticated one to humans.

Habitat loss
Habitat loss, combined with modern capitalist agriculture, is the driving force behind this. Impoverished expanding human populations are driven to expand into previously wild areas. As a result, wild animals are forced out of their previous living areas and come into either direct or indirect contact with domesticated ones. Ebola is an example. According to a Nation Magazine article, Ebola was found “more likely to occur in places in Central and West Africa that have experienced recent episodes of deforestation.” Bats are the original carrier of the virus. The Nation explains: “Cutting down the bats’ forests forces them to roost in trees in backyards and farms instead, increasing the likelihood that a human might, say, take a bite of a piece of fruit covered in bat saliva or hunt and slaughter a local bat, exposing herself to the microbes sheltering in the bat’s tissues. Such encounters allow a host of viruses carried harmlessly by bats—Ebola, Nipah, and Marburg, to name a few—to slip into human populations. When such so-called “spillover” events happen frequently enough, animal microbes can adapt to our bodies and evolve into human pathogens.” Other crossovers can occur if a bat drops a piece of partially eaten fruit over a pig farm where huge herds of pigs are kept. One of the pigs can eat the fruit.


Industrial agriculture & real estate development
It is not just the individual small farmer who is responsible for this process. From the jungles of Borneo to central Africa to the Amazon, forests are being cut down both to make way for industrial agriculture and to provide lumber, including valuable hardwoods. In other instances, mangrove swamps in delta areas are being destroyed to build luxury housing on coast lines. Under capitalism, the longer term environmental consequences, including the spread of zoonotic diseases, cannot be considered. It is private profit first, last and always.

Nor does the rise of zoonotic diseases originate purely in Africa and Asia. Although it is not contagious from one human to another, Lyme disease is another example. Concentrated mainly in Northeast United States, its increase is due to the construction of suburban housing in former forest areas. Lyme disease is spread by the black leg tick, which bites people to suck their blood and at the same time injects some of its saliva into the blood stream of the person. That saliva carries the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. A major carrier of that bacteria is white-footed mice. One study found that suburbanization seems to increase the threat of the disease. The process is as follows: The suburbs usually include small forested areas both as small parks and in people’s back yards. Such areas tend to discourage populations of predators of the white-footed mouse, but not the mouse itself, whose population then increases. (Opossums, whose populations also decline, are also a voracious predator of ticks.) Ticks suck the blood of those mice and get the bacteria, which they then pass on to humans.

So we see how the unplanned and voracious nature of the real estate industry has such environmental consequences.

The case of Lyme disease also points to a more general growing catastrophe: The decline in “biodiversity”, meaning decline in the number of different species. But it’s not only in the number of different species; it’s also a decline in the number of members of any particular species. These two processes combine to reduce the diversity in the gene pool of the animals. In a large and diverse gene pool for any species, genetic variation will allow the species to resist the spread of a particular pathogen – a particular virus or bacteria. A large gene pool can act like a fire-break in a forest. Take away that genetic variation and the fire-break can disappear. As a result, where in the past maybe a limited number of the members of the species carried the pathogen, what can develop is that the pathogen can spread to the entire species.

Dr. Richard Ostfeld is a researcher specializing in Lyme disease. He explains “When we do things in an ecosystem that erode biodiversity — we chop forests into bits or replace habitat with agricultural fields — we tend to get rid of species that serve a protective role. There are a few species that are reservoirs and a lot of species that are not. The ones we encourage are the ones that play reservoir roles.” (“Reservoir role” means those that carry or act as a “reservoir” for the pathogen.”)

A UN report summarized the process: “Forests are exploited for logging, landscapes are clear-cut for agriculture and mining interests, and the traditional buer zones – once separating humans from animals or from the pathogens that they harbour – are notably reduced or lost. Because of historic underinvestment in the health sector of developing nations, and rapid development often at the cost of natural capital, disease emergence is likely to continue…”

But who cares when there is profit to be made?

Feedlot feeding and factory farming: an environmental disaster and cruel to the animals.

Meat production and factory farming
This destruction of the wilderness, the view of the wilds of nature as being simply one more source of capital to be exploited regardless of the laws of nature, intersects with food production in agriculture. It’s the same approach in this sphere, where the method of meat production is factory farming.

This method of raising meat animals – cattle, pigs, fowls, etc. – crowds together huge numbers of them so that a germ can easily spread throughout the crowd. The animals are also kept in unhealthy conditions, leaving them more vulnerable to disease. The development of factory farms is the equivalent of the urbanization of human beings. And just as urbanization made possible the spread of mass plagues by bringing masses of people together in similar conditions, so has the urbanization of meat animals done the same thing. In some cases, the pathogen does not sicken the meat animals because it originated in some wild animal, but it spreads nevertheless and from the meat animal to the human animal.

One scientific paper explains “Commodity agriculture represents an expanding sink for a growing array of zoonotic pathogens…. Our inductive modeling suggests repeated punctuated emergence and human spillover of food-borne pathogens are intrinsic to industrial systems of production….”

In many cases, the factory farmed animals are more or less force fed food that is unnatural for them to eat. For example, in the huge cattle feedlots, the main food is corn and corn derivatives. But cows are a ruminant whose natural food is grass. Eating corn and corn derivatives upsets their digestive system and leaves them more susceptible to disease, which is why it’s necessary to regularly feed the cattle antibiotics.

Disease resistant bacteria
This, in and of itself, is leading to another pandemic-like health crisis: The rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria. That development is due to the overexposure of bacteria to antibiotics, most particularly on these factory farms. It is estimated that the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria already causes 700,000 unnecessary deaths and that by 2050 that number will have swelled to 10 million. Operations like a knee replacement or a Cesarian section will be life-threatening at that point. But again, there are profits to be made right now and the future be damned.

There is one other issue involved: In agriculture, uniform genetics leaves the plants vulnerable to a particular parasite. It’s the same thing in raising animals for food. The same scientific paper mentioned above explains: “Industrial food production strips out environmental stochasticity (or randomness) that can cap pathogen population growth.” Like probably every other worker, I had to look up that word – “stochasticity”. It means apparently random variations, which is exactly how evolution proceeds. But also, if you have a huge crowd of plants or animals that are genetically nearly identical, then that crowd is likely to be susceptible to some particular pest or pathogen; that pathogen or pest can spread throughout the crowd like a wildfire roars through a forest that has no fire break.

This adds to the extremely unhealthy way in which the animals are kept and the fact that humans are in close contact not only with the animals but also with the huge amounts of feces the animals leave.

Genetic Monoculture
Whether it’s plants or animals, genetic monoculture is an invitation to disaster.

Genetic monoculture
An article in Socialist Review summarized the process: “Genetic monocultures of animals remove whatever immune firebreaks may otherwise slow transmission. Large population sizes and densities facilitate greater rates of transmission. Crowded conditions depress immune responses. Fast turnover of livestock provides a continually renewed supply of susceptible hosts.”

Monoculture is facilitated by the near monopoly just a few corporate giants exercise over much of food production. For example, according to Socialist Review, in Britain one company controls 70% of white egg production and another controls 80% of brown egg production. In the US, six companies control 61% of poultry production, with Tyson Farms controlling 21% alone.

With the rapid rise of the capitalist mode of production in China, factory farming has taken over there. An article in explains that in China, factory farmed animal raising has gone to 97% of livestock. It’s the same in Europe and the US. (The fact that Bloomberg would carry this article shows the extreme concern of the capitalist class over these pandemics.)

Urbanization and plagues
The same article neatly explains the entire pandemic process: “Epidemics are a product of urbanization. Only when humans started to pack themselves into densely populated cities around 5,000 years ago were infections able to attain the critical mass needed to kill us in large numbers. The worldwide disease outbreaks we call pandemics started to emerge only when our urban civilization went global.

“Think about that in terms of the livestock industry and the implications are concerning. In the space of 50 years or so factory farming has “urbanized” an animal population that was previously scattered between small and midsize holdings. Epidemic conditions that once only affected humans can increasingly pose threats to our food animals, too.

“Then consider each animal as a potential laboratory for the mutations that can cause new epidemics to emerge. Globally, the population of farm animals is about three times that of humans. Some of the most serious disease outbreaks in recent decades have resulted from infections crossing the species barrier from intensively farmed livestock to people.”

Sonny Perdue, Trump’s secretary of agriculture

Corporate political influence
The drive for private profit also affects regulating of the corporate giants that control food production. In general, the government agencies that are supposed to regulate different industries are closely linked with and strongly influenced by the relevant industry itself. Nowhere is this more so than the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is headed by Sonny Perdue. Not only is he a fan of the Confederacy, he is also tightly connected with the agricultural industry. Nor are these sorts of connections exclusive to Trump. Under Obama, the secretary of agriculture was Tom Vilsack, who was known as “Mr. Monsanto”.

This directly affects the threat of diseases to leap the species barrier. For example, it required decades of pressure to force the USDA to prohibit the marketing of cows that had died from mad cow disease. And a half million diseased pigs are still marketed every year in the US. Meanwhile, the USDA is moving towards allowing the slaughterhouse industry to monitor itself.

Because of these developments, Covid-19 is not the first nor will it be the last such pandemic, and even the common flu is getting worse. According to Socialist Review This year’s [2020] flu season is shaping up to be the worst in years, according to the US Centre for Disease Control. In the US alone there have been 19 million illnesses, 180,000 hospitalisations and 10,000 deaths.” Far, far worse threatens. As the Ebola epidemic showed, future pandemics may be far more deadly. And all for the drive for profit.

