COVID-19 has resulted in fear and anxiety globally. This fear takes many forms, such as a social taboo against COVID-19 victims, the rise of xenophobia, an increase in mental health problems, a rise in domestic violence and the emergence of the “new poor” in many countries.
The fear generated by COVID-19 has caused loneliness, nervousness and insomnia for many people. Some anxious people are traveling to be close to their family members. On the other hand, extreme anxiety has led people to turn against each other.
For example, in Bangladesh, when a man returned to his village, he had a fever but not COVID-19. The villagers feared that the sick man would contaminate them, so the victim committed suicide (Mamun and Griffiths, Asian Journal of Psychiatry, April 2020).
Fear has prevented people from performing their religious rituals. In Java, Indonesia, a nurse who died from COVID-19 was supposed to be laid in her family graveyard. But several residents objected to her burial in their locality because of fear of infection. Later, the nurse was buried in the public graveyard (The Jakarta Post, 12 April 2020).
Fear can be an understandable reaction to a real catastrophe. But xenophobia is irrational fear. It is socially constructed and politically driven. For example, after US President Trump called COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” (ABC News, 18 April 2020), some Chinese people have been being vilified in Australia and the United States.
This brings to mind the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 Twin Towers terrorist attacks in New York, when many Muslims became victims of Islamophobia. Many people who looked Muslim were vilified in Australia, Britain and the US (Kabir, Muslim Americans, 2017).
Power and control
The New York Times (6 April 2020) reported that there has been a surge in domestic violence in China, France and Spain. On the other hand, many Americans have responded to COVID-19 by buying guns, fearing that increasing unemployment and poverty will raise the crime rate (The Guardian, 2 April 2020). But these guns can also be used in domestic violence and other crimes. A desire to hold onto power is taking precedence over protecting vulnerable people.
“The new poor”
In Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Sierra Leone, many poor people live hand to mouth. Some do not have access to running water, so they cannot wash their hands frequently. They will be joined by the “new poor” in the aftermath of COVID-19 (COVID-19 Impact on Urban Informal Settlements, Webinar, Brac University, 14 May 2020).
The coronavirus pandemic reveals the complex vulnerability of people of all cultures who are fearful of the spread of this dreadful virus. On top of that, irrational fears and firearms purchases, mental health issues and domestic violence will lead societies into more insecurity.
In the midst of all these problems, people living below the poverty line will remain the most marginalised.