How the Coronavirus is Deepening Class Divides in Europe and Elsewhere

People retreating to their vacation homes fuels tension around the globe

Île de Noirmoutier looks like a peaceful place, but the coronavirus has sparked conflict there.
François de Dijon/Creative Commons

At a time of widening economic inequality, certain events can put questions of class at the forefront of people’s minds. The current coronavirus pandemic is one of those events. One can see this in the backlash to the Utah Jazz being tested before almost anyone else in Utah (though there were valid reasons for that) and in the way many well-off New Yorkers are decamping for the Hamptons, to the alarm of year-round residents there.

But this isn’t simply a local issue in various regions of the United States. At The New York Times, Norimitsu Onishi and Constant Méheut explore how the current pandemic is aggravating class divisions in Europe. This includes Île de Noirmoutier, where a number of well-off Parisians fled to their second homes in the wake of the coronavirus. The results?

Overnight, the island’s population nearly doubled, to 20,000. Nearly two weeks after the nationwide lockdown went into effect on March 17, there are about 70 suspected cases of the coronavirus on the island.

This isn’t confined to France, either. Onishi and Méheut cite examples of similar behavior from Germany, Spain and Greece — and, in each instance, it’s taken pre-existing tensions around class and income level and increased it exponentially. And as responses in the Hamptons — and New Jersey and Rhode Island — show the same issues cropping up on this side of the Atlantic.

Students of history have pointed to strikes that occurred in the wake of the influenza pandemic in 1918-19 as one demonstration of how crises like this one can heighten class tension. The way that Instacart workers have a strike planned for this coming week is another indication that, even as it’s putting a lot of aspects of daily life on hold, coronavirus can’t pause or cancel awareness of class and inequality — and all that comes with it.

Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.