The coronavirus that is raging around the world is a great leveller. The global pandemic is indiscriminately spreading, cutting across social-economic barriers, ethnic, religious and geographical divides. Unlike Ebola that was confined to the poorer nations of Africa, COVID-19 is a serious threat to humankind. It has killed around 28,000 people worldwide, and there is no sign of the disease slowing down.
The poor of the world are the most vulnerable. The urban poor living in congested cities, sharing rooms and toilets, travelling in crowded trains and sleeping in bunk beds are at a higher risk of being infected. The middle class and the rich can keep themselves secure indoors in their comfortable apartments and villas. But the poor have no such luxury. As the world shuts down businesses and factories, the poor will face another scourge — hunger and poverty — due to widespread job losses. The global war against COVID-19 will fail if governments are not compassionate towards the poor.
A compassionate approach is required and governments must understand that people living in their territories — the poor, refugees and illegals — are their responsibility.
Trillions of dollars have been committed to fighting this war. Governments of all countries must ensure that the money reaches the last man in the queue and the poorest of the poor. The poor should have access to food and essentials while nations impose lockdowns. This war cannot be won while the poor are hungry and without jobs. For example, in India, tens of thousands of migrant workers began walking towards villages after soon Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown. Images of these men, women and children trudging through highways make for a disturbing sight and are a loud warning to the governments that lockdowns without planning can be disastrous. This massive flow of people from urban centres to villages can derail efforts to contain the virus. While India has announced a $26 billion stimulus, the government must make sure that this money reaches targeted beneficiaries on time.
Similarly in the United States, around 25 per cent of people are without health insurance and millions of illegal immigrants have no access to healthcare. President Donald Trump’s $2.2 trillion stimulus approved last week must include the poor and undocumented immigrants. A compassionate approach is required and governments must understand that people living in their territories — the poor, refugees and illegals — are their responsibility.
In the UAE, the government has taken a host of measures to help residents and citizens. While injecting liquidity into the financial system, the country’s private and public sectors have taken steps to help small and medium businesses. The government has also reduced fees and eased visa renewal procedures for workers. This compassion is absolutely essential.