Frederick Engels (l) and Karl Marx (r)

Marx and Engels
Of course, this is not totally new to capitalism. As early as the 19th century, Karl Marx commented “In these prisons, animals are born and remain there until they are killed off. The question is whether or not this system connected to the breeding system that grows animals in an abnormal way by aborting bones in order to transform them to mere meat and a bulk of fat — whereas earlier animals remained active by staying under free air as much as possible — will ultimately result in serious deterioration of life force.”

And Frederick Engels explained the general relationship: “Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature – but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.”

So we have come full circle from their day.

Regenerative farming the alternative to factory farms
There is an alternative to factory farming. It is called regenerative farming. This method of food production mimics how nature operates. In the wild in North America, millions of bison roamed the continent. To protect themselves from predators, they bunched up in herds and were constantly on the move. Regenerative farming divides up a farm into small “paddocks” and moves the cattle from one paddock to another. Just as in the wild all sorts of different plants and animals intermingle, so in regenerative farming the crops are varied and the different paddocks are exposed not only to cattle but also to chickens, pigs, etc. Instead of ploughing, which leads to soil erosion, regenerative farming uses seed drills.

This farming method also has the advantage of not only allowing the soil to absorb much more water (think: droughts), but it also enables the soil to capture huge amounts of carbon dioxide. In other words, it would be an important measure to help stop and reverse global warming.

There is much more to regenerative farming, and Oaklandsocialist deals with some of this in the articles on Global warming, “grass” farming and a planned economy and Developing a Marxist approach to global agriculture.

As the first mentioned article explains, though, the problem is that there are powerful capitalist interests standing in the way of regenerative farming. This includes the chemical/fertilizer/pesticide industry first and foremost. Also, the entire food production industry in the United States is geared to and to a great extent based on producing massive amounts of corn. As discussed in “Global warming, grass farming…” this creates a whole series of problems in and of itself. Despite this, however, a movement is underway among farmers to return to these methods, not for ideological reasons but for economic ones. This should be encouraged.

Regenerative farming, which more or less also involves organic methods, is also much better for the agricultural workers, who are often poisoned by the chemicals they are forced to use. Therefore, this is also a strictly working class issue.

Immediate economic demands
There are many economic demands that are being raised with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic. These include such steps as full pay for all workers forced to take time off due to the pandemic and forgiveness of rent or house notes, for those who lose wages. Also the same for student loans. These and similar demands should be supported, and Oaklandsocialist will be writing more on these.

These demands must come first at this time.

Thinking longer term
The idea that every crisis is an opportunity, a “teaching moment”, applies here. Once this crisis passes, socialists within the working class must not return to business as usual and continue to ignore the fundamental cause of this crisis: How capitalism relates to and exploits the natural world, especially in the production of food. We should start developing an understanding of this issue as well as what concrete steps can be taken now, under capitalism. These could include:

Federal government funding for an educational campaign among farmers regarding regenerative farming
Federal assistance to enable farmers to break the corn/monoculture addiction
End the federal agriculture handouts to multi-millionaire agricultural corporations and urban billionaires, AKA federal farm assistance
Link up rural/agricultural workers with the urban work force to rebuild the unions among agricultural workers.
For direct links between agricultural workers around the world.
For publicly run programs to bring millions of urban youth – and all workers – to the country side to participate in food production on regenerative farms. This step is vitally important to help the future working class start to become more aware of how we interact with the natural world.
Expropriate agribusiness, from the giants like Monsanto to the giant farms, and plan food production under the democratic control and management of the agricultural workers, small farmers and the consumers themselves. Link this up with the small farmers who operate independently. ... of-nature/

I don't think this bug has positively been proven to have been transmitted from bats in this case, yet.
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Re: Socialist Demands for the COVID-19 Crisis

Post by blindpig » Sun Mar 22, 2020 12:46 pm

A people’s program to fight the virus

By Liberation StaffMar 21, 2020

This article originally appeared in the March 2020 special issue of Liberation Newspaper on the Coronavirus crisis

From the La Riva/Peltier presidential campaign and the Party for Socialism and Liberation


The Party for Socialism and Liberation and the Gloria La Riva/Leonard Peltier presidential campaign call for an immediate emergency program to combat the Coronavirus crisis involving the following measures:

Full sick pay and 100% unemployment insurance for every worker, no evictions or foreclosures
Bail out the people, not the banks! Expand unemployment insurance to cover 100 percent of wages lost due to closings, layoffs, illness or if a worker is caring for a sick person. This unemployment insurance should be provided indefinitely for the duration of the pandemic and associated economic recession. There should be an immediate moratorium on utility shutoffs, evictions and foreclosures. No debt should be accumulated over this period to landlords, utility corporations or banks.

All these measures should apply to undocumented workers and independent contractors as well. Financial assistance should be provided by the federal government to compensate small businesses for their losses.

War time emergency production and distribution measures
Organize the compulsory mass production of critical goods: COVID-19 test kits, ventilators, protective equipment and medical equipment at cost to meet the urgent need. The government has the power to compel companies to produce critical goods, requisition certain types of property and expand production, impose price controls and allocate raw materials for the “national defense.” The government must use these powers now and end shortages of all critical goods needed to defeat the Coronavirus pandemic, including those to protect frontline medical and social services personnel.

No profiteering in this crisis! A centralized system of free distribution should be created to guarantee that everyone has safe access to high-quality, nutritious food and other essentials. Building on existing programs like meals-on-wheels and emerging grassroots community networks, a system must be established to provide all the necessary supplies for free to everyone who has been medically quarantined, is especially at risk or has been instructed to remain in their homes.

Free healthcare
Free testing only works with free treatment. Healthcare must be provided for free for all. If you couldn’t afford a test, how can you afford treatment? The profits of the insurance companies, pharmaceutical industry and all other predatory businesses that grow rich off of the current healthcare system should be discarded in the interests of preserving life and defeating the virus. Co-pays, deductibles, and any other barrier standing in between people and medical treatment should be suspended.

Special attention should be paid to populations that have been discriminated against and neglected by the U.S. healthcare system. Native reservations, Black, Latino and other oppressed communities must be guaranteed equal access to treatment. There should be a massive increase in the number of medical staff in prisons, who must be provided with modern, high-quality equipment.

Secure housing for all
Empty dwellings should be immediately seized to provide shelter for all people without housing. How can you quarantine if you don’t have a home? There are roughly 16 million vacant dwellings in the United States. Most of these units are owned by speculators and real estate firms that are essentially gambling on the housing market and fueling the gentrification boom in the process. Their financial interests must not be allowed to imperil public health.

Likewise, as many housing units as needed should be provided for victims of domestic violence. No one should be forced to stay in an abusive situation due to the pandemic. Immediate emergency shelter and financial support should be provided to all people in need of shelter for any reason.

Strengthen the public health system
Requisition vacant commercial property for medical use. Re-open closed clinics and hospitals, and build new medical facilities. Expand sanitation efforts. Any and all vacant commercial, industrial and residential space should be utilized to meet these needs. Follow China’s example and rapidly construct makeshift hospitals and medical centers using eminent domain against big businesses and landlords as necessary.

The government can coordinate and provide resources for the mobilization of the medical community. Retired medical professionals, medical residents and medical students should be organized to help strengthen our healthcare infrastructure.

Strengthen and expand large-scale sanitation in mass transit and public places. Provide better protective gear for workers in these sectors. Initiate a large-scale public education campaign alongside community organizations to inform the people about what precautions they should be taking to slow the spread of Coronavirus.

Relief not repression
No one should have to deal with the pandemic while fearing the repressive actions of the police, prisons or ICE. Sanitary conditions should be guaranteed in all prisons and jails. Massive numbers of prisoners should be released outright to alleviate the overcrowding that would make it impossible to contain the disease. The movement against mass incarceration has raised demands for the release in particular of elderly inmates, those with chronic health conditions, and those convicted for non-violent offenses or those who have not been convicted at all.

Stop all ICE raids and deportations. Shut down ICE detention centers, which are notorious for unsanitary conditions and providing inadequate medical attention, and immediately release all detainees. All emergency assistance of any type offered by the government during the crisis should be available to all regardless of immigration status.

Anti-Asian racism has been stoked by politicians and the media, who have referred to the pandemic as the “Chinese virus” or a “foreign virus”. Rather than promoting racism, public education campaigns should combat these reactionary and anti-science myths. Assure that people historically neglected by the government such as Native nations, African American and other oppressed communities have their needs addressed without delay or discrimination.

International cooperation and solidarity
End the devastating economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. government on countries around the world such as Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea. Sanctions are blocking the governments’ ability to acquire the supplies needed to combat the pandemic. The cruel effects of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran have been on full display as the country is among those with the highest rates of Coronavirus infection and fatalities in the world. Cuba has done groundbreaking medical research and is world-renowned for its acts of international solidarity in the field of health. End the blockade of Cuba so the world can benefit from the country’s scientific expertise.

The United States should adopt best practices implemented by countries that have effectively dealt with the pandemic, such as China, rather than demonizing these governments in the pursuit of imperialist foreign policy goals. If travel restrictions are determined to be necessary from a public health perspective, they must be implemented in consultation with all affected countries and in a manner that protects the rights of all visitors and immigrants.

