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Flattening the curve or flattening the global poor? How Covid lockdowns obliterate human rights and crush the most vulnerable

Marketed as life-saving public health measures, lockdowns triggered death and economic devastation on a global scale while doing little to slow the spread of Covid-19. Now, they’re back with a vengeance.
 
by Stavroula Pabst and Max Blumenthal
 
Part 5 - Lockdowns brutalized the world’s poor while depriving generations of education
 
For governments across the world, Covid provided an opportunity to pummel their most vulnerable residents, as well as those who dissented from the official order. As Amnesty International’s European bureau stated in a detailed but under-acknowledged June 2020 report, “The police enforcement of lockdowns disproportionately impacted poorer areas, which often have a higher proportion of residents from minority ethnic groups.

Among Amnesty’s most disturbing findings was that police searches of Black Britons rose by a full third in the first month of the pandemic; Roma populations across Eastern Europe were placed under militarized quarantines and cut off from food supplies, causing deprivation on a mass scale; homelessness surged across the continent, and refugees and minority residents were subjected to police brutality on a regular basis. 

Throughout 2020 in New York City, Black and Latino residents received a whopping 80% of police summonses for supposedly violating social distancing measures, leading civil rights groups including a local chapter of Black Lives Matter to complain that Covid restrictions were being exploited to bring back dreaded “stop and frisk” policies.

In Greece, such measures have been exploited to target refugees, migrants, and others living on the margins of society. Greek authorities have even fined refugees arriving by boat to Chios island 5000 euros each for not providing proof of negative coronavirus tests in late August 2021.

Many refugees that I, Stavroula, am personally acquainted with in Greece avoided spending time outside during the country’s six month lockdown from November 2020 to May 2021 out of fear of arrest and deportation. The lockdowns, which often confined people to a few miles from their home, and which imposed curfews as early as 6pm, required everyone to possess a government-issued identification and a text message or written note explaining their reason for being in public.

Penalties for violating the restrictions could mean fines of 300 euros, about half a monthly salary in the country, which could financially ruin many Greeks. For those in the country without papers, not having the required documentation during an encounter with police could even lead to deportation. 

Across the globe, tens of thousands of people, mostly poor and working class, have been arrested for violating quarantine and been locked up in crowded unsanitary jails where Covid infections run rampant.

In Washington DC’s municipal jail, 1500 inmates were held in de facto solitary confinement for over 400 days without basic services throughout 2020 and early 2021. Though most inmates had already contracted COVID-19, developing durable natural immunity to the virus, the lockdown was justified on the grounds of “slowing the spread.”

An overwhelming majority of the jail’s inmates are Black, and many have not yet been found guilty of the crimes for which they were arrested,” the Washington Post noted.

Similarly, St Louis city jail was the site of four prisoner uprisings since December 2020, with inmates forced into de facto solitary confinement for over a year with no trials. “People currently incarcerated…are tired of living in fear of COVID-19 and not being brought to trial,” one prisoner stated.

School-aged children and students around the world also suffered enormously under the weight of closures, particularly those in impoverished communities. In Uganda, citizens have spent large parts of the past two year under various forms of lockdown, with schools and recreation centers closed under orders of the US-backed leader Gen. Yoweri Museveni.

An entire generation of our children is being plunged into the bottomless abyss of illiteracy and ignorance. I saw a docile wasted generation of young defenseless victims of Gen. Museveni’s warped COVID-19 directives loitering about and dwindling in hopelessness,” wrote dissident Kakwenza Bashaija after a visit to eastern Uganda.

The New York Times reported this November that Uganda’s ongoing school closures have consigned the county’s youth to possibly lifelong poverty. With educational institutions still off limits, the Times wrote, “young women, abandoning hopes of going to school, are getting married and starting families instead. School buildings are being converted into businesses or health clinics. Teachers are quitting, and disillusioned students are taking menial jobs like selling fruit or mining for gold.

Poor and working class youth across the United States experienced similar educational setbacks as closures forced them out of the classroom. In the state of Virginia, for example, math achievement scores in 2021 were down by over 40% for eighth graders in comparison to 2018-19. Less than half of Black students from third to sixth grade were able to pass reading tests, while the math scores of disabled youth declined precipitously.

Glen Youngkin, a Republican who ran for governor in Virginia this year, highlighted these dismaying figures and slammed school closures in his closing campaign message. By capitalizing on the pent-up anger of parents in the state’s swing districts, Youngkin scored a surprise victory against a seasoned and well-funded opponent in a heavily Democratic state. 

Meanwhile, in the Democratic bastion of New Jersey, incumbent Governor Phil Murphy nearly lost to a lesser known Republican challenger who hammered him over his support for some of the most stringent lockdown measures in the country. Murphy was walloped in Atlantic County, home of the Atlantic City resort and casino city where lockdowns pushed one third of small businesses into permanent collapse. 

As the Biden administration considers new restrictions for US travelers, including placing the unvaccinated on a domestic no-fly list, the impact of lockdown policies has helped disrupt the international supply chain, driving inflation and shortages in supplies, gasoline, and even certain food items.

With the US government collaborating desperately with major corporations and retailers to repair the existing supply bottlenecks, some in the media class have urged convenience-accustomed Americans to simply lower their expectations.

While these lockdowns were implemented to supposedly blunt the impact of a public health danger, mainstream media have generally avoided a discussion of how well they mitigated the perceived crisis or of the severe social and economic harm they did to working people.

Despite the mass job loss, economic destruction, and increased hunger that non-pharmaceutical interventions have inflicted on the global population, the effectiveness of efforts such as lockdowns, curfews, school closures, and the constant PCR testing of healthy people are dubious at best.

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