Professor in the Department of Social Policy at Panteion University, Athens Greece
THE SOCIAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE PANDEMIC
The recent emergence of the COVID pandemic has been mostly debated with regard to its medical-biological consequences. However, it presents other significant aspects as well, which this article will briefly address.
One dimension that immediately comes to mind is the tendency of a section of the population in every country to display symptoms of the disease while at the same time afflicted by the ostensible underlying disorder in conjunction with specific socio-economic variables. Thus, individuals suffering from hypertension, diabetes, respiratory problems and with a record of lack of exercise, obesity, poor diet, unhealthy living conditions, anxiety over day-to-day survival, unhealthy working conditions, have a high propensity towards falling ill (Zisis and Chtouris 2020:67). This may help to explain why more deaths were noted in parts of Britain (including Wales) for example, which are mainly inhabited by low-income and precariously employed population groups (https://www.ons.gov.uk). People in such places do not usually have access to preventive medicine that would help them impede further penetration of the illness. A key factor in this state of affairs is the downgrading of public health and social welfare that has accompanied the entrenchment of neoliberal politics in wide swathes of the planet. Moreover, the situation is exacerbated by the inability to implement restrictive measures because of overcrowding and the absence of adequate provisioning (with the shanty towns of the southern hemisphere as characteristic environments) (Zisi and Chtouris 2020: 68).
A second important aspect is the racial element in the spread of the disease. Data made available by Reuters news agency for the USA indicate that mortality rates among African-Americans are two and a half times higher than those of white Americans (one in 1,850 for African-Americans as against one in 4,400 for whites). The same applies with hospital admissions and with those infected by the virus (van Dorn et al 2020). The same phenomenon is evident in other countries with significant national minorities (e.g., Brazil, France, Britain). Of course, there is nothing surprising about this because the reasons are only superficially biological but in reality, profoundly social. Minorities such as African-Americans, Hispanics, native Americans in the USA and Latin America, Maghrebis in France, etc., constitute a labour force working without protection, in conditions of mass production in sectors catering to basic needs with a high degree of exposure to the danger of contracting the virus. At the same time, bad housing conditions (lack of ventilation, overcrowding) further increase the danger of infection. Particularly in the case of Greece numerous cases were noted both in encampments of Roma and in areas inhabited by the Muslim minority (Zisi and Chtouris 2020: 69, 71). It should be also added, that the situation is made even worse, in some regions of the planet, by the difficulties faced by people living in shanty towns and slums in gaining access to clean water so as to be able to observe basic rules of hygiene. Parts of the cities of Johannesburg, Sao Paolo, Mexico City and Nairobi are examples in this direction.
A third aspect in this debate is linked to geographic discrimination. Here the basic differentiation is that between the big urban centres and the farming regions. In the latter, access to health care is more limited. Above and beyond that, it is interesting to note the unequal distribution of funding between regions on the basis of electoral criteria. The Trump administration, for example, chose to make available 47,000 dollars per patient in states supporting the American president: Montana, Nebraska and West Virginia, whereas in pro-Democrat states and particularly the severely afflicted New York the sum provided was merely 12,000 dollars per patient.
A fourth aspect is educational inequalities. It is calculated that because of lockdown, 1,200 million people were excluded from ‘classical’ schoolrooms. Apart from the psychological consequences of this exclusion for the student population as a whole there were specific consequences for schoolchildren from poor families and economically underdeveloped countries. According to OECD figures, whereas in states such as Austria, Norway and Switzerland 95% of pupils had reliable access to internet, in countries such as Indonesia that proportion fell below 34% and in sub-Saharan Africa it was even lower: a meager 10%.
The conclusion that emerges is that although a medical-biological phenomenon, the COVID pandemic involves very significant social dimensions. Whether someone is affluent or poor, white or black, living in a developed or an undeveloped country, is a significant consideration that plays an important role in determining not only whether one will receive treatment and whether one’s health will be affected but also on the level of education available to one’s children.
Office For National Statistics,
Van Dorn A., R. Cooney and M. Sabin, 2020, “Covid-19 exacerbating inequalitities in the US”, Lancet n. 395, pp. 1243-1244.
Ζisi Α. and S. Chtouris, 2020, “The Covid-19 Pandemic: Accelerator of inequality and institutor of new forms of inequality”, The Greek Review of Social Research. n. 154, pp. 65-73.
 In Milwaukee blacks comprise 26% of the population but almost 50% of infections and similar figures are found in Illinois.