Why do the poor always suffer

Corona and poverty: The suffering of others


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Tanja Krones is outraged. "It's as clear as dumpling broth: Here in Switzerland, too, the poor in particular die of Corona!" Krones is a senior doctor and medical ethicist at the University of Zurich. Whenever she speaks to her colleagues who work in the local hospitals during these weeks and months, she always experiences the same thing: that the virus hits those people particularly hard who are less privileged. People who cannot retire to the home office because they work at the supermarket checkout or on a production line. This knowledge is not new, says Krones: "In Switzerland, however, nobody still wants to hear that."

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The fact that especially old people or people with previous illnesses get seriously ill or die from Covid-19 has been talked about in Switzerland since the beginning of the pandemic. The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and the cantons collect their figures on a daily basis, which are presented in colorful diagrams by the media. At the same time, like everywhere else in the world, medical and epidemiological studies are ongoing, with which scientists are trying to better understand the disease and its course. To this end, an international register has been set up at the University of Zurich in which as much medical data as possible is collected about Covid-19 patients who end up in intensive care units. It records around 45 parameters such as age, gender, blood pressure, heart rate, signs of inflammation and their course. Previous problems such as lung, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes or obesity. The number of doctors and nurses who cared for the patient is also there.

But what the patient works, where and how he lives, what he earns, let alone where he comes from, none of this is recorded. "Our most important goal is to understand the disease biologically and to be as one step ahead as possible," says the intensive care doctor Matthias Hilty, who is building the university hospital registry. The socio-economic factors of the corona pandemic remain a blind spot in Switzerland. Not only in statistics and science, but also in public perception - and in politics.

The evidence is clear. The show reported at the beginning of November Cash drop of Swiss television about a chain of infection in Schafisheim in the canton of Aargau. In the large bakery of the retailer Coop, 45 employees were infected with the coronavirus while standing close to each other on the assembly line, forming bread or plaiting braids. Some Coop employees said they felt they were not protected enough: colleagues came to the factory sick because they were afraid of losing their job. Only in mid-October did the company introduce a general mask requirement.

In September it became known that 16 out of 36 residents in an asylum seeker accommodation in Urdorf in the canton of Zurich had contracted the corona virus. In the underground bunker, asylum seekers share a kitchen and a single bathroom. You sleep in two-story bunk beds, there are no windows to ventilate. The responsible family doctor asked six months before the major outbreak that the center had to be closed. But the Canton of Zurich ignored his warning.

It is not just these individual events that show that the pandemic has also become a syndemia in Switzerland, as the specialist journal did The Lancet wrote. To a plague in which health and social problems intertwine and reinforce each other. The unemployment rate in Switzerland is currently nowhere as high as among low-wage earners, an analysis by the Swiss Confederation of Trade Unions (SGB) shows. In the bottom fifth of wage earners, three times more are on short-time work than in the top 20 percent. And in the tourist city of Lucerne, where an above-average number of people work in poorly paid restaurant and hotel jobs, the social welfare rate is rising faster than anywhere else in the country (read the article on page 18). At the same time, the health of these people is also more severely affected by the coronavirus.