The pictures of shoppers at a leading membership warehouse store that emerged on social media capture the social divide in our society. Those fortunate ones can go mid-morning to stock up whatever is needed to prepare for the eventualities while others are tied to their place of work and unable to leave or to spend such large sums.
Can you guess which stores will get the next top-ups first? Your friendly mini-mart or the large membership club? The supply chain bends to the larger volume businesses, which the poor people do not usually patronise. This means the poor will have a lesser chance to protect themselves.
The party scenes and ‘cheap’ liquor at a premier dining location, also seen later on social media, showed that some of our young are no different in the level of their social consciousness. They could ignore the plea to avoid crowds since they had money to party. None rely on public transport to get home.
They had neither self-discipline nor were mindful of the need to heighten personal hygiene in furtherance of public health concerns. I guess, they worked for their money so they could spend it when and how they want. Too bad for those who cannot afford.
Our school children have been sent home for a week. A positive attempt to slow the onset of the spread of the virus. It has been proven that actions such as this, if taken early, stem the geometric spread that can burden and crash the health systems. It is commendable that some churches and sporting organisations have taken the initiative and run with it. Others, for a variety of reasons, persist to host their crowds.
But home is not necessarily the safest place for all. Almost half of our children live in homes headed by single parents, mainly women. This often means that there is no safety net—no grandparents and no ready help to supervise.
These parents already have difficulty paying rent and are unlikely to have emergency savings. They depend on public hospitals and clinics and several have poor health. But now they face the risk of being pushed further back in the line should the virus infection get out of control and the capacity of these institutions become overwhelmed.
This is why it is ‘privileged elites’ who go partying and those leaders who keep hosting the crowds that are shafting the poor. Their irresponsible behaviour increase the risk of the virus spreading. But they also know that in a crunch, they will jump the treatment line.
These female single parents most likely work in jobs that do not afford them the ability to work from home. Even in the homes where there are common-law partners, the earning capacity is compressed as the economy takes a hit from changes in working rules. An estimated one-quarter of all our workers are on contract, which means lower wages, unreliable hours and lower likelihood of paid leave.
They are the ones who serve us daily in stores and restaurants and make up a significant part of the employment provided by small businesses. These businesses, in the absence of a reserve cash cushion, will retrench them or rotate their working hours. This is particularly troublesome since women are the caregivers for children in our nation.
The weakening of our trade unions will now bite us. It is not about making unreasonable demands as much as it is about ensuring that the vulnerable are protected.
We, as a society, must brace for an increase in domestic violence and child abuse since there is substantial research showing that with increased stress levels in times of disaster there is a dramatic rise in such incidents. This occurs since the perpetrators have increased access to their families and can abuse without controls since the support services system is overburdened.
The consumption of alcohol also contributes. Reports out of Hubei province in China indicate that the number of such cases nearly tripled in February due to the virus.
What will we do? Where will the leadership come from? Will our business community show compassion? Already we see cases of price gouging; will we see the Chambers speak up against this? Will we see them ensuring that distribution of goods reach to all parts of this country, or will they seek to reduce cost by focusing on the larger outlets?
In this scary time with great uncertainties, will our churches and religious leaders be fearless and speak up? This is not merely about the times of gatherings. There are vulnerable people to reach out to. This is not some folk who have suddenly turned up on our shores. Those needing help live among us and work for us.
Will the churches and temples and their followers lend material help to the single-parent households? As Jesus said, if you do it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.
Will our politicians lay aside partisan considerations and agree on how to protect those who are disadvantaged? This is not a time for cheap shots and the unleashing of unbridled trolling.
It is the time for wholesale cleaning of public spaces, reminiscent of the early NAR days. The government has to effect changes to maintain economic stability via fiscal measures but would be loathe to do so because of the ‘big brains’ among us who would be shouting about frugality and budget deficits.
Austerity in these circumstances has a cost that is usually paid in human lives. The Opposition needs to appreciate that the poor among us need more than promises and only a national effort will suffice.
Or are we to rely on underfunded NGOs to bear the burden? Do we resign ourselves to increasing the hold of crime on our women and young defenceless children? Will we increase the ranks of our homeless? Living Water Community can do so much and no more.
Where will the other needy people get help? Can we who are more fortunate not spare a thought and a dollar for the less fortunate among us? Let us do our little part to keep our country safe.
We can do better. We must do better.