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COVID-19 & its socio-economic & racial consequences by Aarav Dubey

Originating in Wuhan, China, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken the world by storm. The respiratory virus spreads through highly infectious droplets, having caused more than 1.4 million cases world-wide in 185 countries as of today 7th April 2020. The Johns Hopkins COVID -19 page provides updated data regarding infections, deaths, and recoveries.

Labelled a global pandemic by the World Health organization (WHO), the virus unfortunately also gave rise to severe socio-economic problems in economically weaker communities. The 2018 income and poverty data from the Census Bureau around 12% of the US population are living in poverty– clearly suggesting that poverty clusters are concentrated in the communities of color, people with disabilities, and the elderly. Since the elderly are at a great risk from the disease, a person’s economic wellbeing is directly proportional to their capability to access essential items and survive the severe medical conditions. 

This is observed in the USA and all across the world as low-income individuals and families face significant challenges that prevent them from protecting themselves and others from COVID-19. This is solely because they are not in a position to stay put at home and provide basic amenities for their families. Low-income workers do not have liberty to work from home and keep their jobs as most of them are hired for blue-collar jobs, reports CNBC. An added consequence of this is the lack of disposable income these households have: leaving their housing security at risk and them jobless  reports Washington post. Facing this unprecedented situation, they are forced to choose between paying for food, health care, and other necessities or keeping up with rent; this puts their housing situation in great jeopardy, resulting in either homelessness or without necessities, putting them in a position of vulnerability during this pandemic.

Coronavirus, however, is not responsible for all the damage dealt in this situation, for we are letting the threat of this virus divide us. The pandemic is affecting certain individuals more than others, stirring up a mix of fear and hatred within the populous. “The virus is not doing the dividing,” said Professor Jason Beckfield, sociology department at Harvard University. “The dividing is a function of what people are choosing to do with the virus. People are able to shift blame away from themselves or shift blame onto people they dislike.” Coronavirus has been used to scapegoat people of Chinese origin around the world. Phrases like ‘Chinese Virus’ and ‘Kung Flu’ have become trending on Twitter. This pandemic has also escalated tensions between generations, with some younger people referring to the deadly virus as “#BoomerRemover” since it impacts them the greatest.

The aggression towards Asian individuals has been noticed around the globe through countless reported incidents of aggression. From refusing to sit next to Asian individuals on public transport, to incidents of verbal and physical attacks, the fear of the virus has consumed people around the world with hatred. One such scenario follows a Japanese singer in Italy, who was “evaded in Milan, made terrible gestures on the train, and directly ranted at.” In another incident, Jonathan Mok reported pictures of his bruises from being assaulted in London. He reports having been kicked in the head and told “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country.” In a few places across Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and Italy signs have been put up forbidding Chinese people from entering restaurants and shops.

To combat the stigma and xenophobia surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s now more important than ever for us to collectively take responsibility to combat and raise our voice against such discrimination. Institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center of Disease Control (CDC) have put out accurate information through pamphlets and articles with the intent of fighting the stigma against people of Asian descent. The CDC website even states that “diseases can make anyone sick regardless of their race or ethnicity.” The WHO writes that “stigmatization could contribute to more severe health problems, ongoing transmission, and difficulties controlling infectious diseases during an epidemic.”

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