Novel coronavirus Covid-19, photo NIAID/CC

Novel coronavirus Covid-19, photo NIAID/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Oxygen crisis

The hospital oxygen supply in Hertfordshire came within inches of failing due to a huge increase in demand. Overburdened systems required engineers to attend, some patients were sent away, and management alerted the military.

Medics were forced to prepare to ration oxygen, in the knowledge that this would lead to avoidable deaths. Luckily they didn’t have to – this time. Hospital planners predicted a critical incident was coming the week before, says the Guardian – but the government had not responded to appeals for aid.

NHS super-spreaders?

Nurses are forced to hold their breath when seeing patients due to lack of PPE, reports Dr Rinesh Parmar of the Doctors’ Association. 43% of doctors surveyed have no eye protection and 20% don’t have it for the highest-risk procedures.

The children’s hospital at Great Ormond Street had eight patients with Covid-19 at the start of April. But fully 73 staff had tested positive, and another 318 were in self-isolation. PPE now!

Dividends discontinued?

Spare a thought for the financiers. Reductions in income mean many firms have cut or suspended shareholder dividend payments. 39% of European and North American businesses tracked by SquareWell Partners have done so. Hedge funds are down – Invesco High Income by 36%, and the colossal Artemis Income by 27.5%.

However, some firms are maintaining payouts, but cutting investment in new jobs and production – already at historic lows. Insurance giant Legal & General is paying a full £750 million dividend, despite shares tumbling 10%.

And Tory caricature Jacob Rees-Mogg could make a killing. His Somerset Capital Management says: “Market dislocations of this magnitude happen rarely, perhaps once or twice in a generation… History has shown us that super-normal returns can be made during this type of environment.”

Bosses’ bonuses

Anxious investors and capitalist politicians are asking execs cutting workers’ pay during the crisis to reduce their own incomes. A few dozen firms have cut directors’ compensation by around 20%, says the FT, to mirror the amount stolen from furloughed staff.

But most are doing nothing of the sort. And anyway, 20% for a worker on the breadline is a catastrophe – but 20% for a multimillionaire exec is meaningless! We say: 100% pay for the workers. Take 100% of the profits if that’s what’s needed to cover it!

The Bank of England, however, has stopped private banks from paying £8 billion in dividends to owners – and banned bonus payments to bank bosses. Of course, the decree comes after the bulk of hundreds of millions in bonuses has already been paid.

Workers washed out

950,000 people applied for Universal Credit in the last two weeks of March. Millions of self-employed and unemployed workers will not benefit from government promises to support workers, according to studies by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation.

And 62% of firms in the UK have no more than three months’ cash, according to a small British Chambers of Commerce survey. 18% of small and medium-sized UK businesses are likely to collapse within a month due to inability to access the government’s promised support, says the Corporate Finance Network.

Fashion and homeware retailer Debenhams is going into administration, after having to close its 152 stores. Bosses say they intend to resume trading after the pandemic, but 22,000 jobs are in question.

A staggering 6.65 million workers filed for unemployment in the US in the fourth week of March. This followed the record-breaking 3.28 million the previous week. That’s 10 million US workers on the scrapheap in a fortnight.

Ventilator diplomacy

What a heart-warming story. Trump and Putin have a friendly chat and, hey presto, 400 ventilators arrive at JFK airport, in coronavirus hotspot New York, from Russia.

However, the sheen appears to have quickly worn off this modern-day détente after it was revealed that said ventilators are manufactured by a Russian manufacturer subject to US trade sanctions. But hey, it’s a humanitarian crisis!

However, Russian opponents of Putin bitterly complained that doctors in Russia are having to sew their own masks, raise donations for PPE – and lack functioning ventilators in their own hospitals.

Plane stupid

Australian airline Qantas has suspended a union health and safety rep for raising concerns about lack of PPE. Sure enough, eleven Adelaide baggage handlers went on to test positive, meaning 100 staff in self-isolation and flights cancelled or turned back.