As the pandemic continues to take its toll, the relentless passage of time offers an opportunity to reflect on some of how successful some of the measures to curb it have (or have not) been. Specifically, the effects of the nearly universal xenophobia that led countries worldwide to impose travel restrictions. As NPR reports:
“Experts say the border closures have done little to stop it. And going forward, they say, travel restrictions will play only a small role in containing the virus.”
This week’s Extra! Extra! COVID-19 takes a look at how the pandemic continues to harm vulnerable populations around the world, the raging fight in the US over how seriously to take any of this, the state of stimulus packages during the pandemic and a look at LGBTQ+ rights during the pandemic.
Indigenous Rights and Livelihood
COVID-19 is ravaging Indigenous communities in the US; the Navajo Nation now has the highest infection rate in the US. Indigenous tribes were promised federal assistance during the pandemic, but that has been extremely slow coming (and tribes have had to sue to receive aid). Tribes in the Dakotas are leveraging their sovereignty and land rights to impose travel restrictions on roads going into reservations in order to protect their communities. State and federal governments are fighting back. Even during a pandemic, US governments refuse to acknowledge Indigenous rights to self-determination.
The Rights of Incarcerated People
In country after country, region after region prisons have become hotbeds for the spread of Coronavirus. Here’s yet another report, this time from Honduras, on isolating measures that are making already-overcrowded prisons even more unbearable. Meanwhile, in the US, a woman who has served a nearly 50-year prison term was hospitalized for COVID-19 and then transferred back to prison — despite a recommendation ten months ago to release her. On a more uplifting note, formerly incarcerated women in Chicago have started an employee-owned food business. Their plans were in the works long before the pandemic, and it’s a testament to their perseverance and ingenuity that they’ve been able to move forward with their plans despite the shutdowns and social distancing.
The War Torn and Refugees
In incredibly sobering news, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the Rohingya refugee camps and the virus continues to spread in war-torn Yemen. This is going to be a humanitarian crisis. Neither of these places has the health infrastructure to provide the necessary medical care, and social distancing is nearly impossible in both regions.
LGBTQ+ Rights in the Era of Coronavirus
The pandemic continues to lay bare the vulnerability of LGBTQ+ people in the US and beyond. Some young LGBTQ+ people are in incredibly tenuous situations being required to social distance with families who don’t accept them. This has led to an alarming uptick in calls to suicide prevention hotlines like The Trevor Project. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is hearing a case about LGBTQ+ employment protections, while many LGBTQ+ health workers place them at risk every single day to serve their communities. And over in Turkey, the flailing government is looking for any scapegoat it can find for its own failures to respond appropriately to the pandemic.
Fight Over the Response in the US
As the world looks on in horror, America continues to tear itself apart over whether the pandemic is real or not. I wish I were joking. American obsession with individualism reverberates through every level of this debate from the unwillingness to wear masks, as Dahlia Lithwick covers, to the insistence by both public and private figures that the economy should be reopened. All the while, Trump & co. insist on carrying through with their nativistic, corrupt, incoherent plans (if you can even call something this dysfunctional a “plan”) and refuse to allow anyone else to support testing or treatment in the US unless they’ve paid proper homage to the King. (Ok, in fairness, The Globe and Mail article only says that Gates’ testing program in King County was stopped because it needs federal approval. But, we all know that Gates is not exactly the most ardent supporter of Trump, and we also know that Trump has a penchant for corruption, so I’m just connecting those dots, although, admittedly, there is no hard evidence to support my claim.)
What’s infuriating though, and has been for at least a decade of American politics now, if not longer, is that this is a loud, vocal and disproportionately powerful minority. From the beginning, there has been a massive partisan divide over how serious COVID-19 is and what measures should be taken to curb its spread. The latest data from Pew only continues that story. The graphs in that article alone are striking, even if you don’t read any of the write up. If you need one article to understand why America’s response to the pandemic has been so utterly dysfunctional, let it be the article from Pew.
And yet, that data alone I think is not nearly as powerful as the heartbreaking accounts of people who have lost their loved ones. In an incredibly vulnerable interview, Elizabeth Warren discusses the devastating death of her brother because of coronavirus. In perhaps one of the most wrenching moments of her account:
“In any other state of the world, I would have been there with him. We all would have been there with him. And instead he was by himself. I just kept imagining what’s happening to him. Is he afraid? Is he cold? I kept thinking about whether he was cold. There’s no one there to talk to him while he waits for the doctor. There’s no one there to be with him while he receives the news.”
There is only one way to stop us descending deeper into dystopia. British medical journal The Lancet appeals to Americans to remove Trump from office. He’s a threat not only to the US but also to the rest of the world for his insistence on downplaying the severity of the situation we’re in. I don’t care for Biden, but the choice could not be clearer: we cannot have four more years of Trump.
As the economy continues to sputter, so many of America’s failings are put into relief. More than 30 million people have filed for unemployment in the US since the pandemic started and countless wait for their promised unemployment insurance. As Natalie pointed out to me while we were discussing this, the process for filing and receiving unemployment benefits was designed to be dysfunctional; NJ is just one of many examples of this dysfunction across the country. Beyond expanding unemployment benefits, the CARES Act also promised loans for small businesses and stimulus payments for individuals and families. But, as the weeks have passed, it’s become clear that groups that have been discriminated against have been systematically excluded from these benefits. Looking to the future, House Democrats have passed another $3 Trillion stimulus package that extends unemployment benefits to January, includes another round of stimulus checks and provides hazard pay to frontline workers. But, Trump has already indicated that he will veto the bill, and it’s expected to fail along party lines in the Senate because Republicans think of these necessary measures as “delivering on longstanding partisan and ideological wishlists.”
Living in the US, it’s difficult for me to keep my pulse on the state of economic relief in other parts of the world. Here are just three articles that I found provided an interesting perspective on how the Canadian, Russian and Kenyan governments are handling this. Please share your thoughts and experiences with this in the comments.