On the evening of the 23 March, millions across the country sat down in front of their television screens in anticipation of an announcement that would soon upend daily rhythm of life. As Boris Johnson formally declared a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus a consensus began to form in Downing Street and Whitehall about the key message of this campaign.
Over the coming weeks these became soundbites anyone could recite in an instant:calls that “we are in this together”, that we can fight this with the spirit of “keep calm and carry on”. We were told that the virus is a great societal leveller that does not discriminate.
Of course, scientifically the virus indeed doesn’t discriminate, if a person comes into contact with the virus chances are, they’re infected regardless of socio-economic status or race. As Emily Maitlis said in an opener to Newsnight last month, this disease is not a social leveller.
At the time of writing, the UK death toll stands at approximately 38,000. However these numbers only correlate to deaths that followed a positive coronavirus test. In actuality many fear that the true number of fatalities may be as high as 60,000. This figure would consider those that were not tested as well as those who failed to seek hospital treatment for pre-existing medical conditions. Even though many were braced for severe impacts, no one could have contemplated such a massive death toll.
In the midst of all this, a report by NHS England in mid-May finally laid bare the figures that came to once and for all shut the claims of the virus as a ‘social leveller’.
The report showed how the death rate among British Africans and British Pakistanis upon hospital admission was 2.5 times higher than that for white Britons. A later report found that those who worked as chefs, bus drivers and medical staff on the frontlines were disproportionately dying as a result of infection.
It’s no surprise then that the two figures go hand in hand, a large number of BAME workers occupy those very jobs that are the most exposed to the infection. Some communities have been ravaged and most definitely have not benefited from this made up concept of the ‘social levelling’ effect of the disease.
When all is said and done, when the world gets back on its feet and when we truly start to count the costs of this disease, only then will we take stock of the socio-economic and racial factors that were at play all along. By then the Prime Minister and his cabinet will have moved on from their claims and will probably refute it but the truth is now clearer than ever. Covid-19 was never a social leveller.