The second wave in the Netherlands and Belgium: the failure of governments and states to control the pandemic

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It is astonishing how countries with the most advanced technologies are unable to control and contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Supporters of conspiracy theories say that there must be something behind this and indeed there is something behind it, but not a conspiracy. It's the decline of the capitalist method of production that's the cause and it is increasingly hindering not only the development of the forces of social production but also threatening the very survival of mankind.

The governments knew it would happen, but still seemed unprepared

Evidently the second wave is showing itself to be just as contagious as the first [1]. It is another catastrophe in health terms and, with a foreseeable extensive lockdown, it will be disastrous for certain sectors of the economy. How is this possible? Did the authorities learn nothing from the first wave? Apparently very little, because in the months leading up to the second wave, the governments contented themselves with a few palliatives: they proposed some limited social measures in various sectors which only amounted to plastering over the problem.

The bourgeoisies in the Netherlands and in Belgium had all the time they needed after the first wave to draw the lessons and take the measures necessary to prevent a second wave by, for example, developing a good testing strategy and by setting up an effective source and contact register, and they could have at least provided the Covid-19 patients with the care they needed by training more medical staff and care workers, by creating more intensive care beds, etc.

The governments in both countries had indicated that, in the event of a second wave, they would in no circumstances accept the inevitability of a new general lockdown that would shut down all non-essential parts of the economy. They believed they could restrict the measures to a few special and localised sectors initially and then see how badly the second wave would turn out to be. This short-sighted approach would prove to be disastrous.

When the predicted second wave unfolded, the governments publicly announced their surprise at its magnitude. This sham ‘shock’ was barely credible because, even before the first wave, international studies on communicable viral diseases had already issued grave warnings of the danger of pandemics by 2020. The most recent warning issued by the WHO was in September 2019 in its report “The World at Risk - Annual Report on Global Preparedness for Health Emergencies”, i.e. on the eve of the current pandemic. [2]

There was no justification for being taken by surprise by the second wave. The experts in virology and epidemiology in every country had on more than one occasion clearly warned that the virus was still present and that a second wave was inevitable. Faced with the choice, defending the profitability of the system of exploitation (the production of surplus value), it would win out. The consequences were again disastrous: hospitals swamped, nurses under unbearable pressure, and still thousands more deaths.

The cynical negligence and administrative incompetence of governments

The many unnecessary deaths in the first and second waves are the result of the culpable negligence and incompetence of the Western governments. That is also the damning verdict of a book by Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of The Lancet, published this summer. He sees the many unnecessary deaths as “evidence of systematic misconduct on the part of the government, a reckless negligence in breach of the duties of public authorities”. [3] The political situation in the Netherlands and Belgium is no exception; on the contrary, both governments showed such a disregard in the spring and autumn that control of the epidemic completely slipped out of their hands at peak moments.

In many cases, the irresponsible actions of the politicians were not merely misguided decisions, but were largely dictated by a cynical policy that put the economic interests of the national capital first and increased the health risks to the population:

  • with millions of people dependent on public transport to get to work every day, the government failed to make buses and trains safe with social distance measures to reduce the likelihood of contagion.
  • while various data sets indicated that workplaces and schools are the main sources of infection, it was decided to keep them open despite the risks. [4]
  • while a country like Senegal had managed to set up a large-scale and efficient testing policy, the Netherlands and Belgium failed completely in this area. That the Netherlands and Belgium failed to do so shows, at the very least, their false priorities and, at worst, deliberate negligence.
  • while the two governments spent tens of billions of euros in 2008 bailing out the banks, now in 2020, health personnel are applauded and obliged to work in hospitals which, even more so than during the first wave, are swamped by Covid-19 patients bringing the health system once again close to the brink of collapse. Where human lives are concerned, the difference in approach is shocking.

Nevertheless, the new government in Belgium has announced that there will be no penalties for those responsible for this catastrophic development during the first wave which, from its point of view, is quite understandable because it would shine a light on the cynical choices of the ruling class and the systematic failure of the system. On the contrary, the recovery programme of the new De Croo government is designed, with its fine promises and superficial measures, to promote the idea that the crisis is just a fact of life, that little can be done about it, and that we must therefore unite in facing up to and dealing with the consequences of the situation.

And why could no-one do anything about it? The deaths of thousands of citizens could have been avoided. The governments of Belgium and the Netherlands have deliberately put the health of their respective inhabitants at risk [5] in favour of keeping production going. Profit maximisation, which for the bourgeoisie has the power of natural law, means giving absolute priority to production, while trying to limit all the harmful effects as much as possible.

'Every man for himself' and the competition between the nation states 

Another event that makes the management of the Covid-19 crisis even more chaotic is the conflict between states. During the first wave, we already witnessed the struggle between countries for masks and protective clothing. This situation of “every man for himself”, so characteristic of the period of decomposition, is irrupting today into a war for the vaccines on which that the ICC has already published an article [6]. In June, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Italy had already decided separately to be the first to gain access to a vaccine for Covid-19. In recent months, this tendency has accelerated to such a degree that the Head of the WHO was obliged to warn against “'vaccine nationalism”.

