As the world retreated into lockdown following the spread of Covid-19, a sense of common suffering prompted many to contemplate the arbitrariness of human status distinctions, as politicians, celebrities and football stars alike fell prey to the virus. “[Covid-19] doesn’t care about how rich you are, how famous you are, how funny you are, how smart you are, where you live, how old you are ... It’s the great equaliser,” reflected pop star Madonna on Instagram Live. The grim reaper’s hand, after all, cannot be stayed by cash, fame or fancy titles. 

But the fact that Madonna was able to issue her philosophical proclamation from the comfort of a petal-strewn bathtub only reveals how differently the wealthy and the poor experience Covid-19. Lacking proper housing to safe-distance themselves, the homeless on the frosty streets of London and the slum-dwellers of India’s shanty towns are more vulnerable than ever as the virus sinks its fangs into their emaciated bodies. Meanwhile, the “one-percenters” enjoy the luxury of superyachts and secluded mansions from which to ride out the pandemic. 

Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz sings a very different tune from the “Queen of Pop”. “Covid-19 has not been an equal-opportunity virus: it goes after people in poor health and those whose daily lives expose them to greater contact with others. And this means it goes disproportionately after the poor, especially in poor countries and in advanced economies like the United States where access to healthcare is not guaranteed,” writes the Columbia University professor in the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Finance and Development magazine. 

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