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COVID-19: The importance of understanding connection.

Updated: Mar 13, 2020

You are only ever protected from a virus as much as the poorest person in your community.

As the COVID-19 coronavirus virus starts to spread outside of China to the rest of the world, we can take this moment to reflect on what a virus like this can teach us about society, human nature and connection. Strangely, we will start this reflection with an analogy about a tree:

What is a tree? Is it just the trunk, the roots and the branches? What about the seeds, the leaves and the flowers? Well a tree wouldn’t survive long without the soil, the air and the rain: does that mean it is also these things too?

It is easy for us to forget what we call “a tree” is only a tree because we give it that label. It, like everything else, is part of nature, deeply connected to all things. It is only for the sake of human knowledge and understanding that we detach it from nature by categorizing it as “a tree”.

Humans are just the same. We often like to think of ourselves as independent beings, separate from our neighbours, our communities and nature itself. But we are not. Just like how the tree is so much more than a trunk, roots and branches, humans too are connected to each other and to everything else.

A pandemic such as the COVID-19 coronavirus makes it obvious just how much we really are all connected on both the local and global scale. Suddenly, we notice those strangers we usually ignore, when we walk past them in supermarkets or sit next to them on trains. We observe them: what did they touch; did they just cough; that better not have been a sneeze! We notice who is standing behind us, who is walking in front of us, who just touched the door handle, and ask ourselves: was the lady who handed me my sandwich wearing a mask and gloves?

It’s kind of sad that it takes a global pandemic for people to look up from their phones, acknowledge and observe the person sitting next to them or delivering their food.

The best way for a community to stay healthy from the coronavirus is for them to collectively follow a few easy rules: wash your hands, cover your mouth if you cough or sneeze, wear a mask. But the point is, it only works if everyone in the community follows along and does it together.

Wearing a mask is a great example of this; some people spoke out against using a mask, saying that it wouldn’t protect you from an airborne virus. And yes, this is true, however wearing a mask isn’t about protecting yourself it’s about protecting other people. If everyone wears a mask it collectively reduces the number of germs each person is breathing, coughing or spitting into the air. It only works effectively if everyone in the community is doing it. We have to acknowledge how we are all connected, for us to be able to do something for the benefit of all.

But what happens when we ignore this level of connection? We can look to the United States for an answer to this question. There are many interconnected lines of division that try to separate communities in the US: such as the major disparities in terms of race, gender and class. The problem is, a virus such as COVID-19 doesn't see these divisions and makes it deadly apparent that the middle and upper-class of society are only as safe and protected as the lower and working-class members of the community.

The middle and upper-class of society are only as safe and protected as the lower and working-class members of the community.

The US workforce system is set up in a way that many lower income workers do not have the required funds to pay for the medical checks needed to determine if they have the virus, and often are not provided sick leave by their employers to take paid time off work if needed. The capitalist system is designed to exploit the workforce for the benefit of the employer, but it forgets that the labels it created to divide society do not stop us all still being connected.

If people cannot afford to take unpaid sick leave then, whether or not they have the coronavirus they don’t have a choice but to continue coming into work. Of course, this also comes with the risk of them infecting anyone who they come into contact with. Think about all those people serving food, delivering coffee, or packing parcels in an Amazon warehouse. If that person is infected and has no choice but to be at work, then the whole community is at risk. This is the danger of not understanding the ways in which all our communities are connected. You are only ever protected from a virus as much as the poorest person in your community.

You are only ever protected from a virus as much as the poorest person in your community.

It is only because of COVID-19 that many people have started to open their eyes to the level of interconnection that we all have. The ways that people have been observing and acknowledging each other is definitely something I hope can continue once the virus is under control but this should also be a lesson for all of us. We can’t allow a large proportion of any community to be in a situation where they don’t have the means to seek medical support or the ability to take time off of work if they are sick. It is so easy for the rich just to get richer, while the poor are left to suffer. However, as COVID-19 has made many people realise, all of our society is connected: if one part of the community is left to suffer, then the whole community will suffer.

We can do better. We must do better.

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