The coronavirus pandemic has completely reordered the world as we know it. Simple, everyday things that we took for granted such as shopping or going to the gym or bars have either been taken or been severely restricted for the good of public health. In these restrictions that have become the new normal has emerged a new class system in all societies all over the world: Essential Workers and Shielders. A third group are those who fall somewhere in between.
These new classes experience life during the pandemic very differently. Shielders are instructed to stay at home and to avoid all social contact outside their household – effectively, live in isolation. Essential workers are instructed to practise social-distancing and clinical hygiene practices as they perform their essential work duties. The third group – the inbetweeners – may not be working at the moment in receipt of government assistance or have had to adapt in their working practices to the effects on their industry of the pandemic.
Our new class system is not one based on wealth but rather health. We are all familiar with how important it is to protect our health in pursuit of wealth where quite often the former is exchanged for the latter but nowadays, health is rightfully put before wealth as a matter of not just national interest but also international interest.
As each class experiences life differently, each class will have their own priorities during the pandemic and how their society navigates through it. While the not-so-vulnerable might be more relaxed about easing of lockdown restrictions, the clinically extremely vulnerable will rightfully be a lot more cautious. It’s also important to remember that those who call for an easing of lockdown restrictions are not necessarily motivated by selfishness but also by care for their fellow person as a whole load of other issues have erupted such as an increase in mental health issues and domestic abuse which also need to be taken into account.
It will take a long time before we return to a normality that could be described as the Pre-Covid era, though I imagine the Post-Covid era will still bear the scars of the pandemic as a new normal after the one we currently experience gradually phases in. Our lives and societies are built on our experience and it is only natural that this is organically reflected in the Post-Covid era.
While I have no idea about the prospect of a vaccine being developed or some sort of solution to help navigate the world out of the current pandemic, I do know the constant that is politics will feature in it. I have already seen distrust of the government, particularly in the USA, which drives those who do not think the government is equipped to handle the pandemic and do not want to follow government advice let alone use a vaccine to the detriment of not just their health but also public health. Even more worrying is the recent state killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, which is another incident in a long running of terrible events that bring race relations in the USA to the fore once again along with trust in government institutions that are supposed to protect its citizens.
This terrible event highlights for me as a gay man how different groups in society experience life and how empathy for each other is needed. I think of it as factual based on my own experience that a vulnerable group in society will experience life differently from the not-so-vulnerable, be they a black person, a gay person or in the case of the Coronavirus pandemic, a shielder. Every society is judged by how it treats the vulnerable.
I am reminded of the American science-fiction movie Elysium (2013), directed by Neill Blomkamp and starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, which shows a dystopian world where the wealthy live exclusively in the space habitat orbiting Earth named Elysium that has access via wealth to hi-tech medical solutions to diseases which those living on Earth in poverty need. I can only hope that if a vaccine to the coronavirus is developed, that the politics of its production and distribution is limited for the sake of world health as the entire world will need to get through this pandemic for us all to prosper in our interconnected, interdependent world.
Michael Palmer holds a degree in Politics from Ulster University and is interested in political ideology, the politics of popular culture and wrote a dissertation on unionism/loyalism.