Don’t Fall for the Great Equaliser Myth

The British prime minister is currently in intensive care, being treated for complications arising from the Coronavirus and his underlings in the cabinet don’t waste a moment to pronounce publicly that Johnson’s case is proof that the Coronavirus is indiscriminate and that we’re all in this together.

That isn’t quite true, though, is it, for as journalists and writers like Afua Hirsch and Kenan Malik have shown in recent articles, not only are working-class people, the unemployed and the homeless more vulnerable to the effects of the virus but so too are people from the Black and Asian communities.

The first four doctors to die from Covid-19 in Britain were Muslim men from Asian and African backgrounds and, of the dozens of transport workers who’ve died after catching the virus on the job, a disproportionate number were black or Asian.

Meanwhile, across the pond, it’s reported that 40 % of Corona-related deaths in the state of Michigan have been black, although African Americans make up only 15 % of the state’s total population. Even more alarming, Chicago, which has a 30 % African American population, has a 70 % African American death rate.

Here as there, class and race are factors influencing the spread and death rate of Covid-19. When the British government called for people to adhere to social distancing rules and subsequently to the lockdown regulations, they appeared oblivious to the fact that a large part of the population have not got the living space that allows for social distancing at home, nor the jobs that permit them to work from home while still drawing a salary. Self-isolation is a lot easier to deal with if you have money and a large house with a garden at your disposal than if you’re living in a cramped council flat and risk losing your job if you don’t show up for work.

The disability community is another category that is especially vulnerable to the Coronavirus. People with disabilities and parents of children with Down’s Syndrome and other learning disabilities, worry that a shortage of hospital beds and ventilators would result in critically ill adults and children with disabilities would be sacrificed in favour of younger and healthier people needing treatment for the virus. Because in a society that ranks people’s worth according to their productivity and economic worth, people with disabilities are often seen as a burden and therefore, dispensable. “In a health crisis,” writes Frances Ryan, columnist for The Guardian, “it is not only the virus that risks infecting society, but our prejudices. It’s a slippery slope of ethical compromises in a culture and medical system that already struggles to support people with disabilities.”

Privilege still applies, which is why Prince Charles was able to jump the queue and get tested for Covid-19 when people with far worse symptoms were denied a test. A hospital bed was reserved for the prime minister days before he was admitted, while seriously ill people from less privileged walks of life are denied admission to hospital.

No, we’re not all in this together, however much the government tries to convince us of that.

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