The COVID-19 outbreak is a severe and unprecedented public health emergency for Europe and its citizens.
One of the effects of the pandemic is that it sheds light on the vulnerable and precarious parts of our societies and makes it clearer as to what extent we live in an interconnected society, one in which individualism and discrimination on the longer term hits a dead-end. What food will we receive at home, if there is no one to deliver it?
What bread will we eat when the bakery is closed? How safe am I from the virus, if minorities don’t have the same basic means and the same access to health care as the majority of society?
With deaths and infections increasing daily, Coronavirus has become the biggest crisis Europe has faced since the Second World War, and a joint response is urgently needed.
The EU must unite Member State forces against this tragedy in a way never before seen. It will be a major challenge for the Union to implement measures in a coordinated and effective manner.
The pandemic must be overcome as quickly as possible to ensure that death rates are minimised and that any negative economic effects are limited in all Member States.
An important element in all of this is non-discriminatory access to support measures and emergency services.
Any part of society facing discrimination over access to public utilities, such as water and sanitation, or health care is particularly vulnerable during this virus, with limited possibilities to protect themselves.
“We are all in the same boat, because this virus is attacking all of us without any distinction”
For example, the largest ethnic group of the EU, people from Romani backgrounds, lack protection. Around 80 percent of its population live in extreme poverty and anti-gypsyism makes them even more vulnerable. So how can we protect them too?
As a Romani Member of the European Parliament, it is my duty to raise awareness of this issue. The spread of Coronavirus cannot be slowed down by ethnicising the problem.
Unfortunately this is happening, particularly in Eastern European countries where Roma returning from Western Europe to their home countries, such as Romania, are being blamed for and made the scapegoat for the spread of the virus.
In Slovakia, the mayor of Kosice, Jaroslav Polacek, warned that Roma can spread Coronavirus because of their behaviour as “socially unadaptable people”.
In other villages and towns, many inhabitants have called for special measures against Roma in segregated communities, asking to put them in prison as the only solution to stop the spread of the Coronavirus.
The same is happening in Bulgaria, where the nationalist VMRO party has called for stricter measures against people from Roma backgrounds.
We must not be mistaken: racism and anti-gypsyism are not solutions to a crisis that needs solidarity and common action to bring it to an end.
Now more than ever, we must all have greater empathy and show more solidarity with each other.
This is the longer-term opportunity of this crisis: overcoming prejudices related to our ethnicity, sexual orientation, social status or nationality.
We are all in the same boat, because this virus is attacking all of us without distinction.