By Mision Verdad – March 23, 2020
The global crisis created by Covid-19 has become a scene of struggle between political and social models.
Now a quarter since the appearance of the first cases, the 21st century pandemic has exposed the fragility of the countries that embraced the neoliberal thesis and the strength of those that prioritized the position of the State and the use of technology to organize society in the face of an unexpected and dangerous threat.
Since the first two clinically diagnosed cases, Venezuela has applied drastic protection measures that adhere to successful models known and applied in China and other Asian countries, also endorsed by the World Health Organization. But beyond importing measures and resorting to experts from other countries, Venezuela is relying on its own system of popular and collective protection, founded in the years of Hugo Chávez’s government and deepened in the years of leadership of Nicolás Maduro.
Test, tests and emergency calls
The latest public report places South Korea near 9,000 infected by Covid-19, being the ninth country in the world with the highest number of detected cases, behind France, Spain, Italy or the United States, where the main outbreaks of the pandemic are on the western front.
Although the figure itself may seem terrifying in the case of South Korea, the number of fatalities that Covid-19 has left in that country changes this immediate appearance . Unlike Italy, where more than 5 thousand people have already died, in the Asian country the deaths add up to just 104.
The relationship between detected cases, the increase in the contagion curve and victim fatality (in addition to the recovery rate of the patients), are among the key factors to analyze the evolution of the pandemic, determine its lethality and take appropriate measures to stop its expansion.
For this reason, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) have praised the strict quarantine applied by China in the Wuhan region in mid-January to stop the spread of the virus.
Spokespersons for the international body have escalated their alarmed calls as the pandemic unfolds: “Don’t assume that your community will not be affected (…) There are many things that all countries can do. Physical distancing measures, such as canceling sporting events, concerts, and other large gatherings, can help delay transmission of the virus. They can reduce the burden on the health system.”
And they can help make epidemics manageable, allowing targeted and localized measures. But to suppress and control epidemics, countries must isolate, test, treat, and track. If they do not, transmission chains may continue at a low level, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom said a few days ago.
The WHO recommends carrying out as many tests as possible to determine, with the greatest possible precision, the number of infected patients.
Along with the establishment of quarantines, the WHO recommends carrying out as many tests as possible to determine, with the greatest possible precision, the number of infected patients. With this information, health systems can be better prepared and physical distancing measures become more effective in stopping infections.
The West turns its gaze
Countries that have heard these recommendations and that have implemented alternatives to more realistically define the transmission curve can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
In the central countries of the West, the establishment of strict quarantines has been late and health systems have been collapsed and flooded.
This initial underestimation of the effects of Covid-19 by the ruling (and irresponsible) elites of these countries has contributed to the chaos and spread of the virus on a catastrophic scale.
However, the application of austerity as a large-scale political-economic program adds one more complication to an already overwhelming picture: the tests are scarce due to the lack of investment to develop them as quickly as required, or due to the dismantling of the manufacturing and healthcare industry, while mobility restrictions hinder the application of tests in hospitals.
Specifically, Western governments are trying to control a pandemic blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their backs by not having information on how to act effectively amid the uncontrolled spread of infections.
According to Expansión , quoting the Financial Times in London: “The medical experts consulted by the British newspaper warn that in many countries there are bottlenecks between the supply and demand for test kits because everyone wants the test to detect Covid -19, but there are not enough. Experts point out that slowing down healthcare systems to detect infected patients paralyzed the visibility of the spread of the coronavirus and likely reduced the chances of containing it.”
A few days ago, WHO reinforced its call in this regard. Specifically, director Tedros Adhanom indicated: “We must carry out tests on every person who notices symptoms of Covid-19 so that, if it is positive, we can immediately isolate them (…) Even the mildest cases should be placed in isolation. The spokesperson added: “We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test, (without evidence) cases can not be isolated and the chain of infection will not be broken.”
Most western governments try to control a pandemic blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their backs by not having information on how to act.