Vaccines to protect against the Covid-19 virus are now being developed at an unprecedented rate. At an equally unprecedented rate, governments are concluding single, double and triple contracts with the various pharmaceutical companies in order to acquire sufficient vaccines for their own populations. In the context of this mad scramble, the WHO’s COVAX plan to distribute the still-scarce number of vaccines more widely and equitably has been completely scuppered. Contrary to the reassuring statements by the Chairman of the European Commission, Von der Leyen, and the President, Michel, that there are enough vaccines for all countries in the world, the EU is still acting very aggressively to secure a sufficient number of shots for itself, with the support of the governments of both the Netherlands and Belgium.

The rejection of lockdown measures

The decline of the capitalist mode of production has heralded a period of dissolution of the system, in which “every man for himself'” and the disintegration of the cohesion inside society are becoming increasingly significant. This is also a strong feature in this Covid-19 crisis, particularly in the form of an increasing number of protests by groups such as Virus Truth (formerly Virus Disillusion), which, again, on 24 October in The Hague, along with other groups, brought together several hundred people to protest against the “undemocratic” lockdown measures. A similar demonstration, planned for 25 October in Brussels, which would bring at least as many people together, was prohibited by the authorities.

In order to hide their own failure, the governments are trying to shift the responsibility for the emergence and expansion of the second wave on to the “irresponsible behaviour of the citizens”' and, in particular, to “disobedient and selfish young people”. This is all the more cynical a manoeuvre because it is essentially the authorities themselves who provoked this reaction by giving absolute priority to safeguarding the needs of production and not intervening in time with the necessary preventive measures which could have contained the second wave. Against the backdrop of a growing loss of control over society, their choice of actions has led to an even greater loss of credibility, for which the same authorities are now facing the consequences: large sections of the population are adhering less and less to the government's guidelines and are deciding to make up their own minds. In recent months, the police have intervened in several places and even carried out numerous raids to shut down “illegal” parties. In addition, there is also a great deal of scepticism with regard to the announcements about the vaccines.

The flight into conspiracy theory

“Some people, who are tired of the measures, doubt the reality of the spread of the virus and the seriousness of the infection. There are many misconceptions circulating on the Internet and conspiracy theories”, said Steven Van Gucht, virologist in Belgium. The influencers on social media in Belgium [7] make their followers believe that Covid-19 is a fabrication, call for them not to follow lockdown measures and openly declare themselves against a vaccine.

More and more sections of the population are resorting to pseudo-scientific explanations for the existence of the pandemic which provide them with arguments to question the official expert opinion and to oppose the government measures. The increase in the number of Covid-19 deniers is just as great as the number of people infected by the virus. A study by Kieskompas shows that in the Netherlands one in ten people believe that Covid-19 is part of a conspiracy against humanity.

The longer the pandemic lasts, the more the mood of the deniers inside the population gets more heated and reactive. In the last six months, four 5G pylons in the Netherlands and two in Belgium have been set on fire because, according to the protagonist of this theory, it is not Covid-19 that makes us sick, but the radiation from 5G pylons that weakens our immune system. The latest news is that a test station in Breda (Netherlands) was attacked by Covid-19 deniers, who wreaked havoc and intimidated a traffic officer.

The working class at a crossroads

In the current conditions, there is also a growing risk of sections of the proletariat being dragged into the populist protests against the lockdown measures that have taken place on a large scale in other European countries, such as Italy, Spain, France and Germany. So far, this has not happened in the Netherlands or Belgium: the working class has not been actively involved in such protests. In both countries, however, the period in which such a manifestation can be ruled out is coming to an end.

The workers are still able to fight on their own terrain in defence of their health against unsafe conditions at work, such as at InBev, Colruyt, Carrefour and so on. However, it is becoming more and more difficult because the blackmail exerted both by the state and by companies is beginning to weigh more heavily on the combativity of the class. The discontent and anger at the government’s negligence have not gone away, but the chances of this being expressed in open combativity pn a class terrain in the coming period are very slim.

However, the working class still has its historical memory and class consciousness. This is a beacon that can prevent it from falling prey to the growing irrationality and incoherence of thought that is so characteristic of the conspiracy theories that animate populist protests. It is based on a solid programme that shows how the perspective of class struggle opens the way to a society in which the domination of the economy over humanity, but also the opposition between society and nature, are overcome. Harmony with nature, which can thus be restored, will ensure that zoonotic viruses (transmissible from animals to humans), for example, will be less frequent and take less of a toll.

2020-12-10, Dennis & Jos


[1] In the second half of November Belgium has risen to the top of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center's mortality league table. The country has suffered 133 deaths from COVID-19 per 100 000 population (for comparison, the US figure is 77).

[2] For more information on the different studies and warnings, see: Ignacio Ramonet: “The pandemic and the world system”, 14-01-2020;

[3] Richard Horton, “The Covid-19 Catastrophe. What’s gone wrong and how to stop it happening again”, Polity Press, 2020.

[4] More than 21% of the infections occur at work. After the workplace comes education (19.5%), contact with the wider family circle (17.3%) and leisure activities (15.8%). (Research by the eleven general practices by Medicine for the People, of the Belgian leftist political party PVDA/PTB)

[5] With regard to Belgian residential care centres, the Amnesty International report even speaks of human rights violations: the right to health, the right to life and the prohibition of discrimination were, according to the investigation, trampled underfoot.

[6] “War of the vaccines: Capitalism is an obstacle to the discovery of a treatment”; ICConline;

[7] In Belgium, influencers on social media have been used to inform certain groups of young people who are resistant to the normal information channels about the Covid-19 virus.


Covid-19 in Europe