Are Pandemics Great Equalizers?

Madonna rants in a bath-tub that pandemics are great equalizers.

Yesterday, I came across a post a statement of which spiked me to come up with the title above: Are pandemics great equalizers? The said sentence ran somewhat like this: In a perverse sense, coronavirus trusts in Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India. Incidentally, after this line, I had a chance encounter with the superstar-singer Madonna sermonizing nude on Instagram from a milky bath-tub with rose-petals that while infecting one, the virus doesn’t care about him being rich, famous, funny or smart.

It’s the great equalizer and what’s terrible about it is what’s great about it… What’s terrible about it is that it’s made us all equal in many ways — and what’s wonderful about it is that it’s made us all equal in many ways… We are all in the same boat, and if the ship goes down, we’re all going down together.

Now, dear Civil Services Exam aspirants, two things you must agree with. First, celebs think, too! And, I am not demeaning. Well, they donate, too. Secondly, this sure is a good prompt for both the Essay and the General Studies papers of the Mains CSE. You already are aware of the pattern, aren’t you? Get hold of 2019 Essay paper here. Hence, I hope some of you will give a riposte to this short post. That way you will only refine your writing skills.

An Equalizer In That We Are All Helpless

The coronavirus has rendered helpless billions. We are all forced to stay indoors. Only street dogs are in the streets. The virus seemingly first entered the poor who deal in the flesh of bats and pangolins but quickly engulfed the rich inter-continental flyers. And, now celebs, princes and prime ministers are as infected as daily wage-earners. Indeed, although less vulnerable, the rich are more at risk of contacting COVID-19. To give a perspective, the general populace in Uruguay and neighbouring Argentina has nicknamed the coronavirus “La peste de los chetos”, i.e. the plague of the snobs.

For all their redoubtable powers, Trump and other world leaders have been rendered helpless, too. The modern monarchs can do little more than to urge people to stay home in order to ease the terrible demands being placed on the medical infrastructure. All their calculations have gone awry. The superpowers have always taken poor small nations like Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan as their born enemies. They have more than readied themselves for those wars. The novel virus never entered their strategies despite the forebodings in the form of occasional epidemics. We all are reeling with a feeling of a terrible storm impending even as the governments are predicting the worst over the next month or so. In so far as we all are helpless, this pandemic is an equalizer for sure. Or, is it so? Are pandemics really great equalizers?

Staying Home in Economic Duress is Luxury

The current pandemic is fast ruining the already battered economy. Recession is round the corner. Staying home in such economic duress is luxury only the well-off can afford. And, the powers that be don’t seem to give darn a thought before declaring nation-wide lockdowns. Nobody just told them of inter-state migrations. Humanitarian crises erupt consequently. Daily wage-earners can’t afford rented accommodations in cities without daily wages. Essential workers can’t afford to stay at home lest we remain bereft of our daily needs. Para-medics have to be on duty even if they are not provided with N95 masks. In the face of all this, are pandemics great equalizers? Only morons can think so. No disrespect intended!

Mr Pecksniffs In Times Of Pandemics

Just like cold-wave or heat-wave, pandemics are not equalizers in any way. At this juncture, would you mind travelling back to 1844 to meet Mr. (Seth) Pecksniff – from “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit”, a novel by Charles Dickens? The fictional character shows such behaviour that the name Pecksniff has become synonymous with hypocrisy. Well, I don’t mean to say that posting from the bathtub is hypocrisy. Seriously! Anyway, Pecksniff is worth a quote:

If everyone were warm and well-fed, we should lose the satisfaction of admiring the fortitude with which certain conditions of men bear cold and hunger. And if we were no better off than anybody else, what would become of our sense of gratitude; which,’ said Mr Pecksniff with tears in his eyes, as he shook his fist at a beggar who wanted to get up behind, ‘is one of the holiest feelings of our common nature.’

No, we aren’t born equal and our life is not just a function of the decisions that we make. We aren’t born free. Ever since the umbilical cord is cut, we are in chains all the time. As someone said well, a child doesn’t decide to be born. It is born. By the time, we become able to decide, most of the life-deciding decisions are already made by the social stratification, stereotypes, segregation, marginalization and demonization, the religious-cultural beliefs, parental upbringing, schooling, social media, and above all, by the governmental policies. We don’t decide; we just react. The political myth of equality is a ploy to reinforce historic inequality. The underprivileged are supposed to take their underdevelopment as a function of their fate and inaction.

From an Epidemic to a Pandemic

From erupting as a local epidemic in a province of China sometime in November 2019, COVID-19 has fast emerged as a pandemic. Ironically, at present, it looks controlled only in China. A deepening sense of foreboding is looming large all over the earth due to the inept handling of the crisis first by China, then by WHO, then by the world leaders led by Trump, and finally by the Fourth Estate, and not the least by we the people. Yes, we are all in the same boat. We have all contributed to the deepening of the crisis.

To start with, the reality is that the world could’ve been better off had China been more forthcoming in sharing the specifics with us. As for the WHO, at least both the US and Japan see the world body to be colluding with the Chinese regime. Coming to the egotist President of the United States, he fiddled for weeks while people kept dying. It took him a prolonged period to fully embrace the warnings of his scientific advisers on the need for national self-distancing measures. Anyone watching the news could have easily concluded that the new respiratory disease sooner or later was quite likely to spread outside China. To get that insight, you needn’t be a regular at Nature and Lancet. Even we had posts on the novel coronavirus way back in January 2020 when the international airports were bustling with visitors to and from China.

Social Ramifications Of The Pandemic

Stratum-wise what is happening during the national lockdown is that the un-insured lower strata of people have started late in staying at home, and continue to move albeit the movement is severely reduced. Higher awareness of the risks and better access to information can’t explain the phenomenon on its own. In fact, they cannot afford to stay at home. Nor we can afford them staying at home as they are engaged in essential services. They are blessed in keeping their jobs while a lot many have become unemployed. However, they are equally more susceptible to becoming hotspots of infection.

Admittedly, the pandemic is so new and sudden that the relationship between socioeconomic status and infection rates cannot be determined. Still, on the basis of commonsense and a New York Times report, it won’t be naïve to suggest that the coronavirus is hitting low-income neighbourhoods the hardest. At the end of the day, it is not an equal opportunity pathogen. To quote the report, “It’s going right to the fissures in our society.”

In The End…

To put it bluntly, the prestige of many leaders is doomed just as the economy is doomed, and the life of the patients of other diseases is doomed. Humanity is going to suffer. The well-off will take the crisis in their stride. The pandemic bolt has struck the poorer stratum with all its might as they have lost their livelihood. And, they never had the habit or means of savings to fall back on. So, the pandemic is not a leveller. On the other hand, it may incite class tensions.

The government’s response to the pandemic’s fallout should address both the low-income work-force, which has become unemployed because of shutdowns rather also those people who have kept the supply of essential products and services uninterrupted during this pandemic pandemonium. We would like to suggest at least one thing: targeted epidemic-related health insurance for essential workers could serve the nation better in future. Policymakers must realize that inequality in health outcomes puts the entire population at greater risk. Madonna has been so wise to remind us that we are all in the same boat. If it sinks in Wuhan, it is not any less likely to sink in New York.


Read: How did coronavirus become pandemic?

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