Extend support to countries in need of assistance and coordinate supply chains around the world to ensure the most efficient production and distribution of medical goods possible. Zero tolerance for efforts by pharmaceutical corporations to secure intellectual property rights or in any way profit from the production of a Coronavirus vaccine. ... rationnews
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Re: Socialist Demands for the COVID-19 Crisis

Post by blindpig » Sun Mar 22, 2020 6:27 pm

Coronavirus? It is capitalism beauty!

from Luscino


The crisis that the coronavirus (COVID-19) has highlighted since its explosion, formally in Italy on February 20 last year, is not - as it is obvious - due only to the aggressiveness of the virus which has so far reaped a thousand victims and forced the government to draconian public health measures, despite the ridiculous initial negotiation, but it is a crisis due to the capitalist system. A crisis that starts from the critical issues exposed by the health system, almost collapsing especially in the most affected provinces, and which extends its tentacles on the rest of the entire society.

In the last 10 years the national health system has undergone an investment cut of around € 37 billion, which has resulted in a loss of over 70 thousand beds, 359 wards closed together with entire structures of small and less small hospitals that are been converted or abandoned. This is a fact that is already sufficient in itself to explain the crisis and it is useless to give credit to the statistical somersaults that say that, in absolute terms, health expenditure has increased, when the increase was only 10% against an OECD average of 37% [1]. There is more: these lack of investments have not only translated into cuts in structures, but even to health personnel. Between 2009 and 2017, public health has lost 46,500 workers between doctors and nurses [2], forcing the rest to take turns, as happens today in the most critical areas affected where there is a shortage of staff. All this is not the fault ofcoronavirus , the critical issues that we are now facing are the fault of the powerful cuts due to the well-known maneuvers of containment and revision of public spending - which is increasingly directed towards the private - imposed by capitalist, national and supranational logics.

Still, it is not the fault of the coronavirus if, according to WHO, the intensive care places per 100 thousand inhabitants have been cut in twenty years from 632 in 1996 to 275 today [3] - in the whole of the national territory we are now at an altitude of 5090 - and the same can be said for equipment. Among the main tools in the fight against coronavirusthere are pulmonary ventilators, expensive but vital instruments that would amount to around 3000 thousand units throughout Italy [4]. These could be insufficient if the epidemic touched peaks of contagion of vast proportions, which is why increases in their production were requested and above all foreign aid had to be used. China, in particular, while our European "brothers" turned their backs on us, sent 1000 lung ventilators, two million masks, 100 thousand of which were high-tech, 20 thousand protective suits, over 50 thousand swabs for testing [5] and a task force of doctors and specialized nurses who fought on the front line against the virus in Hubei.

The decay that has been inflicted on public health structures has logically translated into a powerful increase in citizens' spending on private health. According to a 44% Censis report of 2019 the Italians had at least once resorting to private facilities therefore paying from his own pocket, having to grudgingly give up the national health system. In addition, private healthcare spending would have increased by 7.3% compared to five years ago, reaching in the last two years figures such as 37 billion and 42 billion euros [6], a real booth for private clinics, affiliated or not.

All this is not due either to the efficiency of the private sector, nor, it goes without saying, to the poor coronavirus , but, we repeat, to the cut of investments in the public, and to the scientific decay inflicted on it. With exhausting waiting lists, and above all, the so-called "out of pocket" expenditure (ie services paid for within the public anyway - in 2016 a fifth of the total expenditure) [7], the sabotage of the public to the advantage of the private is soon explained. In a country where the universal right to health is no longer guaranteed at all, the prospect of a progressive Americanization of the health system is no longer a distant ghost. Of course, it is possible that the shock caused by the coronavirus emergencychange some nefarious trajectory but the barking of the guard dogs of the most backward liberal capitalism that already recall the everlasting Moloch of public spending is already rising, the most daring even tell us that the trouble with the coronavirus crisis is the public! Pornoliberisti. Rationality, this being the case, would impose, just the opposite, the need for a strong popular push that loudly calls for the right to universal and free healthcare for all, beyond the census and geography.

The coronavirus crisishe has not only shouted to everyone that the king is naked as far as public health is concerned, but he has also done so with the world of work, with the consideration that the bosses have towards their workers, if anything more proof is needed. Strikes and protests of workers across Italy multiply, especially in factories, due to the choice of the capitalists not to close companies (we are not referring to the production and distribution of food, medicine and basic necessities) and to leave employees at the mercy of the contagion, despite the government, with increasingly stringent decrees, intimating everyone to stay at home and has imposed the closure on most of the commercial establishments and offices. The strikes spread like wildfire from FCA to Pomigliano to Piaggio di Pontedera, from Fincantieri of Palermo to Marghera, or ArcelorMittal of Cornigliano, where even the owner took the ball to put 84 workers into layoffs [8]; this problem is certainly not isolated, in fact many masters are taking advantage of thecoronavirus to fire its employees [9].

There will certainly be those in the ranks of the bourgeoisie who blame all these situations of exploitation on the coronavirus or even on the need to "continue to produce to save the economy", let's not forget how Confindustria got in any way, and it does still, to government actions to ensure public health. And if the times of the slogans of "Italy does not stop" have evaporated like the appetizers to encourage politicians in search of an author, the more sinister bosses continue to take the health and conditions of their workers under the skin. This is all the fault of the coronavirus? No, the culprit is capitalist exploitation! Putting the health of citizens and workers in the foreground, and without ridiculous pantomimes, is the main imperative, also because if this had been done from the beginning without hesitation and ambiguity, probably the exit from the crisis could be faster. China, certainly an economy different in substance and numbers from ours, should have given an example of how to deal with this situation.

What is this crisis showing? That coronavirusit is not the plague but not even a simple flu, a health emergency that has managed to put the system in crisis with ease, demonstrating its fragility and criticality. It also shows us that these are not only due to the virulence of the infection but to the cuts due to the profit needs of predatory capitalism, and to the denial of the rights (conquered and to be conquered) that the reality of capitalism reminds us daily. What can this crisis teach us? That the communist movement should denounce, lay bare and organize the struggle also starting from the universal right free for everyone to health, from the right to safety in the workplace, the right not to have to fear every day to lose the place for this or that crisis, big or small, or on the whim of the master.

In a country with little conflict like Italy, where the major unions are more yellow than elsewhere, where the protest movements are systematically suffocated by repressive decrees and where the involvement of the masses is sometimes scarce - totally hegemonized by the rhetoric of liberalism and bourgeois populism - the task of the communists should be to use every opportunity to tear the veil of lies. An operation of truth among the masses that can serve to make them aware that only through a substantial change in the economic and social system can these crises, including external and natural ones, be addressed in the most serene and correct way. An opportunity to reorganize the class struggle, because we can be sure of one thing: once the crisis has passed bycoronavirus , all the lukewarm good intentions that the bourgeoisie could put in place will be immediately restored and disowned, as has always been shown to us.

Even just being able to report an open and widespread conflict as French workers have proved possible, would be a small step for the communists but a giant step for the comatose state of the workers' movement in Italy, a short-term strategic goal but, as demonstrated , reachable. Only in this way will it be possible to gather the necessary forces, rekindle the spark of class consciousness and propitiate a generalized awakening for even more advanced and ambitious strategic objectives: the overthrow of capitalism.

[1] ... 250314358/

[2] ... 16109-e2e9 -4260-816f-4c5dd67a87b6.html

[3] ... &tab=table

[4] ... 229349.htm

[5] ... 91b41-6356 -4cbf-BD51-ce6139be9403.html

[6] ... n-aumento/

[7] ... in-italia- we could-not-have-piu / 4823328/

[8] ... e-vietato/

[9] ... enziamenti ... -bellezza/

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Re: Socialist Demands for the COVID-19 Crisis

Post by chlamor » Mon Mar 23, 2020 12:28 am

While I radically disagree with their conclusions here this is a very important piece for context:

Investigating the impact of influenza on excess mortality in all ages in Italy during recent seasons (2013/14–2016/17 seasons)


In the winter seasons from 2013/14 to 2016/17, an estimated average of 5,290,000 ILI cases occurred in Italy, corresponding to an incidence of 9%.

More than 68,000 deaths attributable to flu epidemics were estimated in the study period.

Italy showed a higher influenza attributable excess mortality compared to other European countries. especially in the elderly.

In recent years, Italy has been registering peaks in death rates, particularly among the elderly during the winter season. Influenza epidemics have been indicated as one of the potential determinants of such an excess. The objective of our study was to estimate the influenza-attributable contribution to excess mortality during the influenza seasons from 2013/14 to 2016/17 in Italy.

We used the EuroMomo and the FluMomo methods to estimate the annual trend of influenza-attributable excess death rate by age group. Population data were provided by the National Institute of Statistics, data on influenza like illness and confirmed influenza cases were provided by the National Institutes of Health. As an indicator of weekly influenza activity (IA) we adopted the Goldstein index, which is the product of the percentage of patients seen with influenza-like illness (ILI) and percentage of influenza-positive specimens, in a given week.

