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Monday, July 15, 2024

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The world pretends the pandemic is over because of who it affects

A photo The National Covid Memorial Wall in London, showing hundreds of painted hearts to commemorate victims of the COVID-19 pandemic
The National Covid Memorial Wall in London, commemorating victims of the COVID-19 pandemic
CREDIT: DOMINIC ALVES

The rolling back of COVID-19 safety measures is leaving many marginalized people behind, writes Beauty Dhlamini

Nothing feels more underwhelming and frustrating than marking each pandemic anniversary knowing that nothing has changed for the better. If the second biggest wave can happen four years after the start of the pandemic, in a situation of off-peak vaccination, nothing is off the table.

Headlines have flagged cyclically that cases are rising, and have questioned the lack of availability of booster vaccinations for the general population. The truth is that there have been obvious signs there is an increase in the number of cases as everyone is getting sick.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the government had begun the spring Covid booster programme using the outdated Pfizer vaccine, which has limited effectiveness against new variants. I was turned away by my GP and three pharmacies as they did not have enough booster doses. I began to realise why this pandemic is being ignored and continues to devastate millions of us: it is because of who it does and doesn’t affect.

The end of togetherness

When Covid first hit, radical and anarchist models of care were mobilised by everyone – even the state – to ensure protection for all during the pandemic. A politics of ‘togetherness’ was being pushed as far and as widely as possible and it was impressive just how quickly globally, governments mobilised to adapt and radically shift the world to be more inclusive – of everyone but especially of those most vulnerable to this disease. We no longer existed on the fringes, but at the centre. Things we had been asking for, begging for, were finally a possibility and actualised for all of us.

Even when the state did not get it right, including failing to protect essential workers and especially those who were minoritised, the general outcry from the population forced them into accountability to correct themselves and we all failed upwards. Unfortunately this was short lived. People got tired of being accommodating and making sacrifices, and wanted to go back to their normal. They allowed themselves to become complicit in justifying a coordinated effort to ignore an ongoing mass-disabling global pandemic.

Governments and business got tired of having to put safety over profit and especially missed their ability to exploit people to their maximum potential in the name of capitalism. Suddenly, a sociological invention of a ‘post-Covid’ world emerged. This was swiftly followed by a parallel shift, from media reporting to scientific studies, where the framing of the pandemic explicitly showed that it was mostly impacting black and native communities. And because our lives are seen as disposable, people stopped caring. A study by the National Cancer Institute highlighted that this realisation prompted white able-bodied people to consider themselves less vulnerable to Covid and therefore become disinterested in safety measures and precautions.

Changes in how data was being collected and conveniently dropping Covid-safety measures forced us into a cycle of infection, disability and eugenics to uphold capitalism. This continues harming those working in precarious gig economies, low paid workers, essential workers, minoritised people and homeless people. Many of us are already living paycheck to paycheck, and can lose everything due to a worsening cost of living crisis.

Presently, it is estimated that over 80,000 people have left employment as a result of long Covid, and it is expected that extra healthcare costs to combat it are privatised, high and continuously increasing. The rate of long Covid is much higher for groups such as low-paid workers, for whom rest is not possible, making this a class struggle.

False normality

The need to go back to normality has meant that high-risk, vulnerable people are expected to stay at home, negotiate their right to exist in public spaces, and assume the burden of disease in protecting themselves and others. The UK government dropped public health protective measures nearly three years ago now. In the United States for example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has dropped its isolation guidelines for people with Covid infections.

Under the updated guidelines, people are no longer expected to isolate themselves for five days and can return to their normal schedules once they’ve been free of fever for 24 hours without taking medication. Meanwhile, US government officials are still adhering to the original scientific guidance of isolating for ten days. This is further indicative of whose lives matter, with 2,000 people in the US dying per week compared to an average of nearly 3,000 deaths per week in the UK.

Online, it is common to witness reports of people dying from long Covid, especially in financial precarity. In addition to this, more than 75 per cent of children who have died in the US as a result of Covid have been black, Latinx or indigenous. Recently the UK government announced planned reforms to ‘support schools and families boost attendance’ but perhaps allowing Covid to persist is why this is an issue – people, including children, are too sick to go to school.

The right to health does not mean that people with healthy bodies are morally superior

There is also a lot of damage being done by ‘mild’ infections. People refuse to acknowledge asymptomatic spreads to comfort themselves with lies and most importantly, so they do not have to mitigate. Not to mention the pathologisation used to invalidate those who are truly scared for their lives to speak out against the status quo despite the insurmountable evidence around us of an increase in cardiovascular death, vascular diseases and the resurgence of other infectious diseases such as measles. None of this was inevitable.

As a disabled person, following and constantly ‘doing’ Covid precautions to protect myself and others has not been easy. It has left me in episodes of depression for months at a time because of how pervasive they are to every part of my life. This burden should have been carried by the state, not fallen onto individuals. The right to health does not mean that people with healthy bodies are morally superior. We should all consider Covid as part of our global responsibility for disease, because it advocates for the right to be ill.

Whatever health utopia we are working towards must include a re-evaluation of how we navigate the formal ableist global public health systems which are now openly endorsing a privatised approach to Covid care and safety. We need to adopt more anarchist approaches with free and easy access to testing, freely available respirators, air filters, paid sick leave, social welfare, social care allowing people to isolate. This would be even better than what people were running back to as their ‘normal’.

Beauty Dhlamini
Beauty Dhlamini
  Beauty Dhlamini is a health organiser and writer.
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