Inequality shining through global lockdown curtains

Elon Musk has long been a skeptic of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. When California went into its initial lockdown in March 2020 and local manufacturing was halted, Musk declared on Twitter that Tesla wished to continue production despite the local laws that were applied to all non-essential businesses. He later defied laws, keeping the plant open and firing employees who refused to show up for work.

Most recently, Musk got tested for COVID-19 four times in one day, receiving two negative results and two positive results. In response to this, he again tweeted that something “extremely bogus” was going on, questioning the accuracy of rapid testing.

Musk isn’t wrong. Something bogus is going on, but it is not his questionable results. Who gets tested four times in one day? A law-breaking billionaire who has become richer while millions remain unemployed.

Perhaps Musk thinks he is proving a point by airing his test results, but all I can discern is that the ultra-rich have no conceptual understanding of what life in a global pandemic is like for working people. While millions have waited in line for hours to get tested for COVID-19, receiving their results days later, Musk and his wealthy counterparts can get tested four times in a single day.

Typically, when following wealthy businesspeople or influencers on social media, people look to them for lavish content from their extravagant lives. But what’s happening in the world now is atypical. Now, when someone like Kim Kardashian goes on vacation in her private jet and posts seemingly hundreds of photos on Instagram, there is a keen sting.

Kardashian said she went on vacation for her birthday to feel some sense of normalcy. Simultaneously, the rest of the world doesn’t even have the luxury of seeing family over the holidays. If the average person makes the decision to have a gathering, there is a sense of real risk and fear that reminds us we are still in a pandemic, still in lockdown and still at risk of contracting COVID-19. The average citizen cannot get tested daily and fly to private islands to pretend things are normal for a brief moment in time like these pretentious elites.

Local politicians are not excluded from this critique. In January and February of 2020, it was reported that Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister had snuck off to his luxury villa in Costa Rica, just as Manitoba was planning its response to COVID-19 and days before the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus “of international concern.”

Although this may not have breached local travel restrictions at the time, it proved extraordinarily irresponsible.

And this was not the only instance the Manitoba premier displayed a nonchalant attitude to the health crisis. Even he — a supposed public servant — has been caught breaking COVID-19 protocol.

In July, Pallister was photographed in Toronto Pearson Airport talking to then-Tory leader Andrew Scheer with their masks down. This was despite masks being required at all times within the airport. This may have been considered a minor infringement of the law, but it becomes harder to swallow when businesses and individuals in Manitoba are being fined for breaking the lockdown rules.

Perhaps Pallister is trying to maintain control by threatening his constituents, but COVID-19 cases in Manitoba are still being reported at concerning rates. Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, is issuing almost daily warnings that health-care systems will become overwhelmed if cases do not start to decline.

That is the real consequence of seeing public figures and politicians break COVID-19 restrictions — even if they seemed small at the time.

From one side of the spectrum, we see our leaders and favourite influencers going about their opulent lives, not even having the decency to refrain from posting about their vacations.

From the other end, we are being intimidated by politicians who have a poor track record of following rules. Combine that with fatigue after months of lockdown and anxiety surrounding our health, it’s no wonder why Manitoba struggles to significantly reduce daily cases.

It’s hard to live so isolated and, with winter fast approaching, Manitobans won’t even be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of a walk around the neighbourhood, but the reality is that most of us are not multimillionaires.

Most of us can’t afford to travel safely simply because we don’t have the ability to be tested daily or have priority access to state-of-the-art healthcare.

The wealthiest people in the world live completely different lives than the average citizen, and that has become painfully clear over the past year. Recently, we can’t even scroll through our feeds without comparing the sacrifices Canadian workers have made to the jet-setting rich. While millions of Canadians apply for Employment Insurance, there seems to be an array of influencers posting pictures from their vacations to fantastical locations.

Everyone has free will and must assess what level of risk they are willing to take, but remember, people cannot return to the normal life we all miss so dearly unless we continue to do our part as community members to stop the spread of COVID-19.

We can’t look to influencers for guidance, and it has become increasingly clear from Pallister’s irresponsible response to COVID-19 that Manitobans may not even be able to fully rely on our political leaders for accurate and measured restrictions. Look to roommates, to friends or to family.

These are the people we can empathize with, and these are the people who will remind us all why we are isolating in the first place.

Think of it like this: Manitobans are not in lockdown because Pallister is mandating it. Manitobans are in lockdown because it is our civic duty to protect the vulnerable members of our community. Manitobans are in lockdown for the health-care workers who risk their lives to help us, even when hundreds still choose to break the rules.

Don’t look to your everyday influencer for advice during COVID-19 — chances are, they will have a hard time understanding its social impact. When we see billionaires complaining about being tested four times in one day or celebrities hosting outlandish and unprotected birthday parties, try to find some comfort in the fact that we as Manitobans are in this together, and only we can get each other out of this dreary lockdown.