European investors celebrate stock market rally as thousands of COVID-19 die
April 10, 2020
The grim death toll from coronavirus continued to increase yesterday in Europe, with France reporting 1,341 deaths, Spain 683, Italy 610, Britain 881 and Germany 258 new deaths. A total of 30,284 new cases have been recorded across the continent, with the number of deaths on a European scale standing at 4,343.
Troubling reports from the hardest hit countries make it clear that official statistics provide only a limited picture of the extent of death and suffering. In Spain, local authorities admit that they only register deaths in hospitals where the patient is tested positive for the disease. Therefore, authorities suggest that unreported deaths, including in nursing homes, at home, or inpatients who cannot be tested due to lack of capacity, could be two to six times higher. than the official figure.
The horrible conditions also continue to weigh on medical staff. Dr. Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, a consultant at a hospital in east London, who asked the British government to provide more personal protective equipment to NHS staff, died from COVID-19 infection. At least eight other doctors have died in the UK since the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the European financial elite does not seem to have performed as well. The London Stock Exchange FTSE 100 closed up 2.9%, the German DAX 2.2% and the French CAC 40 ended the day with an increase of 1.4%. The positive trading day closed an exceptional week for European investors, with pan-European 600 stocks increasing by more than 7% during that week. The 7.8% FTSE 100 weekly gain is the largest weekly increase since the aftermath of the January 2009 financial crisis.
Banks and the corporate elite are celebrating amid the growing health and social carnage caused by COVID-19 for two interdependent reasons. First, they recognize that the vast bailouts agreed by national governments and the European Central Bank will guarantee their wealth in the conditions of the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression. While the European Central Bank has agreed to channel at least 750 billion euros into the financial markets, the German government has led the way with 600 billion euros in loan guarantees and other aid to large companies.
Yesterday, the Bank of England announced that it would buy back the debt of the British government if London does not find buyers on the free market.
The financial elite also understands that a package of additional measures estimated at 500 billion euros, which were finalized by EU finance ministers yesterday evening, will serve to further enrich banks and large businesses at the expense of the working class.
Any nominal aid that may be offered to the countries most affected by COVID-19, such as Italy and Spain, will be linked to strict political requirements, as will the EU-dictated bailouts imposed on Greece , in Portugal and Ireland after the crash of 2008.
In other words, the working class will foot the bill through austerity and privatization. These millions of workers who are currently laid off or on leave will return to their previous jobs on much worse terms, or be laid off for good.
The second reason for jubilation in the stock markets is that a powerful campaign is being waged by the political establishment and big business to force workers to return to work in the conditions of an out of control pandemic. The ruling elite are determined to force workers to risk their lives and the lives of their families to generate corporate profits.
The first shot was fired in this effort by the Austrian Conservative-Green Party coalition government of Sebastian Kurz, who announced Monday that from April 14 small businesses will be allowed to reopen. Larger companies will follow in early May, while authorities plan to reopen schools and kindergartens in mid-May.
In neighboring Germany, where the number of deaths exceeded 300 in a day for the first time on Wednesday, the campaign to return to work at virtually any cost is in full swing. Journalists, economic institutes and big business demand that the value of human life be weighed against economic damage. (See: “Germany: weighing economic interests against human life in the coronavirus pandemic”)
The German government’s determination to relax the lockdown rules to force workers back to work is so pronounced that the differences with their official expert advisers on the state of the pandemic can no longer be concealed.
At a press conference held yesterday afternoon, Health Minister Jens Spahn said against all evidence that the “first successes” had been achieved and that the “curve was flattening”. Continued discipline over the Easter weekend, Spahn added, would make a “return to normal” more likely. The Germans need to learn to “live with the pandemic,” he added in a callous tone.
Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, the official German agency for infectious diseases, started his own remarks at the same press conference by saying: “I would like to say that the number of new cases reported is still at a high level, despite all the measures. Tuesday and Wednesday the numbers were somewhat lower, around 4,000 a day, but today we still have 5,000. It is natural that there are such changes, but we cannot speak of easing of the situation. “
Wieler’s remarks came a day after the World Health Organization issued an explicit warning to European countries that the blockages and social removal measures would be eased too quickly. WHO European Regional Director Hans Kluge noted that the situation in Europe “remains very worrying”. He called on all states to step up their efforts to protect medical personnel, to improve efforts to isolate infected and suspected cases, and to communicate more effectively with their citizens.
Banks and big business are not about to let such medical advice get in the way. Even in Italy, the country with the highest number of deaths to date with more than 18,000, the business community is demanding a return to work. One hundred and fifty academics published an open letter to government calling for factories to be reopened quickly in financial daily Il Sole-24 Ore, which belongs to the pressure group of companies Confindustria. “The social and economic consequences would risk producing irreversible damage, probably more serious than that caused by the virus itself,” the letter said.
Confindustria members of the regions of northern Italy most affected by the crisis, including Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna, demanded on Wednesday that the government draw up a “road map” for a back to work.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said yesterday in a BBC interview that he supports such views, saying, “We have to choose sectors that can restart their business. If scientists confirm it, we could start easing some measures at the end of this month. “