These recommendations contrast with the fatal action of the United States government, which has carried out 32,000 tests on a population of over 300 million. The same is true in the United Kingdom or Spain, where tests number a few thousand people, waiting for supplies to be purchased in an international market stressed by growing demand, or for the manufacturing industry to produce the kit and others basic supplies to treat Covid-19.
As this occurs, the contagion curve grows as do deaths amid blindness about the extent of the pandemic and disorientation about the measures to be taken.
The South Korea case
Just as the high death rates in Italy have surprised, the case of South Korea has also done so, but for diametrically opposite reasons: in the Asian country, mortality from Covid-19 is approximately 1% .
Under the slogan “Bali, bali” (which translated means “Quick, quick”), the South Korean health system combined a strategy of strict confinement and parallel diagnosis, after the first case of Covid-19 in the city of Daegu was known on January 20.
In mid-February, tests were started on 10,000 people daily, for a total of 240,000 diagnosed in a month and a half, an important figure in contrast to the country’s total population: 50 million people. The application of these tests allowed the government to demarcate the areas where 86% of those infected lie (Daegu and North Gyeongsang) and, consequently, take the appropriate measures to avoid contagion.
Hwang Seung-sik, an epidemiologist and professor at Seoul National University, says that with these massive tests “we managed to reduce the rate of new confirmed cases to less than 100 per day. It is a great achievement.”
The system applied by South Korea consists of deploying medical personnel on roads and highways, together with a networked system of mobile or self-service clinics, to carry out tests on people without moving them to hospital centers and transforming waiting rooms into hot spots of contagion.
The test consists of a brief questionnaire and temperature measurement, the entire process takes about 10 minutes and the results a matter of one day.
The Los Angeles Times reports that “As the ranks of those infected grew by several thousand, aggressive testing has given health officials the ability to detect outbreaks as they arise, focus resources on those areas, and isolate those with the potential to spread the virus.”
He adds, by way of comparison, that “In the United States, with six times the population of South Korea, around 2,000 infections have been reported and 43 have died as of Friday (March 13). But even more worrying is what is unknown. With limited availability of tests, doctors and public health officials have to choose who to test, raising concern that others are unknowingly spreading the deadly virus.”
The country’s Deputy Minister of Health and Welfare, Kim Ganglip, believes that “The enormous testing capability allows us to identify patients early and minimize the harmful effects (…) This is the most important means of fending off a contagious disease outbreak.”
The use of these massive tests reduced the affected rate from 813 on February 29 to 114 on March 12, a trend that continues in this direction to this day, indicates eldiario.es.
A Spanish media explains what the clinical test system applied by South Korea consists of, which has already been copied by the United States and other countries, and also drops a comparison: with mobile clinics,
“You could do many more tests per day (about 400), because the process is very fast: healthcare personnel do not need to change after each test, which reduces the risk of contagion, by minimizing face-to-face contact expensive both with doctors and between patients. The samples are sent in hermetic containers to one of the 118 laboratories authorized for this purpose, where 1,200 medical professionals analyze them. The Asian country has established 633 control check points, some of them improvised in front of places where outbreaks of infection have appeared, and can do around 20 thousand tests a day. There have been 75 victims after 8,320 infections accounted for, which contrasts with the figures for Spain, of 11,883 infections and 529 deaths: seven times more”.
This novel system is supported, in part, by a smartphone application called “self-quarantine safety protection”, developed by the South Korean Home Office.
With this application, the population enters their data and responses in a questionnaire and the system evaluates whether they require the application of a test, and that is where the mobile clinic system or, if required, home visits come into play. In addition, the application allows monitoring of the person in case of infection to avoid violating the quarantine and putting other people at risk.
The Patria platform has evolved according to the material conditions of Venezuela, exhibiting its flexibility and adaptability to respond to the needs of the population.
