COVID-19 lockdowns “worsen social inequalities”

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A COVID-19 vaccination center sign can be found at St Thomas’s Hospital opposite Westminster on September 13, 2021 in London, UK. Dan Kitwood / Getty Images
  • Containment measures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have changed people’s lives.
  • Different social groups felt these changes disproportionately.
  • Future research is needed to determine if, how and why these social inequalities persist.

The UK officially announced its first lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 23, 2020. Two more national lockdowns took place in the months that followed.

The lockdowns brought unprecedented changes in people’s lives, but not all of those changes ended when the lockdowns ended.

A recent study, published in the open access journal PLOS ONE, explores the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on various dimensions of different social groups.

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Researchers at the University of Oxford, UK used data from the first eight waves of the UK Longitudinal Household Survey on COVID-19 – from March 2020 to March 2021. They also used the data of the main survey of two waves before the pandemic – from 2017 to 2019.

The panel survey covers a representative sample of 51,000 adults from approximately 40,000 households. Researchers contacted people aged 20 to 65 who participated in the main study to ask them to join the additional COVID-19 study. This required monthly online reporting from April 2020. In May 2020, researchers added the ability to report by phone.

In total, nearly 16,000 people responded, for a response rate of 42%.

The authors examined the impact of COVID-19 and measures induced by COVID-19, as reported by the surveyed population.

The researchers were particularly interested in how incomes, their use of time and their well-being changed during the various stages of the pandemic. In addition, they wanted to determine whether these factors varied according to the sex, ethnicity and educational level of the respondents.

Many of the measures taken by authorities to contain the spread of COVID-19 included reducing physical contact between people. As a result, the first wave of lockdowns had an immediate impact on global social behavior.

For example, business closures and remote working have changed working habits. Countries that have introduced containment measures, such as UK, Australia, and the United States, immediately records reductions in labor income.

Studies in the aftermath of Britain’s first lockdown indicated that women and parents were more negatively influenced by their subjective well-being than that of other social groups. Black, Asian and ethnic minority immigrants were also more likely to have lived economic difficulties.

“Very often we just focus on cases and hospitalizations, intensive care use and mortality figures, but it’s also important to look at the social impacts,” said Richard M. Carpiano, Ph.D. ., in an interview with Medical News Today.

Carpiano is a public and population health scientist and a medical sociologist. “A pandemic is as much a sociological phenomenon as the spread of a virus. “

As more and more blockages occurred, people’s health and general sense of well-being changed, not only because of the possibility or reality of contracting SARS-CoV-2, but also because of the worry and stress associated with it.

The study showed that at the start of the pandemic, people who worked experienced a reduction in their average incomes and the number of hours worked per week. In addition, there was an increase in distress levels.

Data indicates that the mental health of most UK adults returned to pre-pandemic levels after the first lockdown, but this was not true for everyone.

Another study published in The Lancet supports this finding. It showed that one in 9 people did not experience an improvement in their mental health after the first lockdown was lifted.

These persistent lock-in effects differed across genders, ethnicities, and between degree holders and non-graduates. For example, during the first lockdown, the drop in wages was smaller for women than for men, possibly due to a higher proportion of women working in key industries. Later, however, men’s paid working time recovered faster than that of women.

Initially, the subjective well-being felt by women suffered more than that of men. Then, as women’s subjective well-being began to recover, men’s distress levels began to rise.

In terms of income, blacks, Asians and marginalized ethnic groups were more affected than whites. This income gap persisted after the easing of foreclosure restrictions.

The researchers conclude that the long-lasting pandemic and related restrictions produced lingering negative consequences on income, work patterns and subjective well-being.

Author Muzhi Zhou spoke with MNT about the study:

“Some changes in social inequality seem to disappear once the lockdowns are lifted, while other changes remain persistent throughout the year. It is worrying that the worsening social inequalities could be lasting for some social groups.

The study concludes by noting: “The negative impacts of the spread of COVID-19 and its related measures vary not only in magnitude but also in speed between different social groups. “

The authors suggest further research to understand the factors that have driven and exacerbated these social inequalities. To underline their point, they quote the poet Damian Barr: “We are in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat. “

Speaking about future research, Zhou said MNT: “I think that given the richness of this continuous data set and the growing number of people contracting [SARS-CoV-2], it’s time to consider whether positive and negative COVID-19 test results have different impacts on people from different social groups. Also, whether people react and behave differently after taking the vaccine is another very interesting topic. “

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