The epidemic is implicating every aspect of our communities, divulging the breadth of seclusion that many marginalized members of various populations experience. Lockdowns, social distancing, isolation, and quarantines have forced many to the shallowest ends of their pools of compassion, threatening to annihilate the very essence of humanity.
In this environment of ‘survival of the fittest’, we fail to notice some of the hardest-hit people:
- Refugees: With many countries enforcing border closures, refugees are forced to choose between bracing the danger in their home countries or illegally migrating to safer areas. The U.S. migration authorities deported more than 10,000 refugees between March 20th — April 8th, just a couple of hours after they had landed. A month earlier, more than 30 people had died of hunger on their way to Bangladesh, after Malaysia had denied them asylum. Proponents of the anti-immigrant agenda front that migrants are opportunistic, taking advantage of the Coronavirus pandemic. Those who are already in refugee camps are not any safer from the virus. From packed shelters to minimal access to water, they are facing a potential crisis if COVID-19 was to find its way into those camps.
- The Homeless: Across the world, health authorities are advising people to stay at home, keep away from others, observe balanced diets, and make hygiene a priority. For starters, street families have no homes. They cling to one another for warmth and solace. In such circumstances, social distancing is a distant notion. If they can’t access water for hygiene, how will they afford balanced diets? We are forgetting that they have been surviving on handouts from us.
- The Elderly: With the media continuously reinforcing the fact that the COVID-19 mortality rate is higher among the above 70+ population, the social truth of how we view the old as a burden is glaringly revealed. In fact, the argument has shifted from “only the vulnerable will die” to “it is good the vulnerable will die”.
- Mental Illness: The increased strain to sustain livelihoods has catalyzed emotional imbalances and set the ball rolling for stress-related complications. According to the Washington Post, “texts to the Federal Government Mental Health Hotline have gone up by roughly 1000 percent”. As we plot economic and health recovery strategies, very little attention is given to the urgent need to help those who have developed mental illnesses.
- People Living With Disability: People with disabilities are among the hardest-hit by the Coronavirus pandemic. They are less likely to access relevant COVID-19 information, face significant barriers to implementing hygiene and accessing health facilities. If we let this status quo continue, many disabled people are likely to develop severe health conditions, which may result in widespread deaths.
- Protracted Conflict Areas: Despite United Nation’s General Antònio Gutteres’ appeal for a ceasefire, most perennial conflicts do not appear to end anytime soon. Some war zones which seem to have been forgotten — like the South Caucasus and Black Sea regions — are struggling to control outbreaks. With barely any humanitarian help, these areas do not have adequate PPES, test equipment, and reagents, and have trouble accessing the requisite medication.
- Those Living With Chronic Diseases: As universal health authorities have trained their lenses on combating the novel coronavirus, other equally dangerous illnesses are given a backseat. This is despite WHO’s confirmation that people with underlying conditions are more susceptible to COVID-19. Diseases like diabetes increase the severity of Coronavirus. What this will trigger is a post-COVID period characterized by worsened conditions of those having chronic illnesses, a pandemic after a pandemic.
If there was a time that called for universal consciousness towards addressing plights of the vulnerable groups, then it is now. The return to normalcy is hinged on how fast we respond to the needs of the most disadvantaged.