Neighbours support each other during COVID-19

By Selin Tekin Guven

Since the beginning of March 2020, COVID-19 pandemic related news has been the main topic in the media. Medical experts have explained different methods to prevent the spread, and authorities in each country have implemented various strategies to deal with the effects of the virus in their country. However, certain groups are still affected disproportionately around the world. People with lower socioeconomic statuses and ethnic minority backgrounds are affected more because of various issues related to social and systemic inequality. 

First, socio-economically lower ethnic minority groups are at higher risk considering their underlying health conditions. Because they have less economic resources, they can only receive minimum support from the health systems. Therefore, they are at greater risk of hospitalisation and death during the COVID-19 pandemic process. Second, overcrowded housing conditions also prevented them to make social distancing and self-isolation. Third, working class ethnic minority groups are over-represented in key worker jobs such as nursing and medical jobs, cleaning-related jobs (e.g., hospital cleaners), and health care assistants. Therefore, they were not able to take all of the steps that authorities expect everybody to take

On the news and media, we see that people are being blamed for spreading the pandemic. However, the reality was that communities often created their own strategies to adhere to the COVID-19 pandemic precautions, to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, and to keep the resources in the community while they were not able to follow the necessary steps from the authorities.

In Turkey, between the end of March and beginning of June, the time that people could spend outside was restricted by the authorities. During the weekends, Eid, and National holidays, the lockdown was applied. Before the restriction, we saw on the media and social media that while people who were under 20 were blamed for spreading the disease by being outside all the time, people who were over 65 were also blamed as if they were ignorant and uncaring. However, the reality was that many of those age groups had to either work in public places (such as open markets) or they had to do their shopping by themselves because there was nobody to take care of their needs. On the media, they voiced their concerns and government gave the responsibility to local authorities and police to address the needs of those people (e.g., in some cities police did the shopping for people who are over 65 years-old). However, since different communities may have specific needs, community members needed to identify what type of support was needed because they were already familiar with the available resources and what was missing in the community. Therefore, they took their action by themselves instead of receiving the support from police.

Research suggests that in the case of an emergency or crisis, social support, solidarity, and cooperation can be seen at the collective level to increase the well-being of the community and serve a protective role. In addition, group members can decide which behaviours are safe and unsafe; therefore, they can self-regulate unsafe behaviour and encourage each other to engage in safe behaviour. Considering the COVID-19 situation in Turkey, in some communities, instead of getting help from government agencies, community members and neighbourhoods established some community rules to help each other.

In the apartment building where my family live, there are eight families and some of those family members are considered to be in the risky group (who have chronic lung and heart problems and who are over 65). In addition, we have three employees (my friends) who have to work every day who are also concerned about putting their family members at risk. In addition, we have one high school student who is forbidden to go out because she is under 20. Therefore, we had to take actions together to help our neighbours to be safe and healthy. In order to keep people safe by maintaining distancing, my friends, who had to go to work every day, found separate houses. One of them stayed with her brother and the others stayed with their friends from their workplaces. Considering the ages and health statuses, a high school student and myself were two people who had the lowest risk of being affected by the disease. In addition, besides employees, I was the only young person who had a driving licence. Therefore, buying essentials from the shopping centre was my duty. After I washed the resources that I bought from the market, I gave them to the high school student; thus, she could deliver each bag to our neighbours. 

After a while, we realized that in other apartments around our building, there were also other people who are not able to go shopping because of their health conditions. They contacted our families and we were also able to help those people too. We included those neighbours in our apartment’s WhatsApp group, so we could be sure that we meet everybody’s needs. As it was observed in different communities of different countries, in the case of COVID-19, mitigating virus spread became our shared goal so we could make distancing normative (see Templeton et al., 2020 for further examples).  

What we have done with our neighbours was an example of how people unite and help each other during emergencies rather than being ignorant and careless. Even though the public were often misrepresented in the media, in many emergency contexts and different communities, people usually act as one and create ingroup norms to protect their community members to achieve shared goals. In other words, instead of selfish and thoughtless behaviours, we observed solidarity among people who help their community members during an emergency and disasters. 

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