It is commonplace for celebrities, politicians and many columnists to assert that in the context of COVID-19, ‘we’re all in this together’. Really?
Consider this. In Malawi fewer than 50 people a day can be tested for the virus currently; there are less than 25 intensive care unit beds and precious few ventilators in a country with a population of more than 18 million. In 2018, Malawi had a GDP per capita of US$517 equivalent to just 4% of the world average. Zambia currently has one doctor for every 10,000 people while Mali has a mere three ventilators per million people. Given our medical capacity across the countries of Europe, can we even begin to claim that we are ‘in this together’ with the citizens of Malawi, Mali or Zambia?
Consider this also. Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Modi of India declared the world’s largest lockdown with just four hours notice. This, in a country where many millions live at absolutely extreme levels of poverty and homelessness. ‘Staying at home’ in such a context is utterly meaningless. The lockdown triggered a wave of mass migration across the country with many taking to the roads in an attempt to travel home hundreds and even thousands of miles. Normal food shortages, especially among the poorest have become catastrophic with little chance of immediate resolution.
‘In this together’. Really?
Consider. Applying the idea of physical distancing; the practising handwashing in clean water with sanitiser or soap; maintaining a healthy and balanced diet and choosing which exercise session to follow on social media is a frankly ridiculous proposition for slum dwellers across many developing countries. In the packed shacks of Khayelitsha (Cape Town, South Africa), Kibera (Nairobi, Kenya), Dharavi (Mumbai, India) or Ciudad Nega (Mexico City), COVID 19 has arrived as yet another dimension of existing inequality and oppression.
Consider also. In these last few days, the International Committee of the Red Cross has expressed its deep concern about the impact of the virus on refugees stranded in so many parts of the world in camps with limited or absent basics. The Committee’s fear is that governments will not only seek to protect and support those they see as ‘their own’ but leave those in such camps to fend for themselves often under military enforced lockdown. The situation was chillingly described by mother of seven Asho Abdullahi Hassan in a camp in Mogadishu as being like ‘waiting for death to come’.
‘Together in this’ – insult upon insult
Here in Europe, we read of the discriminatory actions of our states with reference to the health or basic human security needs of migrants and refugees. Even in the richest nation on earth, the United States, we see emerging data that the virus has impacted hardest on the poorest (and frequently black) communities. And, even here in Malta, we hear of the dangers of increasing domestic violence against women as a result of ‘stay at home’ strategies.
While it may be true that the virus does not discriminate, we have built our societies on multiple layers of discrimination. This inevitably ensures that those often most vulnerable and marginalised pay the highest price in times of pandemic.
Once again this particular global crisis has revealed the deepest of fault lines upon which our world is built and sustained. Disturbingly, it also reveals the deep-seated prejudices and bigotries needed to justify and, in turn, sustain such fault lines.
Our latest line of chatter is about what the world might look like post-coronavirus. Many claim it will not/cannot be the same. Yes, it may indeed change but will it be changed for the better particularly as regards inequality and injustice and their consequences? I, for one, am not exactly holding my breath.
There is, however a sting in the tail. The realisation may finally be dawning on many of us (even on our most resistant and self-obsessed ‘leaders’) that discriminations, barriers and walls of various kinds cannot now and will never ensure our individual or collective health and well-being.
Despite their best efforts, we, the rich of the world cannot barricade ourselves from the poor – their health and well-being is intimately linked to ours.