We estimated excess deaths of 7,027, 20,259, 15,801 and 24,981 attributable to influenza epidemics in the 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17, respectively, using the Goldstein index. The average annual mortality excess rate per 100,000 ranged from 11.6 to 41.2 with most of the influenza-associated deaths per year registered among the elderly. However children less than 5 years old also reported a relevant influenza attributable excess death rate in the 2014/15 and 2016/17 seasons (1.05/100,000 and 1.54/100,000 respectively).
Over 68,000 deaths were attributable to influenza epidemics in the study period. The observed excess of deaths is not completely unexpected, given the high number of fragile very old subjects living in Italy. In conclusion, the unpredictability of the influenza virus continues to present a major challenge to health professionals and policy makers. Nonetheless, vaccination remains the most effective means for reducing the burden of influenza, and efforts to increase vaccine coverage and the introduction of new vaccine strategies (such as vaccinating healthy children) should be considered to reduce the influenza attributable excess mortality experienced in Italy and in Europe in the last seasons.

Seasonal influenza epidemics make a substantial contribution to the worldwide annual mortality rate, in particular among elderly individuals aged 65 years and over. Influenza associated deaths are highly variable by country and season (Iuliano et al., 2018). Factors influencing this variability may include the matching between circulating viruses and viruses included in the seasonal vaccine; environmental temperature; vaccination coverage and population demographics (e.g., the proportion of elderly individuals and/or of individuals with chronic conditions) (Vestergaard et al., 2017, Bonanni et al., 2015, Rizzo, 2015).

During the winter seasons 2014/15 and 2016/17, an excess of all-cause mortality was reported in Europe (Mølbak et al., 2015, Vestergaard et al., 2017). In both seasons, the predominant influenza virus strain circulating in Europe was A/H3N2, which is the strain most commonly associated with influenza mortality in the elderly (Vestergaard et al., 2017, ECDC/WHO, 2017, Rizzo et al., 2007). In Italy, the 2014/15 season was characterized by a co-circulation of A/H1N1pdm09 (52%) and A/H3N2 (41%) strains, while during the 2016/17 season, the A/H3N2 virus predominated (93%) (NIH, 2018).

In recent years, Italy has been registering peaks in death rates, particularly among the elderly during the winter season. A mortality rate of 10.7 per 1,000 inhabitants was observed in the winter season 2014/2015 (more than 375,000 deaths in absolute terms), corresponding to an estimated 54,000 excess deaths (+9.1%) as compared to 2014 (Signorelli and Odone, 2016), representing the highest reported mortality rate since the Second World War in Italy (UN, 2019). Although the above-described excess mortality created concern among researchers, health authorities and public health experts, it has been challenging to identify its determinants (Signorelli and Odone, 2016).

Excess mortality for influenza in Italy in the above mentioned seasons has been previously explored in a multi-country study (Vestergaard et al., 2017, Michelozzi et al., 2016, Cislaghi et al., 2016), analysing mortality data from a limited sample of the Italian population, and in a study focusing on a single Italian region (Fedeli et al., 2017).

The present study aims to investigate the two mortality peaks observed in Italy during 2015 and 2017, using the following data: a) census mortality data from all causes from 2013 to 2017; b) seasonal influenza like-illness surveillance data from 2013/14 to 2016/17 (week 42 to week 17); c) virological surveillance data from 2013/14 to 2016/17 (week 42 to week 17) and d) environmental temperature data for the same years. The final objective was to estimate the influenza-attributable deaths and the contribution of temperature variation to the excess mortality during the above mentioned influenza seasons, using a multiplicative Poisson regression model (EuroMOMO, 2018a).

Weekly number of deaths from all causes, by age group (0–4; 5–14; 15–64; 65–74; 75+), relative to the time period 2013–2017, were provided by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) (ISTAT, 2018a). Mortality data were available as weekly aggregated data from 2013 to 2016, and as monthly aggregated data for 2017. Therefore, for 2017, weekly deaths were estimated based on the proportion of weekly deaths, by age and sex, to the months averaged over previous years (2013–2016) in the same period.


The number of deaths were reported, by week of death, as crude observed values and as direct standardized values, using the Italian resident population on 1/1/2014 as a reference. The size of the Italian population by age at the beginning of each year was obtained from ISTAT (ISTAT, 2019).

Influenza activity

Influenza-like illness (ILI) data were provided by the National sentinel influenza surveillance system (InfluNet), which has been in place in Italy since the 1999/2000 influenza season. InfluNet is a network of sentinel practitioners, representative of all Italian regions, based on the voluntary participation of an average 973 general practitioners and family pediatricians per year (range 754–1,055), providing health care to about 2% of the general population. InfluNet is dedicated to monitoring ILI incidence from week 42 to week 17 of each season, to defining the extent of the seasonal epidemics, and to collecting information on circulating strains (Perrotta et al., 2017, Gasparini et al., 2013).

Virological data were obtained from the InfluNet surveillance system. InfluNet is a virological surveillance system, in place since the 1999–2000 season, based on the collection throat swabs from a sample of the sentinel practitioners participating in InfluNet from week 47 to week 17 of each season (NIH, 2019). ILI and virological data were available by ISO week, and are reported weekly during the influenza season by the National Institutes of Health (NIH, 2019).

The sentinel surveillance system was planned to represent the Italian population by Region and by age group. The estimate of the total number of ILI cases in Italy were obtained by weekly ILI incidence, calculated on the population under surveillance, and re-proportioning these to the Italian population (about 60 million).

Environmental temperature

Italian temperature data were extracted from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) database (NOAA, 2019). More than one hundred Italian weather stations contribute to the NOAA database, providing daily average, minimum and maximum temperatures. Overall, Italian daily average, minimum and maximum temperatures were obtained computing the means of daily average, minimum temperatures and maximum temperatures from each weather station, weighted by the populations of the Italian provinces where the stations were located for all of the study period (winter seasons from 2013/14 to 2016/17). Weekly average temperatures as well as weekly minimum and maximum temperatures were obtained calculating the weekly average of daily average, minimum and maximum temperatures. Based on these overall weekly temperatures, we estimated the expected weekly minimum and maximum temperature using a general linear model with a yearly seasonal variation applied to the data of the entire study period. Weeks with extreme temperatures (EC) were defined as weeks with an average temperature above the average of the maximum weekly temperatures or lower than the average of the minimum weekly temperatures. (Nielsen et al., 2018).

Statistical analysis

The number of influenza-attributable deaths was estimated using the FluMOMO algorithm, based on the weekly Influenza Activity (IA) and ET (EuroMOMO, 2018b). For this analysis, we used two IA indicators: 1) the ILI incidence and 2) the Goldstein index (ILI × percentage of positive specimens) (Goldstein et al., 2011). Up to two-weeks-delayed effects of the explanatory variables were considered in the model.

An explanatory factor reflecting the deviation of environmental temperature from the average maximum/minimum temperatures was introduced in the model in order to take into account a potential confounding effect of temperature on influenza excess mortality, as many Italian regions are affected by very cold weather in some winter weeks (e.g. January 2017). Very cold weather is recognized to have a potential impact on the excess mortality from all causes (Nielsen et al., 2011). Therefore, we estimated the influenza-attributable deaths among older adults, adjusting for Extreme Temperatures (ET), defined as weeks with a mean temperature above the average maximum temperature or below the average. Periods with excess cold might be bad in the winter, but in summer, it may have a benign effect and opposite for periods with excess warmth. Therefore, the winter effect of temperature is included with an opposite warm (protective) and cold (harmful) effect.

The method has been described elsewhere (Vestergaard et al., 2017). In brief, we adopted a Poisson regression time-series model with over-dispersion, where the weekly absolute number of deaths from all causes was the outcome variable and IA and ET the explanatory variables. In the results section we reported results including both models with and without the ET effect. We corrected the model by annual trend, and seasonality. Seasonality was expressed as the sum of two sine waves of one year and half year periods, respectively (Nielsen et al., 2018). As the dominant type/subtype of influenza circulating viruses vary from season to season, a separate effect of IA for each season (season: week 42 to week 17 the following year) was used.

Analyses were performed separately for the age groups 0–4, 5–14, 15–64 and 65+ years of age, as well as for all ages. The statistical analysis was performed using STATA version 14 (StataCorp, 2014).

A total of 1,457,038 deaths were registered in Italy during the study period. Table 1 provides the absolute number of all-cause deaths, the overall crude mortality rate (per 1,000 inhabitants), the overall standardized mortality rate (per 1,000 inhabitants) and the standardized mortality rate by age group and by season. The number of deaths and the mortality rates from all causes increased by age. The 2014/15 and 2016/17 seasons showed the highest overall crude and standardized mortality rates.

Table 1Number of all-cause cause-deaths and crude mortality rate (per 1,000 population) by age classes and winter season and standardized mortality rate (reference 2014 Italian population).

Age classes 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17
N. Rate N. Rate N. Rate N. Rate
0–4 942 0.35 923 0.34 848 0.33 948 0.36
5–14 255 0.04 223 0.04 224 0.04 254 0.04
15–64 38,548 0.99 39,773 1.01 38 070 0.97 39,05 1.00
65–74 48,958 7.62 50,563 7.77 48 129 7.37 51,357 7.86
75+ 256,465 39.89 284,097 42.90 267 242 39.47 289,969 42.94
Total 345,168 5.72 375,579 6.18 354 513 5.84 381,578 6.28
Total std 345,168 5.72 366,507 6.08 340 226 5.64 366,859 6.08

Influenza-like illness and virological surveillance data

During the study period, an average of 5,290,000 (range 4,542,000–6,299,000) ILI cases were estimated in Italy, corresponding to a cumulative average incidence of 9% (range 8%–11%) in the Italian population. The highest estimated incidence was observed in children younger than 5 years (average of 23%, range 21%–26%) and in adolescents (average of 15%, range 12%–18%). The 2014/15 season showed the highest estimated number of cases, with a total of 6,300,000 ILI cases. The lowest number of cases was observed in the 2013/14 season, with 4,540,000 ILI estimated cases (Table 2).

