COVID-19, (im)mobility and Health Inequalities

Covid-19 Anniversary Blog

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on human mobility and migration.

Governments across the world took extraordinary measures to curtail international travel and movement of peoples whilst simultaneously calling all their citizens to return home. Domestic systems of disease management followed including enforced quarantine and closed borders. The pandemic was initially thought as an equalizer; a global phenomenon and suffering, and a common basis for global solidarity, but it has been anything but.

One year on and the new understanding is that COVID-19 and (im)mobility has exposed even more global and local inequalities. The way nation states regulated (im)mobilities may have changed, but the fundamental principles that guided the unequal treatment of some groups and forms of movement have only gained more traction.  While access to and practices of movement – be it international or local – are known to be uneven and as such to generate more inequalities, health (im)mobilities have been little scrutinised, and less so in relation to ethnic and racial diversity.

The reasons are manifold. A Global Society on Migration, Ethnicity, Race and Health Conference has shown that the approach of nation-states has been that of bio-security and not that of a right to health. Facing various issues of access to healthcare before the pandemic, economic migrants and refugees have not been meaningfully included in the emergency resource allocation during the past 12 months. The impact of these policy gaps on the health attitudes and experiences of these groups following the pandemic makes scapegoating potentially high.

Furthermore, the attitude of nation-states towards measuring the impact of COVID-19 in relation to race and ethnicity varies greatly, and sometimes there are also differences between states and local authorities. This variability has consequences for gaining an understanding of patterns at local, national, regional and global level and for comparative analyses to take place.

The bio-security agenda may lead to even deeper mobility inequalities, not least because of harsher immigration restrictions and lower accountability for policy-makers at national level. As a new era of bio-politics dawns in the wake of COVID-19 it is likely that little may change for racial and ethnic inequalities, particularly for migrants.

Dr Zana Vathi is a Reader in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University. She also an ISR Fellow and Director of the Migration Working Group, North West.

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