“social distancing” is possible – a privilege – for those who can afford it but challenging to many who can’t. “social distancing” for many people – many of us – who mostly travel using public transport, on a daily basis, is nearly impossible to maintain. It’s simply not feasible, to say the least. It’s, in fact, a joke! Except that it’s a dangerous joke, one with far more devastating consequences on both an individual and public level.
But on a more profound level, the underlying challenges to the practice of “social distancing” as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, speak deeply to the socioeconomic inequalities. The COVID-19 pandemic is – as most crises of its nature do – exposing the world’s social and economic inequalities. It’s mainly those who usually have little contact, who have the means necessary to avoid mixing with the hoi polloi – the unwashed – who have no trouble keeping the much emphasised “social distancing” as a preventive measure.
They can afford to keep away from the public. They live in uncrowded high-end neighbourhoods with space, with little and easily controlled contact with the unwashed. They hardly, if ever, use public transport. There’s no doubt they won’t be getting anywhere near public transport networks during this crisis. They can afford the luxury or the requirements of working at home. This is a privilege many cannot afford.
The reality of the matter is, “social distancing” is not at all new. Social and economic distancing has long been around us. It has been and remains a way of life to people with the economic means to afford it. It’s these – such – people who are not struggling with “social distancing” in the current crisis, as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19. Majority of ordinary people cannot afford the luxury – the privilege – of “social distancing” because they, forced by circumstances, still have to move so to afford a living. That means, they need means of travel, and the only such means available to them is public transport. But there’s little “social distancing” in public transport. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to maintain. The risk of catching and/or spreading COVID-19 for many people without alternative means or modes of transportation to public transportation is inevitable, possibly high too.