Table 2Number of estimated ILI cases and specific rate (per 1,000 population) by age classes and winter season and standardized mortality rate (reference 2014 Italian population).

Age classes 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17
N. Rate N. Rate N. Rate N. Rate
0–4 805,386 295.6 959,993 361.9 828,763 322.1 786,421 314.4
5–14 917,557 160.3 1,313,070 229.1 1,277,345 223.7 1,009,435 177.7
15–64 2,424,766 61,7 3,416,782 87.2 2,343,898 60.1 2,979,709 76.6
65+ 394,292 30.3 609,156 46.1 426,994 31.9 664,436 49.1
Total 4,542,000 74.7 6,299,000 103.6 4,877,000 80.4 5,440,000 89.8
Total std 4,542,000 74.7 6,324,948 104.1 4,936,103 81.2 5,526,216 90.9
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A high circulation of A/H3N2 viruses was observed during all the seasons included in this study, although with a different proportion in each season. In two seasons (2014/15 and 2015/16), a co-circulation of A and B viruses was observed. In particular, during the 2014/15 season, the majority of circulating viruses were A (84%) with a co-circulation of A/H1N1pdm09 (52%) and A/H3N2 (41%). On the other hand, during the 2015/16 season, the majority were B (57%) viruses; among A viruses, the A/H3N2 subtype (56%) was the most frequently isolated, followed by the A/H1N1pdm09 (35%). In general, during all seasons there was a mismatch between the circulating viruses and the strains included in the vaccine (Table 3). The number of ILI cases and the number of positive and negative samples by week are displayed in Figure 1.
Table 3Estimated cumulative influenza-attributable number of deaths and mortality rates (per 100,000) with confidence interval 95% (95% CI) in Italy in the winter seasons 2013/14–2016/17 using Goldstein Index as influenza activity.

Season Proportion of circulating influenza viruses Vaccine match with circulating viruses 0–4 years 5–14 years 15–64 years Aged 65+ Total
N. Rate N. Rate N. Rate N. Rate N. Rate
95% CI 95% CI 95% CI 95% CI 95% CI 95% CI 95% CI 95% CI 95% CI 95% CI
2013/14 A: 97% (H3: 58%; H1: 35%; Ans: 7%) Good match 10 0.37 21 0.36 831 2.11 8460 65.01 7027 11.56
B: 3% (Yamagata: 95%; Victoria: 3%) 3–20 0.1–0.7 11–32 0.2–0.5 406–963 1.8–2.4 7183–9803 55.2–75.3 5785–8347 9.5–13.7
2014/15 A: 84% (H3: 41%; H1: 52%; Ans: 7%) A(H3N2) mismatch 28 1.05 5 0·08 1364 3.48 19475 147.32 20259 33.32
B: 16% (Yamagata: 97%; Victoria: 3%) 19–39 0.7–1.5 3–8 0.0–0.1 1138–1602 2.9–4.1 16542–22567 125.1–170.7 18506–22064 30.4–36.3
2015/16 A: 43% (H3: 56%; H1: 35%; Ans: 9%) A(H3N2) mismatch 0 0 15 0.27 977 2.5 10270 76.81 15801 26.05
B: 57% (Yamagata: 5%; Victoria: 95%) 0–4 0.0–0.1 8–23 0.1–0.4 815–1148 2.1–2.9 8723–11900 65.2–89.0 14434–17293 23.8–28.4
2016/17 A: 95% (H3: 93%; H1: 1%; Ans: 6%) Match with some aminoacidic substitution for the A(H3N2) component 38 1.54 13 0.23 675 1.74 19404 143.43 24981 41.23
B 5% (Yamagata: 4%; Victoria: 96%) 26–53 1.0–2.1 7–20 0.1–0.4 563–793 1.4–2.0 17599–21267 130.1–157.7 23001–27014 38.0–44.6
H3 = A(H3N2); H1 = A(H1N1)pdm09; Ans = A not subtyped.
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Figure 1

Figure 1Total number of specimens, number of positive specimens for influenza and ILI cases (per 1,000 per inhabitants) by week and season. Italy, 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17 season.

Influenza-attributable mortality

Figure 2 shows the weekly estimates of cumulative weekly mortality rates per 100,000 that can be attributed to the IA effect (with and without ET effect), over the winter seasons 2013/14 to 2016/17, derived from FluMOMO models. We observed two peaks, one for the 2014/15 and one for the 2016/17 season. These two seasons were also characterized by a high ILI incidence, particularly high for people aged 65 years and over (data not shown). The effect of temperature was marginal and more evident only in the 2016/17 season.

Figure 2

Figure 2Excess mortality for winter seasons 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17.
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During the study period, 136,686 ILI-attributable excess deaths were estimated using the full model (IA + ET effect). The average annual mortality excess rate (MR) ranged from 40.6 to 70.2 per 100,000. The total number of excess ILI-attributable deaths during the 2014/15 season was 41,066, 65.6% higher compared to the previous season. During the 2016/17 season, the number of ILI-attributable excess deaths was 43,336, 57.9% more than the previous season.

Using the Goldstein index, the total number of excess deaths attributable to influenza in the 4-season study period was 68,068. The average annual mortality excess rate (MR) ranged from 11.6 to 41.2 per 100,000. Most of the influenza-associated deaths per year were among elderly individuals (≥65 years) (Table 3). During the 2014/15 and 2016/17 seasons, the influenza-attributable excess mortality was higher compared to 2013/14 and 2015/16. The total number of excess influenza-attributable deaths during the 2014/15 season was 20,259, three times as high compared to the previous season; and most of the influenza-attributable excess deaths were among individuals ≥65 years (96.1%, N = 19,475). A similar pattern was observed during the 2016/17 season, when the number of influenza-attributable excess deaths was 24,981, 58.1% higher compared to the 2015/16 season and 23.3% higher compared to the 2014/15 season.

Although most of the influenza-attributable excess deaths were reported among people aged ≥65 years, also the younger age classes showed a small increase. In particular, during the 2014/15 season, the influenza-attributable excess deaths, in the 0–4 and 15–64 age groups, were higher than the previous seasons. On the other hand, during the 2016/17 season, the influenza-attributable excess deaths were lower compared to the previous season in all age-groups, except for the 0–4 age group, in which the influenza-attributable excess deaths were the highest registered in the study period, as well as for the 65+ age group.

A comparison of the AI estimates using ILI and Goldstein index is reported in Table 4. The patterns were similar, but in 2014/15 and 2016/17 seasons the differences between ILI and Goldstein rates were larger, as well as for the age class 65+.

Table 4Comparisons between the different influenza activity indicators: influenza-associated mortality rates (per 100,000) estimates based on Goldstein Index and Influenza Like Illness, by age group and winter season.

Season 0–4 years 5–14 years 15–64 years Aged 65+ Total
N. Rate N. Rate N. Rate N. Rate N. Rate
95% CI 95% CI 95% CI 95% CI 95% CI 95% CI 95% CI 95% CI 95% CI 95% CI

Influenza Like Illness

2013/14 3 0.1 27 0.48 698 1.78 24063 184.89 24791 40.61
0–9 0.0–0.3 18–38 0.5–1.1 540–871 1.4–2.2 22617–25538 173.8–196.2 23333–26283 38.2–43.1
2014/15 24 0.89 5 0.98 2337 5.96 38700 292.76 41066 67.13
14–35 0.5–1.1 3–6 0.6– 1.2 2194 – 2483 5.6–6.3 36971–40455 279.7–306.0 39184–42978 64.1–70.3
2015/16 11 0.41 19 0.34 1043 2.67 26390 197.39 27463 45.02
4–19 0.1–0.7 12 – 28 0.2–0.5 809–1309 2.1–3.3 24963–27843 186.7–208.2 26022–28933 42.7–47.4
2016/17 34 3.35 20 0.36 2029 5.22 41223 304.78 43366 70.19
67–102 2.7–4.1 13 – 29 0.2–0.5 1888 – 2173 4.9–5.6 24963–27843 290.4–319.4 41258–45511 66.8–73.7

Goldstein Index

2013/14 10 0.37 21 0.36 831 2.11 8460 65.01 7027 11.56
3–20 0.1–0.7 11–32 0.2–0.5 406–963 1.8–2.4 7183–9803 55.2–75.3 5785–8347 9.5–13.7
2014/15 28 1.05 5 0·08 1364 3.48 19475 147.32 20259 33.32
19–39 0.7–1.5 3 –8 0.0–0.1 1138–1602 2.9–4.1 16542–22567 125.1–170.7 18506–22064 30.4–36.3
2015/16 0 0 15 0.27 977 2.5 10270 76.81 15801 26.05
0–4 0.0– 0.1 8–23 0.1–0.4 815–1148 2.1– 2.9 8723–11900 65.2–89.0 14434–17293 23.8–28.4
2016/17 38 1.54 13 0.23 675 1.74 19404 143.43 24981 41.23
26–53 1.0–2.1 7–20 0.1– 0.4 563–793 1.4–2.0 17599–21267 130.1–157.7 23001–27014 38.0–44.6

Temperature associated mortality

Extreme temperatures (either minimum or maximum) were recorded in 43% of the weeks (warm: 27%, cold: 16%), with a median extreme warm temperature of 0.7 (range: 0.1–2.3) degrees above the average weekly maximum temperature and extreme cold: −0.7 (range: −0.3 to −2.6) degrees below the average weekly maximum temperature.