This system has provided the key to reverse the contagion curve : early detection, geolocation of the main sources of infection, reduced mobility of people seeking to be tested and precise adoption of quarantine measures to cut the chain of infections, starting reliable data that produces rapid testing, without excessive and massive costs.
The novelty of the Patria system is put to the test with the Covid-19
Launched in 2017, the Patria platform began as an effort to centralize in a single database the millions of beneficiaries of all the social policies deployed by the Venezuelan government, linked to the “Carnet de la Patria”, where there are already 20 million users.
With this mechanism, the government of Nicolás Maduro has taken the pulse of the country’s social and economic life, has improved the administration of resources and has redirected them precisely to the most vulnerable groups affected by the economic warfare, disconnecting from management — traditionally bureaucratic — and barriers imposed by a state achitecture marked by bureaucratism and rent-seeking traps.
This system, born as a necessity in times of war, configured a new instance of coordination and communication between the people and the State, granting conditions of transparency and efficiency to the direct allocation of bonuses and food boxes (CLAP) that have allowed us to overcome the acute economic crisis caused by the US blockade.
Over time, the Patria platform has evolved according to the material conditions of the country, exhibiting its flexibility and adaptability to respond to the needs of the population.
Thus, the platform has been taking the form of a new financial architecture independent of traditional commercial banking, with which you can make transactions related to Petro, pay public services, transfer to other bank accounts, receive remittances, among other uses for everyday life.
But this system does not work unidirectionally. The population, in turn, shapes the State’s policies by transmitting vital information on the containment plans, indicating the factors that must be consolidated and warning about the failures that arise. It is a novel mechanism of counter-power, of intelligent management of scarce resources within the framework of the blockade and of direct political coordination with the popular and social organization of the people.
Although it emerged in a context determined by the breakdown of food supply chains and to strengthen the CLAPs, the Patria system has strengthened the lines of national defense and has provided the country with an instrument to coordinate large-scale social and political actions in stressful and conflict situations.
This notion of anticipation and prevention has enabled the Patria System to become an instrument for early detection, geolocation of infections and definition of contingency plans in the midst of the pandemic to curb the expansionary curve of the virus.
In this sense, a survey has been launched from the platform to evaluate symptoms of Covid-19 and also open access to financial aid in the midst of quarantine. Thus, the State obtains vital information to know the geographical scope of possible cases of contagion, their severity and, thus, take effective measures.
The survey has given its first results, demonstrating its effectiveness as an early detection method. President Nicolás Maduro, during his address on March 22, announced that 10,965,519 Venezuelans, more than half of whom are registered in the Homeland system, have responded. With this information, 17,570 people have been visited out of the 21 thousand in total that will be examined under the preventive test application program. A total of 135 people have been transferred to the Comprehensive Diagnostic Centers to perform screening tests for the Covid-19.
The use of this tool prevents people from leaving their homes to have themselves diagnosed (putting others at risk of contagion), at the same time that it tells the health system where and with what intensity to zone primary care for mild or severe cases.
In this way, the virus transmission chain is cut, medical attention is focused, health resources are saved (such as test kits and other supplies) and a hierarchy of priorities is established according to the information provided, which will indicate what areas to attend, which hospitals to strengthen and where to reinforce isolation measures.
Contrary to most western governments, the Venezuelan government and the people have a mechanism that offers comprehensive visibility of the crisis and its critical knots, guiding actions to take to control the epidemic. Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom, let alone Spain, Italy or France, have an info-government system like the Patria system, already proven in previous contingency situations.
Since 2017, Venezuela has been preparing for such a situation with a system designed to transgress the bureaucratic dynamics of the state and strengthen coordination between the government and the organized people.
It can be safely affirmed that, along with South Korea, a country that does not have economic restrictions and at political war like Venezuela, the Patria system constitutes a universal antecedent and a model to be applied to overcome systemic crises using technology and people’s organization.
Again, Venezuela ratifies its political model by putting the social welfare of the entire population in the foreground above the neoliberal thinking that is collapsing right now.
Translated by JRE/EF