Global Event: The Covid-19 Pandemic

Discrimination and Disparity in the Covid-19 Pandemic

Covering the nearly two-year span of the COVID–19 pandemic to date, this roundup is a collection of reporting and research on communities around the world that have experienced the dual perils of discrimination and disparity. In addition to bearing the brunt of the disease, marginalized communities around the world have become the pandemic’s scapegoats and the targets of rumor, distrust, and disinformation campaigns, resulting in the “racialization” of the virus and creating further insecurities during the crisis. Beyond local inequalities, the coupling of discrimination and disparity has generated transnational inequities such as the outbreak of anti-Asian racism, the targeting and marginalization of migrants and refugees, and the disproportionately worse illness outcomes of Indigenous and Black people.

The situation has created obstacles to protecting communities against the ongoing effects of COVID–19. Among historically persecuted communities, longstanding distrust of government brought about by historical injustices has cultivated resistance to state-driven medical interventions such as vaccine campaigns. And local inequalities have been exacerbated by structural inequalities at the international level, with the wealthy West accused of hoarding health resources such as vaccines.

This collection contains more than 160 news reports, research articles, and data sources covering conditions and developments at the global, regional, and national levels. Data and information in older items are likely outdated and should be treated as historical records, reflecting emergent problems and understandings that have produced the current social, political, and economic landscape of the pandemic. However, the unfolding of coverage reveals how knowledge of the differential impact of the pandemic has shifted, from early awareness of racial and ethnic mortality disparities and reports of discrimination to recent concerns about vaccine nationalism and the long-term economic impacts of the pandemic.



Source: DW News (February 2020)

By nature a global phenomenon, the COVID–19 pandemic has ignored borders and their politics, requiring international coordination to pool resources, inhibit transmission, and facilitate economic recovery. However, it has also led to the emergence of transnational social problems. Border closures and travel restrictions have contributed to the stigmatization of foreign nationals and racial and ethnic minority groups, fueling anti-immigrant attitudes and rendering conditions for migrants and refugees all the more precarious. The initial appearance of the coronavirus in China precipitated not only anti-Chinese discrimination, but anti-Asian racism more broadly in parts of the world where people of Asian descent are a minority. And now inequalities in vaccine supply have precipitated “vaccine nationalism” in the rush to inoculate, prompting calls for increased global solidarity and attention to equity as a critical issue that must be scaled from the local to the global.

Africa and the Middle East

Source: Al Jazeera (June 2020)

Although much of Africa and the Middle East fared well in the early moments of the pandemic relative to other areas, the global economic effects of lockdown and trade slowdown, emergent strains of the virus, and new waves of illness have brought effects to the region similar to those elsewhere in the world. Many refugees and other immigrants have struggled to gain access to health services as governments prioritize citizens for treatment and vaccination. Those confined to camps face conditions that make social distancing and other protective measures all but impossible. These conditions have been exacerbated by a combination of low vaccine supply, severe economic downturns, and a resurgence in viral transmission. The effects of the pandemic have been wide-ranging, shaping the scheduling of contentious elections, upending already precarious livelihoods, fueling anti-immigrant attitudes, and disrupting the migration routes of those seeking asylum and opportunity.

Israel and Palestine

COVID-19 lockdown worsens migrants’ suffering in Libya” (Al Jazeera | May 2020)

Saudi Arabia
South Africa

Video report: Refugees in Uganda Battle Suicidal Thoughts Amid COVID Pandemic (Voice of America News | May 2021)

United Arab Emirates

The Americas

Source: Al Jazeera (February 2021)

Across the Americas, Indigenous, Afro-descendant people, and other racial and ethnic minorities have borne the brunt of COVID–19, dying at far higher rates than their White counterparts. From language barriers to distrust of government programs, hurdles to the protection of disproportionately vulnerable communities have stratified outcomes most of the region’s countries. The need to make sense of this disparity has led some governments and many NGOs to mobilize data collection and disaggregation as a tool to intervene in problems at the intersection of health and society, including implicit biases in healthcare institutions, misinformation, and resource access. As with other parts of the world, anti-Asian racism erupted in the wake of the virus’s emergence from China. Despite the stoking of flames by nationalists and nativists across the region, hate crimes against people of Asian descent have also generated widespread anti-racism campaigns in the U.S. and Canada (including #StopAsianHate).

United States

Asia Pacific

Source: The People’s Archive of Rural India (March 2020)

The pandemic has led to the increased marginalization of refugees, immigrants, and Indigenous people across the Asia Pacific region. Anti-Chinese sentiment in places like Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea menaced immigrant and student communities, while in Hong Kong it was South Asian immigrants whom suspicion fell on in the early days. Early outbreaks and social media–driven misinformation led to the targeting of Muslims in India and Sri Lanka, where they were characterized as disease vectors and threats to public safety. In Malaysia, the combination of anti-immigrant rhetoric, detention, and the threat of deportation have made many undocumented immigrants fearful of coming forward for testing and vaccination. And while Aboriginal Australians fared comparatively well over the first waves of the pandemic, the most recent wave has seen protective measures begin to falter, leading to concerns about the wellbeing of elders and remote communities detached from the major metropolitan areas’ robust public health infrastructures.

New Zealand
South Korea
Sri Lanka


Source: Deutsche Welle (March 2021)

The pandemic has reinvigorated debates over the longstanding reluctance to collect racial and ethnic data in many European countries, leading to governments “flying bind” with respect to health disparities. And there is significant cause to believe such disparities exist. In the U.K., where such data are collected, research has revealed that people of color have experienced worse health outcomes than White people. In northern Russia, Indigenous people have experienced high levels of both health and economic insecurity, with extractive activities having brought the virus to their communities and mobility restrictions disrupting livelihoods. Anti-Traveller and anti-Roma racism have compounded challenges to efforts to provide health services to transient and informally housed communities across the continent. Concerns about the transnational Roma community in particular have grown, with Roma people having historically experienced lower levels of educational and public health access and concentrating in many of the occupational sectors that have taken the biggest hit from the pandemic. And amid ongoing international migration challenges, the pandemic has amplified cross-continental resistance to providing haven for refugees and migrants, relegating asylum-seekers to living conditions that render them even more susceptible to infection.

The Netherlands
United Kingdom