The overall number of deaths attributable to extreme ambient temperature in the study period was 8,820, ranging from 939 during winter 2014/15 to 5,190 during winter 2016/17, corresponding to a 3.6 average MR (range: 1.5 to 8.6, data not shown) per 100,000.


With the present study we show a remarkable excess death attributable to influenza in Italy during the winter seasons 2014/15 and 2016/17, which was independent from mean weekly extreme temperature variations. Our results show that during these two seasons, in Italy, a high proportion of deaths was observed among the elderly (96.1% and 77.7%, respectively). However, high rates were also observed in children 0–4 years old (1.05 and 1.54/100,000, respectively).

The pattern of excess deaths attributable to influenza in Italy is comparable to the pattern observed in Europe, as obtained from the EuroMOMO network (Nielsen et al., 2018). The EuroMOMO network reported, in 2014/15 and 2016/17 seasons, a higher excess death for all causes, in all ages, compared to the previous season: 28.58/100,000 in 2014/15 and 25.65/100,000 in 2016/17. In the same seasons, the highest all-cause excess mortality was reported among people aged 65+. According to previous studies conducted at the European level, all-cause mortality is mainly attributable to seasonal variations in IA (Nielsen et al., 2018).

We estimated influenza-associated mortality using two indicators of influenza activity. When using ILI as the IA, mortality may be overestimated. By using the Goldstein index as the IA, the dynamic of transmission is better represented and overestimation due to deaths by other pathogens is limited (Nielsen et al., 2018). Both indicators show a similar pattern, but the estimation of mortality associated with influenza based on the Goldstein index seems to be the most reliable. We considered ILI as IA indicator mainly for comparisons with previous studies adopting the same approach.
In 2014/15, among people aged 65+, European pooled data (EuroMOMO Network, 2015) showed an increased influenza-attributable mortality rate of 147.41/100,000 deaths, with ILI as IA indicator. Using the same model for Italy, we estimated a rate of 292.8/100,000 (CI 95% 279.7–306.0/100,000), perfectly comparable with the rate reported at the EU level. The 2014/15 season in Europe was, as in Italy, characterized by co-circulation of influenza A/H3N2 and influenza A/H1N1pdm09 viruses, but the A/H3N2 virus strain was more commonly detected compared to season 2013/14 (Mølbak et al., 2015).

A similar pattern was reported in the elderly in EU during the 2016/17 season, with an excess influenza-attributable mortality rate of 129.9/100,000 deaths (Vestergaard et al., 2017) Italian estimates (using the Goldstein index) showed a rate of 143.43/100,000 (CI 95% 130.09–152.72), slightly higher compared to the European rate.

Scarce data is available on influenza-attributable mortality estimates for single countries in the study period considered. However, some studies have been published that have reported influenza-attributable excess mortality rates in EU countries. In particular, Italy shows a higher influenza attributable excess mortality compared to Denmark in all ages, with highest levels reported in elderly, but for the 0–4 age group where Denmark reported higher rates compared to Italy in all seasons, except for the 2014/2015 season (0.52/100,000 vs 1.05/100,000) (Nielsen et al., 2018). In Sweden, the 2016/17 season was characterized by the predominant circulation of A/H3N2. In this season, the reported influenza-attributable mortality in the elderly was higher compared to other age groups, and was the highest recorded, compared to previous A(H3N2) dominated seasons (Public Health Agency of Sweden, 2017). In the UK, estimates of the annual number of deaths directly attributable to influenza range from 4 to 14,000 per year, with an average of around 8,000 per year (Public Health England, 2014). Moreover, influenza-attributable excess deaths using the FluMomo method for UK were reported in 2014/15 (Pebody et al., 2018). UK estimates, in terms of absolute numbers, were higher compared to
Italian data, in all ages and in particular in the elderly (26,542 vs 19,475 respectively).
Plausible hypotheses regarding the determinants of the observed excess deaths attributable to influenza in Italy, especially in the old population (i.e. 65+), are: i) meteorological factors (low and high temperatures), ii) seasonal influenza circulating virus strains, and iii) the amplitude of the at risk population (pools of elderly).

Deviation from expected temperature may have a great impact on mortality (Allen and Sheridan, 2018). Very low temperatures were registered at the beginning of 2017 in various European countries. Therefore, we decided to adjust our estimates of influenza-associated mortality for extreme temperatures. We found that the impact of extreme temperatures on mortality in Italy was quite limited, with the exception of the 2016/17 season. Despite this impact of extreme low temperatures, most of the excess death rate registered in 2016/17 is attributable to influenza, confirming other observations recorded in Europe (Nielsen et al., 2019). Nevertheless, this is the first study reporting the effect of temperatures on mortality in Italy, and we acknowledge that this association has to be further investigated, also analyzing this factor at sub-national level.

As in other European countries, the excess mortality observed in Italy during the 2014/15 and 2016/17 seasons could be related to the circulation of an A/H3N2 influenza virus, which is known to be associated to a higher mortality in the elderly (Nielsen et al., 2019). The A/H3N2 strain was strikingly prevalent in 2016/17 compared to previous seasons, with a mismatch between the circulating A/H3N2 virus and the virus included in the vaccine composition, which may have caused a low vaccine effectiveness (Rizzo et al., 2016). This is confirmed by case control studies conducted in the elderly population at the EU level (Kissling et al., 2016, Valenciano et al., 2016), showing moderate to low influenza vaccine effectiveness estimates both in primary care and in hospital settings, especially for the A/H3N2 component of the vaccine.

The vaccine coverage in the elderly in both seasons was close to 50% (Bonanni et al., 2018). In Italy, annual influenza vaccination is targeted to persons aged 65 years or above and for high risk persons aged more than 6 months (including pregnant women, individuals with chronic conditions, etc.). In the last 10 years the influenza vaccine coverage progressively declined until 2015, especially in those aged 65+ (68% in 2005/06 to 49% in 2014/15 season), which is well below the WHO minimum target (75%) (Ministry of Health, 2018). One study, reporting an excess of mortality in 2015 in the Italian city of Bologna, showed that elderly individuals unvaccinated against influenza had an increased risk of all-cause and cause-specific mortality compared to vaccinated individuals (Francia et al., 2018).

In terms of amplitude of the at risk population, in Italy there are 6.7 million of people aged 75+ (more than 10% of the population) that constitute a large group of fragile subjects, among which the annual death rate is naturally high, around 4% (ISTAT, 2018b). Among them, a large variation in the absolute number of deaths causes small fluctuations in the mortality rate. Excess deaths constitute a serious public health issue that can be prevented coupling influenza vaccination with personal protection measures (ECDC, 2019).

This study has several limitations. The influenza surveillance system in Italy is based on voluntary general practitioners reporting ILI cases, and the participating general practitioners are not selected with random criteria. Another important limitation in the surveillance system is related to virological surveillance because sampling of influenza testing may be biased towards more samples taken at hospitals, and therefore may overestimate the proportion of positive samples in the population. These limitations may introduce a potential bias due to the selection of subjects under surveillance.

Moreover, the study is based on census mortality data, while previous published studies (Nielsen et al., 2019) were based on sample data and limited to regional data. However, the proposed model uses all-cause weekly mortality data, usually available quite in real time in many countries, and can therefore be a valuable tool for monitoring the seasonal impact of influenza.

The study should be validated using cause specific mortality data, which, however, was not available for the entire study period. Furthermore, it would be valuable to investigate also regional patterns, but such details on mortality were not available in the study period considered.
To evaluate whether the association of influenza activity with mortality varied with temperatures, an interaction term of influenza activity and temperatures should be added to model. The adopted statistical model did not include an interaction term between temperatures and IA. This “rigidity” of the model can be considered a limitation and should be overcome in future applications.

Finally, the pattern of the effect of temperature on mortality should be investigated further to be able to obtain more valid estimated of the impact of this effect, e.g. testing different cut-off values for the extreme temperature definition.

Assessment of winter mortality in Italy, during the 2014/15 and 2016/17 seasons, confirmed the hypothesis that influenza was likely to have been the main contributor to the excess mortality seen, especially in the elderly. Routine use of methods, such as FluMoMo can assist in rapidly assessing the impact of influenza in the overall mortality, which varies considerably by age group and type of circulating viruses. In conclusion, the unpredictability of the influenza virus circulating strains continues to present a major challenge to health professionals and policy makers. Nonetheless, vaccination remains the most effective means for reducing the burden of influenza, with a particular impact on the influenza attributable mortality. Moreover, the influenza vaccine, by reducing influenza complications, can indirectly reduce morbidity and mortality from all causes in the elderly (Trucchi et al., 2015). An improved protective effect on the elderly population could be obtained also by reducing the circulation of the influenza viruses through vaccination strategies targeting healthy children, who represent a crucial reservoir of the virus (Pebody et al., 2015, Grijalva et al., 2010, King et al., 2005, King et al., 2010). ... 5/fulltext

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Re: Socialist Demands for the COVID-19 Crisis

Post by chlamor » Mon Mar 23, 2020 12:31 am

FEBRUARY 28, 2019

Italy's polluted Po Valley gasps for fresh air
by Céline Cornu

Set against the mountains, far from the ocean and cleansing sea breezes, Italy's major northern city and the Po Valley are at a disadvantage, climate wise.

