Why COVID-19 is actually a class virus

The weakest people are much more exposed to the virus and the economic consequences of the pandemic. The rich even manage to cash in on it.

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No, corona is not the same for everyone, as is often claimed. The weakest people are much more exposed to the virus and the economic consequences of the pandemic. The rich even manage to cash in on it. The corona crisis has exposed the class structure of our world in stark relief. 


Class virus


Some might spontaneously think that the virus affects everyone equally, but that is not the case. A recent study from the US has revealed that inequality is a major factor in the spread and impact of the virus. The lower on the social ladder, the greater the risk of getting infected, being hospitalised and not surviving COVID-19.


The study puts forward three reasons. Firstly, the general state of health of poorer people is less good; they more often have, for example, an obesity problem. That makes them less resistant to the virus.


Secondly, there are the working conditions. Better paid workers could usually stay at home, while ordinary workers did not have that luxury. Contact professions are often poorly paid, but they were most in the firing line. In addition, safety measures on the shop floor in many companies were and are being flouted.


Finally, the lower strata of society - understandably - have less confidence in government. They are therefore less inclined to comply with safety measures or to be vaccinated. Moreover, once infected, isolation at home is more difficult for them.


Those three reasons make SARS-CoV-2 actually a class virus. The numbers speak for themselves. The inhabitants of the poorest neighborhoods in a big city like Antwerp are almost three times as likely to be infected. The ten percent poorest citizens have more than twice the chance of being hospitalised and up to five times the chance of dying.


The rich become infamously richer


Medically, the poor were hit harder by corona, but so was their purse. According to the Washington Post, the recession caused by COVID-19 was the most unequal in modern history. 


While tens of millions of people fell into unemployment and poverty, the 32 largest multinationals saw their profits rise by $109 billion in 2020. Last year, 493 billionaires were added worldwide, a record according to Forbes. At least 40 of those new billionaires are linked to companies involved in fighting COVID-19, such as Stéphane Bancel of Moderna and Uğur Şahin of BioNTech. Pharmaceutical giants could count on very generous subsidies and government support for developing the vaccines, but were allowed to pocket the mega profits themselves.


The combined wealth of those super-rich rose by a staggering $5,100 billion between March 2020 and March 2021, an increase of 62 per cent. This fabulous amount is as large as what three billion people produce in wealth each year.[i] Never have as many Ferraris or Lamborghinis been bought in Belgium as in 2020, “the year of corona”.


Vaccines: a matter of life and death but not equally available


In the fight against the coronavirus, the vaccine is a real game-changer. Unvaccinated people are 29 times more likely to be hospitalised and 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19. The English Health Service estimates that vaccination has already saved 100,000 lives in England. For the US and the EU together, this amounts to 1.4 million lives saved.



[i] I’m speaking of the inhabitants of Africa (excluding Nigeria) and South Asia.

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