Coronavirus is tearing us apart, together

Pandemics are great equalizers. The coronavirus doesn't discriminate based on your passport, your tax returns, or your political party. It doesn't care how old you are, where you live, or who you voted for in the last election. It just wants to kill you.

And yet, while we are all one humanity from the perspective of the virus, the pandemic – and the responses to it – are opening deep fissures in our societies that may persist even after the wave of infections subsides. Here are a few to watch out for.


Rich vs Poor: In the US, athletes and celebrities are getting preferential access to scarce tests. In Russia, the "one percent" are hoarding ventilators. Mexico's outbreak has been traced to a luxury ski lodge in Colorado. Locals in the Hamptons are angry as wealthy New Yorkers bring the disease "out East." Across the world, the rich and famous not only have vastly better access to care, they are also more shielded from the economic fallout than ordinary folks and the working poor, who don't have the benefit of "teleworking," or who are – at huge risk to themselves – staffing hospitals, grocery stores, delivery services, drugstores, and public infrastructure. The class antagonism will grow.

Local vs National: In many countries, but particularly ones with federalized political systems, there is tension between national governments that should be leading coordinated responses to the pandemic, and the local officials on the front lines, often coping with scarce resources. This is even more of an issue in countries where the initial national-level response has been slow—Brazil, the United States, Mexico, or the Czech Republic, for example.

Democrats vs Republicans: In the United States, everything is polarized, even a pandemic. The latest polling shows that Democrats – more concentrated in the urban centers that have been hit hardest so far – are far more concerned about the virus' spread than Republicans, though the gap is closing. A month ago nearly half of Republicans said they weren't concerned – now only about a quarter say that. Only 5 percent of Democrats say they aren't worried.

US vs China: The world's two largest economies have their differences, but where the global threat of coronavirus might have been a practical opportunity to work together to save the planet, Beijing and Washington have instead sniped at each other about the origins of the disease, kicked out each other's journalists, and limited their cooperation on searches for a vaccine.

Globalists v Tribalists: Some people see the COVID-19 crisis as an overdue wake-up call for more global coordination and unity. Others see it as a confirmation of their sense that globalization had gone too far, and that a future of higher walls and less economic integration is a safer and healthier one.

When it's all over, whose view will prevail, and where?

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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With large parts of the American economy shuttered because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the number of people filing jobless claims in the US last week exceeded 3.2 million, by far the highest number on record. Here's a look at the historical context. The surge in jobless claims, which may be an undercount, is sure to cause a spike in the unemployment rate (which tells you the percent of work-ready people who are looking for a job). At last reading in February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Economists warn that it could reach 5.5 percent in the near term. Even that would be far lower than the jobless rates recorded during previous economic crises such as the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Have a look.