Nagrik Dialogue

COVID 19: The Great Equalizer?

It was the famous American pop star Madonna who a couple of weeks ago called the coronavirus pandemic “a great equaliser” (on Instagram) since it didn’t discriminate between rich and poor. The term caught on and resulted in many questions and hesitations.

A Didar Singh
is a former Indian civil servant and former Secretary General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry

When Boris Johnson as the British Prime Minister was admitted into Hospital and then into the ICU, with COVID 19, it didn’t just signal that the virus was deadly and spreading, it also signalled that no one (not even the high and mighty) were safe from it! Several celebrities were impacted. Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson confirmed their diagnoses in Australia a few weeks ago. The question became a matter of time when other famous faces would come down with the virus next. Even Heidi Klum, who says she could not get a hold of a test, revealed she’d been experiencing symptoms. Indira Varma, the Game of Thrones star and Kanika Kapoor the Indian TV star and singer were also tested positive. And several sports personalities too.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s office reported that the P.M.’s wife, Sophie, has tested positive for COVID-19. And both Prince Albert of Monaco and Prince Charles in England were also afflicted. (This despite the fact, Prince Charles was shown in several videos before that, restoring to the Indian namaste for greeting people rather than the traditional handshake).

Spain’s Deputy PM, the Israeli and British Health Ministers and the Iranian Deputy Health Minister, as also Australia’s Home Affairs Minister are only some of the political big wigs that also were struck with the Virus. Even Harvey Weinstein in the US, sentenced to 23 years in jail for rape has not been spared.

The writing on the wall appears clear and grim. No one, yes no one, no matter how high and mighty, can be presumed to be spared. Anyone can be afflicted with the virus. COVID 19 is truly an equalizer.

The true meaning and implication of Globalization is that in less than twenty-four hours a virus is transported across the world – global aviation and shipping ensures that. This is how the virus has travelled across the globe and spared no society. It’s become in many ways the face of globalisation.

This term ‘great equalizer’ however has not been accepted so readily. There have been many theories about who is more at danger. Older folk, those with existing ailments, the poor and initially Asians (when this like other infections like Zika, chikungunya and malaria was mostly seen as ‘tropical’ or ‘diseases of the South’). Days ahead proved otherwise. Anybody anywhere could get it and that has resulted in global anger and global consternation.

Many articles across western societies however are arguing that COVID-19, like most other disease, is NOT blind to wealth, race, and gender. This pandemic is not the great equalizer, because in reality it shines a spotlight on our disparities and widens those gaps – within communities and across countries. Research in the US is showing that Blacks and Latinos are getting disproportionately affected. But then these are the majority of the frontline health workers and these communities have perhaps a greater share of pre-existing health issues. In developing countries experts are arguing that the poor are more susceptible. There is a similar fear in India that urban slums could be the next hotspots. The recent breakout of the virus in Dharavi, the Mumbai slum, is a poignant reminder that persons living in slums are more susceptible to the virus. During these stressful times, forget the inequality of wealth, the downtrodden are least equal in getting access to decent health care in case of illness. The poor have suffered the most due to lockdown. Countless migrants had to travel miles on foot to reach their villages/home state. The low income health workers, ambulance drivers and sanitation karamcharis have had to toil day and night facing great danger to their health whilst celebs and the well healed have uttered platitudes that ‘we are in it all together’ from the comfort of their homes. Yes, conditions in the slums across South Asia are not good. Fortunately, the lockdown is keeping the figures low for the moment.

Leaders across the globe such as PM Trudeau in Canada and PM Modi in India have assured that all citizens will get the help they need. This is being attempted by all States and administrations but it’s not so easy especially as the days go by and the figures peak.

It is a fact that no one is immune to the corona virus and therefore its important that we have strategies in place that take care of every individual because without that we shall all remain in danger. The lessons emerging from this crisis are clear – everyone’s health is linked to everyone else’s. From poor street vendors to top corporate executives, the consensus is that we are all in this crisis together. True, but the privileged do have an advantage in their face off and treatment. This gap in society has become accentuated and needs to be addressed in the future. COVID-19 is maybe not the great equalizer but it could finally get us to address inequality. As the famous Beatle, John Lennon sang, “Imagine no possessions …” when millions of poor are becoming unemployed. Coronavirus if anything has further contributed to this inequality.

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Nagrik Dialogue is the face of Nagrik Foundation’s communication skills that comes in the form of a monthly magazine. It will work as a bridge for those working at the grass roots level and those who support them in any form and manner.