Slovak MP of Romani origin Peter Pollák, Jr.: COVID-19 isn't racist
Just like many of you, I too am "on Facebook" and I see the different news reports that come up when I scroll through my feed every day. I think I am media literate enough to recognize what's fiction and what "stinks".
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During the nationwide testing here in the spring, the Internet exaggerated things too much, and one of the news items that caught my attention claimed that "Romani settlements are hatcheries for spreading COVID". From the comments posted in response to that article I had the feeling that people (and various trolls) share posts of this kind, featuring horrifying hatred, with a kind of smirk on their faces.
How was the the testing undertaken in the settlements?
Let's speak on the level, now: I myself am Romani and I grew up in a settlement. Regularly, on the weekend, I go home to one such place, and so I immediately clicked through a couple of official websites to verify all the information mentioned in that particular news item.
I wanted to be able to argue against this fake news. I only want to discuss this with those whose minds are open and whose ethnic prejudices don't prevent them from receiving information that is true.
Unfortunately, biased people don't even believe what they see with their own eyes. That's for another blog, though.
So, to get to the point. I saw people in the settlements who approached the testing responsibly, who wore their facemasks with discipline, and who calmly stood in socially-distanced lines, together with their family members.
Those people expressed absolutely no hostility toward the measures or the testing. They arrived, showed their identification, allowed themselves to be tested, waited and picked up their certificates.
Wait, wait ... who is it I'm writing about here? Yes, I'm writing about people from marginalized groups!
Their behavior was absolutely the same as majority-society behavior during the testing. Just so you have an idea of what the reality is.
What about infection rates?
From data produced by the Slovak Defense Ministry we know that the percentage of individuals in Romani communities who have been infected and tested positive is similar to the percentage of those who have been infected and tested positive in the majority society. Let's restate that in more down-to-earth terms.
We shouldn't look for any extreme deviations in the positivity rates between the majority society and the minority - there aren't any. The across-the-board antigen testing has demonstrated that the novel coronavirus has infected people all over Slovakia and all over the world, irrespective of ethnicity.
The virus is not racist. Fortunately!
Let's be critical, though
There do exist specific, very concrete areas inhabited by the Romani community where the percentage of infection is above average.We must emphasize that these are very specific territories and there are not many of them, but they do exist.
We know that during the summer the rates of infection "skyrocketed" among people from the Bardejov, Čadca and Orava areas. This was because of celebrations and weddings attended by those residents in Poland, and because more than two generations live together in the same household in these areas.
Those were the explanations given by epidemiologists as to why the infection rates increased. The higher number of infected people testing positive in these settlements is also the consequence of their poor hygienie situations.
What I mean by that is their access to clean drinking water, sewer systems, and the supply of water in general... Basic human needs that most of us cannot imagine life without are not being met there.
This is not about people not wanting to follow basic hygiene rules. They simply do not even have fully-functioning sewer systems.
The novel coronavirus very quickly makes its way to people in places where hygiene is not 200 % guaranteed. Those are the places that suit it best.
I don't care what this sounds like. I am contrasting the cause of the dissemination in Orava and the other Romani settlements compared to the rest of the country because I would like to demonstrate that each negative situation has a root cause.
Those root causes must be addressed systemically. The roots of the fact that some settlements have no sewer systems or supply of water have their own history.
That history extends back to the previous Government. The last administration promised to address this issue.
Nobody can wash their hands with promises, though. Now, during this session of the national legislature there are three Romani MPs in the coalition.
I'm one of them. My roots are also in a settlement.
Let's assume that I know the real situation, in practice, and that I have a mandate to adjust the system. What about finally connecting the dots and changing these undignified hygienic conditions for these citizens and meeting their basic human needs for sewer systems and a supply of water?
Back to the beginning
The data, the numbers, and the statistics from the testing have confirmed that Romani communities are similar to other parts of towns and villages when it comes to the pandemic and that Romani men and women have been just as disciplined and responsible as the majority population during this time. People's inability to fact-check and their tendency to believe conspiracies just spreads hatred in society.
It has been confirmed that it is a good idea to verify information and to improve our media literacy. It has also been confirmed that COVID is not racist!
First published in Slovak at blog.sme.sk
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