It is only the end of February, but air pollution in Milan has already exceeded the legal limit for 2019, and the Po Valley swims in a soupy smog.

"I can really feel when there's smog, I suffer all winter long," 45-year old Milan local Fabio Cigognini told AFP, describing the asthma-like symptoms which plague him during the cold months.

"We breathe in poison, but no-one tells us anything," he said.

Set against the mountains, far from the ocean and cleansing sea breezes, Italy's major northern city and the Po Valley have always been at a disadvantage, climate wise.

But with air pollution at "alarming" rates - among the highest in Europe - local authorities have turned to a combination of tactics to help the city and the valley breath again.

"The Po Valley is very unhappily situated for atmospheric pollution in terms of climate and geography," says Damiano Disimine, head scientist in the Lombardy for Italy's environmentalist lobby Legambiente.

"Wind is rare and there are frequent and prolonged episodes of climatic inversion. This means that the air is colder in the plains than in the mountains, and is still," he said.

"On a European scale, the air pollution level is comparable only to southern Poland, where there is a coal industry and frightening sources of pollution".

In the vast plain, which runs from the Apennines to the Alps, smog has reached alarming levels due to air pollution seen in this European Space

In Lombardy, coal-fired power stations are closed and the use of heavy fuel oil for heating has been banned for 20 years.

In the vast plain, which runs from the Apennines to the Alps, "a quarter of the pollution is caused by road traffic, 45 percent by domestic heating and the rest by industrial and agricultural emissions," says Lombardy environment councillor Raffaele Cattaneo.

The region produces vast amounts of animal waste, a big contributor to pollution. It delivers more than 40 percent of Italy's milk production, for example, while over half of the Italian pig production is located in the Po Valley.

Lombardy's action plan—drawn up in coordination with three other regions in the valley—is based on those three factors.

The circulation of dirty vehicles is limited in certain areas, especially when the level of coarse dust particles (PM10) exceeds the threshold for four consecutive days.

The same goes for heating in homes and offices. And those who buy greener heating systems or upgrade their home insulation can get financial assistance.

There are also measures for agriculture—as a chemical reaction between the ammonia in fertiliser and the nitrous oxide from diesel vehicles accounts for up to three quarters of particles, Cattaneo said.

Air pollution has decreased significantly in recent years as a result.

Things are improving—particularly in grey-skied Milan, which charges vehicles to enter the city centre and has just imposed a ban on the worst offenders during the day on weekdays

From 2005 to 2018, the average PM10 concentration in Lombardy dropped from 46 to 29 mg/m3, and the number of days in which the 50 mg/m3 limit was breached in the region dropped from 119 to 40.

Situation 'alarming'

Still, pollution levels exceed a 35-day limit however, breaking EU law. And the dry, sunny winter on the plain does not bode well for 2019's air quality.

The climatic and geographic "handicap" should be an incentive to "do better, and more than others", Disimine said.

Things are improving—particularly in grey-skied Milan, which charges vehicles to enter the city centre and has just imposed a ban on the worst offenders during the day on weekdays.

But Disimine says the situation still "alarming", especially as regards the nitrogen oxide level, for which traffic is to blame.

There are some 65 cars per 100 inhabitants in Italy—and 51.8 in Milan—compared to 36 for example in Paris, London and Berlin.

The answers lie in "public transport, car sharing, cycling" and improving bus and train networks beyond the regional capital.

"In the last ten years, the number of citizens using the train has doubled in Lombardy," says Cattaneo, who favours a carrot rather than stick approach, preferring to offer financial incentives than enforce bans.

The region has set itself the goal of coming in at, or under, the European Union 35-day limit by 2025. ... gasps.html

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Re: Socialist Demands for the COVID-19 Crisis

Post by chlamor » Mon Mar 23, 2020 12:35 am

Nitrogen dioxide and fine particles are threatening Po valley air quality

Air quality is becoming a serious issue and governments and institutions all around the world are starting to take action against this particular threat.

s climate change begins to strongly affect our everyday life and pollution still menacing health and safety of people around Europe, there have been scientific studies put up in order to analyze and reduce emissions of nitrogen dioxide and fine particles. Air quality devices, capable of analyzing the air we breathe every day, might be a helpful ally in improving our health.

Po valley, the worst area in Europe for air quality

In March 2019, the European Space Agency (ESA) published images took from their satellites. These images show a big stain, made of nitrogen dioxide and fine particles, situated above the Po Valley area, which incorporates the city of Milan, Turin, and Bologna. Milan and Turin share high levels of ozone and nitrogen oxides, which are mainly produced by cars diesel and petrol engines. The big stain analyzed by ESA is the main reason why Po valley air pollution levels are so high it is considered nowadays the worst area in Europe for air quality.


To shed light on how dangerous it is for humans to live in polluted environments, Chicago Energy Policy Institute has recently developed the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), a system capable of analyzing air pollution worldwide. According to AQLI findings, Po valley air pollution affects inhabitants so hard that it cuts off about half a year of their life expectancy. It doesn't come as a surprise then, that this particular area located in Northern Italy is considered the most polluted in Europe.

The Po valley or "Pianura Padana" is an area that comprehends the regions of Piemonte, Lombardia, Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto in northern Italy. It is known as the most industrialized part of the country, with the main factories located in what was known as the "Industry triangle", between the cities of Turin, Milan, and Genova. Moreover, the majority of the fields in the Po valley are cultivated, both for human consumption and to feed animals under intensive breeding.

What are the causes?

The main reasons why there's a big stain of air pollution over the Po valley are strictly connected to livestock and factories. The so-called "NPK fertilizers", made of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, along with manure emissions from intensive breeding and high levels of nitrogen dioxide released by diesel and petrol engines are all accountable for this disastrous air condition in Northern Italy.

Countries and institutions such as WHO and the EU have tried to reduce pollution by sanctioning exceeds on nitrogen dioxide and PM10 (Particulate Matter) emissions. EU has recently brought up two sanctions against Italy for its extraordinarily high levels of PM2.5 emissions, which have violated the 2008/50/CE directive.

Turin and Milan, among other cities in the Po valley, share the highest concentrations of PM2.5 in Europe.

These particulates are so small they can infiltrate lungs in thirty minutes time, causing breathing diseases. In 2016 alone, PM2.5 has caused over 60.000 deaths all over the country and 391.000 in all Europe.

In this case, besides air pollution's threat to Po valley inhabitants' health, fateful consequences will also affect the country's economics: if the proposal will succeed, Italy will have to pay high economic sanctions and may see its European structural funds significantly cut off.

To reduce significantly emissions in Pianura Padana, local authorities are putting up plans which combine a different kind of tactics. In Milan, vehicles are charged before entering the city center, and offenders are punished with fines. Moreover, in the Lombardia region, it's been 20 years since coal-fired power stations and the use of heavy fuel oil for heating has been banned altogether.

But there's also a natural factor

Apart from pollution caused by factories, cars, and intensive breeding, there are also particular natural conditions that make Po valley pollution levels so high. Geophysical and microclimatic characteristics of Pianura Padana, which is surrounded by the Alps, makes it harder for natural and artificial emissions to be dissolved. According to Damiano Disimine, Lombardia's head scientist for Legambiente, "Po valley is unhappily situated for atmospheric pollution", both climate and geography-wise.

In this particular area, the wind is rare and prolonged episodes of climatic inversion are frequent. This causes the air in Po valley to be colder in the plains than in the mountains. Unable to be significantly cut off, emissions instead stay still above Po valley, in the form of the big stain analyzed by ESA.

In such a particular and endangered environment, it is getting harder and harder to breathe clean, fresh air. To have a clear idea of how much air around us is polluted, it has become more and more necessary to monitor air quality.

Monitoring the air we breathe

Startups are developing sensors capable to understand whether the air in a room is safe to breathe or not, alarming when the conditions are getting way too dangerous. There have been institutional efforts: in 2017, governments from Italian regions in Pianura Padana have also settled up the PREPAIR project, which will last for seven years and is directly financed by the EU. The main goal is to create a map about air quality in Pianura Padana to align with EU rules and improve health in general.

Milan, Turin, and Bologna have all took part in this project along with the regional agency for environment protection (ARPA).

Institutions and governments are taking action against air pollution in the Po valley, but their efforts could not be enough and cities are still heavily polluted. PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide represent a big threat to health and the environment altogether.

The Po valley represents nowadays the worst area in Europe for its air pollution levels, which can't be reduced significantly given its geophysical conditions. Monitoring the air we breathe might be the first step in order to take a step forward in fighting this serious problem. ... r-quality/

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Re: Socialist Demands for the COVID-19 Crisis

Post by chlamor » Mon Mar 23, 2020 12:39 am

How a ‘Toxic Cocktail’ Is Posing a Troubling Health Risk in China’s Cities
A recent study in Chinese cities found a potential link between a hazardous mix of air pollutants and death rates. These findings point to the need for a new approach to assessing the dangers of urban smog in fast-industrializing parts of the developing world.


