- Mae Bleicher
Coronavirus - We're all in this together ? By Isabelle Hunt.
The virus may not discriminate, but it has exposed the socio-economic divide present in the UK; while some were confined to small, gardenless apartments and forced out of their manual or retail positions that required physical attendance, others could weather the virus in larger houses, with sufficient mobility space, gardens and the ability to retain their jobs and continue to work from home. A divide is also evident in education; TeacherTapp performed an early survey of 6000 UK teachers and found that the quality of resources provided by state and private schools dramatically varied. Children with graduate parents were likely to spend more time doing home-schooling work, and the parents felt more confident in providing help. TeacherTapp also found that 10 per cent of students don’t have access to either a device or the internet.
UK BAME minorities were also disproportionately affected, an issue which has been confirmed by investigations by Public Health England and the Office for National Statistics. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, those with black African heritage face a virus death rate three times higher than white Britons. This is down to several factors; the higher frequency of co-morbidities, over-representation in lower socioeconomic groups, and larger households and disproportionate employment in lower-band key worker jobs.
The virus has additionally affected women disproportionately. Even before the virus, women on average performed three times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men. When schools went into lockdown and parents had to shoulder additional childcare responsibilities, mothers bore the brunt. One reason for this is that more women suffered job losses; a study by the UCL Institute of Education and the Institute for fiscal studies found that mothers were 23% more likely to have lost their jobs than fathers and 14% more likely to be put on furlough. A survey shows that 46% of women cited a lack of childcare as the reason they were made redundant or facing redundancy, while 74% of women stated their earning potential had lowered because of lack of childcare. In a link back to the disproportionate effect on ethnic minorities, 57% of the pregnant women made or expected to be made redundant were black.
Women have also faced a rise in domestic abuse as a result of the virus, stemming from their inability to escape their abuser and access shelters during lockdown and additional tensions as a result of the stress surrounding the pandemic. Domestic violence hotlines worldwide experienced surges during lockdown; the UK domestic abuse charity Refuge reported their helpline call volume increased by 700% in a single day. The UN secretary-general has described this as a “horrifying global surge” of domestic violence.
On a national level, the virus responses also bring to light tensions. Many countries chose to adopt alarming nationalism, encouraged by inflammatory accusations by leaders spreading intentionally divisive and xenophobic ideas. Instead of recognising the virus as a shared global enemy, the tactic became to label certain countries the ‘enemy’ to strengthen their own position and unite the country internally against a shared external threat. China and America are visibly at fault here. According to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the US military is responsible for the virus, while when Trump visited the G7 and UN security council he wanted to focus on changing the name of the virus to ‘Wuhan Virus’ instead, a sentiment he has repeated in many speeches and interviews.
China’s ‘performative diplomacy’ towards Italy in the form of shipments of essential Covid-19 supplies, while undeniably valuable, was not completely altruistic; news of it was widely circled in China as propaganda to reinforce the strength and generosity of the CCP, including doctored video footage of Italians singing the Chinese anthem, alongside what was identified by the Italian parliamentary committee for security as an ‘infodemic’ of propaganda and fake news surrounding Covid-19 spread by Russia and China in Italy.
With the rise of globalism, countries have become increasingly reliant on each other for imports. The virus put this system under immense strain, with many taking an ‘each for themselves’ approach to sourcing the necessary medical and protective equipment. France and Germany both restricted exports of protective equipment, while America allegedly diverted a mask shipment intended for Germany, an act described as “modern piracy” by the interior minister for Berlin state.
However, positive lessons can still be salvaged from this going forwards. A global pandemic can only be dealt with on a global scale, and this requires cooperation. The WHO's chief has warned of the risk of “vaccine nationalism” where less developed countries do not receive the access to a vaccine they require, stating that “Sharing finite supplies strategically and globally is actually in each country’s national interest”. To encourage this, the WHO has created the ‘Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator’ which shares healthcare resources such as tests and treatments between countries. Within this program is the COVAX global vaccines facility, which collects money from wealthy countries to go towards research for a vaccine and then ensure it is distributed fairly throughout the world. On a national scale, the UK inequalities revealed should not be dismissed, and the reasons behind the data require not just investigation, but solid action.