Inequality during crisis
Kyiv Post Editorial
As Ukraine joins the world in extending COVID‑19 quarantine measures, one sad revelation becomes clear: The world may be in this together, but the rich and the poor experience the pandemic very differently.
In Ukraine, the measures to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus highlighted the class divide. The well-traveled rich are most likely to bring the disease into the country, yet the poor will suffer most from the restrictions.
Even the key measure, staying home, is problematic for many in Ukraine. A recent survey showed that 57% don’t have funds to live in strict quarantine for more than four weeks. Only 16% can stretch savings for up to two months.
Those who are hit hardest are low-income families, service workers, manual laborers, creative class professionals, the elderly and the disabled.
They can’t afford to stock up. The prospects of getting the next paycheck are uncertain for those who are employed in the sectors greatly damaged already: hospitality, entertainment, retail, services, seasonal work abroad, etc.
For those who stay at home, the quality of their time in quarantine also depends on their financial situation.
Services such as food or grocery delivery can ease the inconveniences, but only for those who can afford them. For many lower-income families in Ukraine, markets are the primary place for buying foodstuffs. Now markets are closed, and prices on some staples in supermarkets have shot up.
Owning a car, being able to afford a taxi or order goods online becomes a luxury amid the shutdown of public transportation.
Moreover, money can buy a coronavirus test. While state hospitals are rigid in testing, giving preference to people with harsh symptoms and recent travel history, private labs in Kyiv offer tests to anyone who wants them — but at the exorbitant price of Hr 16,000 (500 euros), or Hr 1,500 (50 euros) for a less reliable rapid test. The tests, still, are in high demand.
Private clinics offer the rich another perk: They won’t inform the state if the patient tested positive. Prosecutors are already looking into one such case.
Still, this crisis had a chance at becoming an equalizer between the rich and the poor. Ukrainian media reported that rich Ukrainians, including politicians and their family members, came down with COVID‑19 and were taken to a regular public hospital. Some rejoiced at the thought of the super-rich having to face the poor public healthcare system.
But even hospitalization is not the same. There has been an attempt to create “special conditions” for high-ranking patients. The Kyiv municipal government ordered a number of state hospitals to be ready to admit special patients: prepare their most spacious rooms with dark-tinted windows, separate reserves of medications and around-the-clock care. Answering the criticism, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the only special patients who will be enjoying these conditions are the leadership of the state.
But for Ukrainians, who are used to being treated in deteriorating hospitals by underpaid doctors, this clarification was hardly comforting.