The hazes can be choking and can reduce visibility at noon to a few tens of yards. Fumes belch from factory chimneys, coal-fired power plants, heating systems in apartment blocks, and millions of road vehicles. When the weather traps smog in the streets, city hospital admissions soar and the morgues fill.

The foul air of dozens of fast-expanding cities across China contains cocktails of toxic contaminants unprecedented in the range of pollutants they contain at high concentrations. Now, new research into these swirling maelstroms of gases and tiny particulates suggests that they may be incubating chemical reactions that compound the health effects in ways not seen before – effects that doctors say are cutting five years off the expected lifespan of half a billion people in northern China.

A study by Chinese and U.S. researchers, published in the bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO) in February, says the science and regulation of smogs have not kept up with their changing composition in the 21st century. In particular, they do not track the “multi-contaminant” nature of the new smogs. Lijian Han and colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences in Beijing, who were among the study’s coauthors, are calling for a new approach to assessing the health risks from chemically complex urban smogs – not just in China, but across the fast-industrializing and urbanizing countries of the developing world.

The unprecedented speed of industrialization and urbanization has combined two eras of pollution.
Most monitoring of urban air still concentrates on one or at most two pollutants, sometimes particulates, sometimes nitrogen oxides or sulphur dioxides or ozone. Similarly, most medical studies of the impacts of these toxins look for links between single pollutants and suspected health effects such as respiratory disease and cardiovascular conditions. And most air quality standards – drawn up by the WHO, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Chinese authorities, and others – are still based on limits to the same individual pollutants.

But real air pollution is not so simple. The new study argues that smogs in China contain more ingredients than those found either in the legendary “pea-soupers” of 19th- and 20th-century Europe and North America or in modern rich-world, vehicle-generated smogs. Something new is happening: The unprecedented speed of industrialization and urbanization has combined two eras of pollution.

In Europe and North America, there have effectively been two eras of smogs, with different chemistries. The first was characterized by heavy particulates and sulphur dioxide from burning coal in cities. It was in decline before the peak of the second phase, which arose from nitrogen oxides, fine particulates emitted by automobiles, and other compounds often combining photochemically in summer sunlight to create ozone.

But in China, India, and other developing countries today, the two eras have come together. According to Han and his colleagues, “The development of coal-fired industries and increased automobile use have overlapped, which has resulted in the emissions of a complex mix of air contaminants.”

Wuhan, seen here covered in smog in 2009, is one of the Chinese cities found to regularly have dangerous levels of multiple air contaminants.

Such mixes have so far largely evaded the attention of air pollution researchers, toxicologists, epidemiologists, and regulators, says the American coauthor of the study, Steward Pickett of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. “The vast majority of research focuses on single contaminants. That is obviously not how pollution actually exists in the atmosphere,” he says.

The mismatch appears to have caused researchers to miss the potentially deadly consequences. “The chemistry of China’s polluted urban air is unprecedented,” Markku Kulmala, an atmospheric modeler at the University of Helsinki, wrote in the science journal Nature two years ago. “We do not know and cannot predict which harmful compounds are being formed.”

China has the world’s most dangerous outdoor air pollution. The country emits about a third of all the human-made sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulates that are poured into the air around the world. The Global Burden of Disease Study, an international collaboration, estimates that 1.1 million Chinese die from the effects of this air pollution each year, roughly a third of the global death toll.

Smogs are generally worst in the cities of northern China, especially in winter when industrial emissions and traffic fumes are compounded by heavy coal burned to heat homes and offices. A 2013 estimate by economist Michael Greenstone, then at MIT, and colleagues put the impact on life expectancy at a staggering five years for 500 million Chinese citizens living north of the Huai river, which divides the north and south of the country.

Han and colleagues studied official air pollution data from 155 Chinese cities. They looked at data for SO2, NOx, ozone, particulates less than 10 microns in diameter (known as PM10), and finer particulates less than 2.5 microns across (PM2.5), which can penetrate deepest into lungs and even cross into the blood system.

Instead of looking at single pollutants, as the regulatory authorities do, they examined the combinations. They found that dozens of Chinese cities regularly exceeded WHO health limits for several pollutants at once and that the cities that suffered most from this “multi-contamination” were often not the largest cities, nor those with the highest levels for individual pollutants.

The largest Chinese cities have implemented environmental protections, leading polluting industries to relocate to smaller cities.
“In general,” the authors say, “multi-contaminant air pollution was less frequent in cities with populations over 10 million than in smaller cities.” China has 15 megacities with a population of over 10 million, but pollution was worst in cities with populations between 500,000 and 10 million. The reason, they suggest, is that the largest cities have implemented “extensive environmental protection measures,” leading many polluting industries to relocate to smaller cities.

Unlike megacities such as Beijing, Tianjin, or Shanghai, these hidden hotspots have rarely grabbed the headlines and have not attracted the attention of state pollution controllers. The paper names four cities that suffered smogs in which all five of the contaminants were above WHO guidelines for more than eight days a year – Dongying, Linya, Weifang, and Zibo. All are in Shandong, an industrial province in northeast China. They have populations of between 1 and 3.5 million; none is among China’s 30 largest cities.

Three other cities listed as regularly suffering dangerous levels of four or five of the pollutants are Jining, also in Shandong, Wuhan in Hubei province, and Jiayuguan and Jinchang in Gansu. None of the seven appear in the lists of the ten most polluted Chinese cities published by the WHO or Chinese environment ministry.

How hazardous are these hidden cocktails of pollution?

All the five major pollutants in smogs – SO2, NOx, ozone, PM10 and PM2.5 — are known to be linked individually to increased risk of strokes, heart disease, lung cancer and asthma, and to rising hospital admissions and death rates during smogs. What is disturbing is that there is growing evidence of synergistic effects between these different pollutants that make the whole worse than the sum of the parts. “The disease burden will be underestimated” by conventional measures, say the authors of the study in the WHO bulletin.

The extent of this underestimation is presently unknown. Studies into the health effects of a single pollutant breathed in over many decades are hard enough, without trying to gauge the effect of several at the same time and in different combinations. Results “become highly unstable when incorporating two or more pollutants that are highly correlated,” according to a 2010 paper by Francesca Dominici of Harvard’s School of Public Health and colleagues.

Researchers point out that attempts to control one air pollutant can increase the concentration of others.
In the past year, her research team has published two studies showing clear effects from ozone and PM2.5 at or below the WHO-recommended limits. Such findings raise the stakes for the harm likely to be done by the pollution cocktails in China and elsewhere.

Kulmala, in his Nature article titled “China’s choking cocktail,” says we can expect “chains of chemical reactions” taking place among the multiple pollutants on Chinese smogs. Those reactions, he says, may have unexpected consequences that make conventional regulation of individual pollutants unpredictable and even counterproductive.

“Attempts to control one pollutant can increase the concentration of others,” he warned. For instance, controlling NOx emissions can sometimes result in a tenfold increase in ozone levels in summer, because while some NOx compounds create ozone, others destroy it.

Once pollutants are inhaled, there may be unexpected synergistic health effects, too, according to Joe Mauderly of the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The synergies may either accelerate or decelerate dangerous biochemical changes.

Researchers in the megacity of Guangzhou in southern China recently published data showing an apparent synergistic effect in the city between nitrogen dioxide (one type of NOx emission) from vehicles emissions and PM10 particulates from coal burning. When either of the pollutants were at high levels, there were more deaths in the city over the subsequent two days, especially cardiovascular deaths. But, most disturbingly, when both pollutants were at high levels, the increased death toll was more than twice as high as for one pollutant. In combination, they “mutually amplify the risk of mortality,” concluded the paper’s lead author, Yuzhou Gu of the Guangzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

A large study of air pollution and health published in 2008 found the same thing in Europe, with extra nitrogen dioxide apparently exacerbating the death toll from PM10.

Uta Wille at the University of Melbourne, Australia, offers one clue as to why such synergies might occur. She reported that both nitrogen dioxide and ozone reduce the body’s defenses against environmental oxidants, which damage body tissues including the lungs. Since both ozone and nitrogen dioxide are themselves environmental oxidants, Wille and fellow researchers concluded, the damage caused by the presence of both was greater than the sum of the damage caused by the presence of each pollutant individually.

China is trying to clean up its air. The authorities faced a tide of public anger and international criticism after intense smogs in the winter of 2013, when particulate levels in Beijing were 40 times WHO-recommended levels. The central government set targets for reducing PM2.5 concentrations.

To meet them, 28 big northern cities moved to banish polluting industries such as cement and steel works and replace coal with natural gas for domestic heating. They have had some success. The Ministry of Environmental Protection announced in early 2018 that all 28 cities had met their new PM2.5 targets. When Beijing largely escaped serious smogs this past winter, officials heralded a “new reality” for a “population who were used to wearing masks and turning on air purifiers.”

The official data were confirmed by informal sources such as measurements made on the roof of the U.S. embassy in Beijing, though Greenpeace claimed that at least part of last winter’s improvement in the capital’s air was due to favorable weather conditions, with cold fronts from Siberia bringing regular infusions of fresh air.

But the evidence of Han’s study is that reducing one pollutant in a handful of large cities is unlikely to improve things in dozens of other smaller cities where pollution cocktails persist and grow. In fact, if regulators merely force the most polluting industries to move from large cities to smaller ones, it could make things worse. ... ese-cities

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