Editorial: The coronavirus has robbed us all, but it doesn’t have to

Brendan Fernando Kelly Palenque

My grandfather, at the age of 89, passed away two weeks ago. A good age, if there ever was one. 

Were we operating under normal circumstances, I would have been able to attend the funeral, comfort my grandmother, and say a final goodbye. But you don’t need me to tell you society is far from being normal right now.

Considering he lived in Spain – one of the countries which has been most affected by the coronavirus – going there was completely out of the question. Like so many, I felt robbed.

Robbed of my final weeks of college, robbed of the independence that comes with living away from home, and of course most of all, robbed of saying goodbye to my grandfather.

Manuel Palenque Castaño was born in 1931, only a few years before the start of the Spanish civil war. It was only last year I found out he had lived in France as a toddler. In an attempt to escape the war, his family had moved to Toulouse. 

While not directly comparable, both the war and the virus revealed the interests of wider society. Back then, countries like the UK and France did not come to the aid of the Spanish government in the midst of a coup orchestrated by the nationalist Francisco Franco. It simply wasn’t in their interest to keep the leftist republic afloat.

Similarly, today we see a lack of solidarity within the EU, with countries like Germany and the Netherlands turning their back on those most affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Unlike the Spanish civil war though, the virus is not yet history. There is still time to save so many lives.

Those most vulnerable will suffer the harshest consequences of this virus. My grandfather spent the first few years of his life as a refugee, and it’s refugees and the undocumented who stand to lose the most. 

How can someone who shares a room with five or six other people possibly self-isolate? How can someone who has lost their job and can’t apply for state support make ends meet? 

Last year, there was a major increase in the number of people deported. In total, 293 people were deported, almost the same amount of people deported in 2017 and 2018 combined. 

The idea that people should be victims of their circumstances is a wicked one. A capitalist system encourages the idea of climbing to the top – but only in theory. In reality, those at the bottom of the pecking order are marginalised to such a degree that a better life is simply impossible.

However, this pandemic has shown that it is those at the bottom who actually contribute the most to society. Whether it’s people working in supermarkets or delivery drivers, our day-to-day existence depends on them. 

Their work is constantly undervalued, underpaid, overlooked and ignored. My grandfather did not come from a well-off background. My grandmother and him would raise their family in an apartment block nicknamed “without lights, without water”. And many people today live in a similar situation.

The economy will suffer. But that should not be our priority. It’s those with very little we should be protecting at all costs. This virus has already robbed so much from so many. But it is not the virus that will rob the lives of the most vulnerable. That will be the fault of governments across the world and their willingness to ignore the working classes.

“¡Hasta la victoria siempre!” – Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Brendan Fernando Kelly Palenque

Image Credit: Brendan Fernando Kelly Palenque