Saturday, April 04, 2020

Covid-19 Exposes the Class Divide

Resort towns favoured by the rich and famous are facing a coronavirus crisis as the 1% have fled cities for their holiday hideaways. The rich have rushed to escape to their luxury retreats, local officials are reporting a disproportionate rise in Covid-19 cases and getting increasingly angry and worried about cases overwhelming small local hospitals.

For decades,  Sun Valley has been a hotspot for jet-setting celebrities and billionaires including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mark Zuckerberg, Marilyn Monroe and Clint Eastwood. As of Thursday, there were 351 confirmed cases in its county, which is home to only 22,000 people. Sun Valley is in Blaine county, which is now host to nearly half the state-wide total of cases. The outbreak there has overwhelmed the region’s only hospital, which has one ventilator and was partially shut down after several of its doctors were quarantined.

Park City, is home to the Utah’s largest ski resort and its health director, Rich Bullough, said the first case in the county was a visitor and said the region’s high rate of cases was “absolutely” related to tourism.
New York City residents fleeing the coronavirus for upstate getaways and homes in the summer hotspots on Long Island are also angering residents. The Hamptons, the glitzy seaside New York community where Jennifer Lopez, Gwyneth Paltrow and a host of Wall Street bankers have summer homes, has seen its population surge in the wake of the pandemic. The village of Southampton has seen its population soar in recent weeks from 60,000 to 100,000.

Palm Beach county in Florida now has the highest death rate from Covid 19 in the state, 27 out of 144 deaths across the state so far. Palm Beach is home to Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, Jimmy Buffett and Rod Stewart are among its famous residents. The increase in visitors is likely to be a factor.
A similar story in Brazil. One Brazilian tycoon took his private jet to the beach last month despite having tested positive for Covid-19. The man, an investment banker. is accused of infecting at least two locals in Trancoso, a glamorous seaside town in Bahia state.

Some have pointed an accusing finger at Brazil’s jet-setting elites for importing the illness,  suggesting that Brazil’s mega-moneyed coronavirus patients exposed others to the illness by failing to properly isolate or quarantine themselves – perhaps believing their economic status meant they were above such mundane measures. One of the first deaths recorded in Brazil was that of Cleonice Gonçalves, a 63-year-old domestic helper who was reportedly infected by her wealthy employer when she returned from holiday in Italy.

The Rio de Janeiro Country Club is frequente by the crème de la crème of carioca high society. It is Brazil’s most exclusive club – a beachside sanctuary of privilege and power to which just 0.00041% of the country’s citizens are members who are chosen by secret ballot and it costs around £70,000 to join. At least 60 of the club’s 850 globe-trotting members have been struck down with Covid-19, while one – the septuagenarian businesswoman Mirna Bandeira de Mello – has died.

The country club is not the only oasis of Brazilian prosperity and influence touched by coronavirus. A pop star, an actress and the daughter of a top government official were infected during a celebrity wedding at a beach resort that boasts of being “conceived with the philosophy of exclusiveness”. Some affluent guests had reportedly flown in from holidays in Europe and Aspen, Colorado.

The connection between the spread of coronavirus and Brazil’s super-rich has sparked discussion over their role in introducing the ailment to Brazil – and the gulf between rich and poor in one of the most unequal societies on earth.  It is the poor and mostly black masses who will eventually suffer the most – without the luxury of being able to self-isolate at home or resort to expensive private hospitals.

“It goes without saying that the most vulnerable will always be the most affected, irrespective of whether there is a pandemic or not,” the black feminist intellectual Djamila Ribeiro wrote in the Folha de São Paulo newspaper recently. “These are structural issues.”

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