The most misleading cliche about the coronavirus is that it treats us all the same. It doesn’t, neither medically nor economically, socially or psychologically. In particular, Covid-19 exacerbates preexisting conditions of inequality wherever it arrives. Before long, this will cause social turmoil, up to and including uprisings and revolutions.
Social unrest had already been increasing around the world before SARS-CoV-2 began its journey. According to one count, there have been about 100 large anti-government protests since 2017, from the gilets jaunes riots in a rich country like France to demonstrations against strongmen in poor countries such as Sudan and Bolivia. About 20 of these uprisings toppled leaders, while several were suppressed by brutal crackdowns and many others went back to simmering until the next outbreak.
The immediate effect of Covid-19 is to dampen most forms of unrest, as both democratic and authoritarian governments force their populations into lockdowns, which keep people from taking to the streets or gathering in groups. But behind the doors of quarantined households, in the lengthening lines of soup kitchens, in prisons and slums and refugee camps — wherever people were hungry, sick and worried even before the outbreak — tragedy and trauma are building up. One way or another, these pressures will erupt.
The coronavirus has thus put a magnifying glass on inequality both between and within countries. In the U.S., there’s been a move by some of the very wealthy to “self-isolate” on their Hamptons estates or swanky yachts — one Hollywood mogul swiftly deleted an Instagram picture of his $590 million boat after a public outcry. Even the merely well-heeled can feel pretty safe working from home via Zoom and Slack.
But countless other Americans don’t have that option. Indeed, the less money you make, the less likely you are to be able to work remotely (see the chart below). Lacking savings and health insurance, these workers in precarious employment have to keep their gigs or blue-collar jobs, if they’re lucky enough still to have any, just to make ends meet. As they do, they risk getting infected and bringing the virus home to their families, which, like poor people everywhere, are already more likely to be sick and less able to navigate complex health-care mazes. And so the coronavirus is coursing fastest through neighborhoods that are cramped, stressful and bleak. Above all, it disproportionately kills black people.
Even in countries without long histories of racial segregation, the virus prefers some zip codes over others. That’s because everything conspires to make each neighborhood its own sociological and epidemiological petri dish — from average incomes and education to apartment size and population density, from nutritional habits to patterns of domestic abuse. In the euro zone, for example, high-income households have on average almost double the living space as those in the bottom decile: 72 square meters (775 square feet) against only 38. – READ MORE